Welcome to Focus on Fatigue.
Winter is coming down here in the southern hemisphere. That means the days are growing shorter and the nights are noticeably cooler. There is nothing better than snuggling in the warmth of thick blankets when the weather cools, and this can often lead to a few extra hours of sleep than we would normally get. This month, in Focus on Fatigue, we will look at the benefits extra sleep can bring and how we can use regular doses of additional sleep in a productive way.
The FRMS Team
InterDynamics Pty Ltd
320 Adelaide Street Brisbane Qld 4000
Tel +61 2 8404 0400 Ext 23
Views expressed in articles and links provided are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InterDynamics (except where directly attributed).
Sleeping Ahead of Schedule
Sometimes we know we aren’t going to get enough sleep in the days ahead. This may be due to shift work, or because we have a work project with a tough deadline. Maybe we’re just really keen to watch the new season of our favourite Netflix show from end to end without stopping. Whatever the reason, if we know that a period of sleep deprivation is coming up, is there anything we can do to prepare for the fatigue that lies ahead? The research says, “Yes! It can be done.” But it’s not as simple as having a single good sleep-in before the big event.
Extra sleep goes a long way
A group of college students were given the opportunity to get as much sleep as possible. They were tested on a variety of measures before the extra sleep began, half way through the study, and again at the end. The researchers found the students who did achieve extra sleep showed substantial improvements in a number of areas, including vigilance and mood. Those who achieved the most sleep showed exceptional improvements.
Does the extra sleep help when your sleep is then restricted?
Another group of researchers wanted to know if sleep history made a difference to the speed at which performance and alertness degraded during a week of chronic sleep restriction, and the subsequent recovery period. Their participants were split into two groups: the extension group (who were in bed for 10 hours each night in the week leading up to the sleep restriction) and the habitual group (who went to bed for whatever amount of time was usual for them).
During the sleep restriction phase, both groups were only allowed to sleep for three hours per night for a week. Then they underwent a recovery phase during which they were able to sleep for 8 hours each night.
The researchers found the extra sleep improved resilience on measures of performance and alertness during the sleep restriction phase, and it also facilitated recovery thereafter. So, the participants who had extra sleep before the restriction still didn’t perform as well as they did when they were well-rested, but they performed much better than those who hadn’t had extra sleep in the lead-up to the sleep restriction, and they recovered from the sleep restriction faster.
What if you’re not going to get any sleep at all?
Arnal and colleagues went one step further. They asked if extra sleep, banked in advance, still helps in the case of total sleep deprivation. Again they had one group of extended sleepers and one of habitual sleepers. However, this time the study was run twice so that each individual could participant in each of the two groups. Also, these participants began with a control week in which they were in bed for 8 hours per night in an attempt to wipe out any sleep debt they might have had before starting the study.
The researchers found that the participants who had extended sleep had improved sustained attention during total sleep deprivation, reduced lapses in vigilance and fewer microsleeps. The extra sleep also helped them recover faster.
One interesting finding was there was no difference in the subjective sleepiness of the participants. Everyone felt just as sleepy during the deprivation phase, whether they’d had extra sleep or not. That subjective sleepiness did not stop extended sleepers from performing better.
The good news
- If you are preparing for a period of partial or total sleep deprivation, or just a day where better attention and alertness will be beneficial, getting extra sleep ahead of time will help.
- Banking sleep can provide limited protection against some of the performance and mood degradation inherent in sleep deprivation.
The bad news
- In each of these studies, the participants were spending up to 10 hours in bed each night for 6 or 7 nights. One or two nights of extra sleep will not necessarily have any protective benefit.
- Banking sleep will not stop your performance from decreasing during sleep deprivation, it will only slow the rate of decrease.
- Sleep-ins on the weekend will not provide protection from fatigue during the week. The protective factors discussed in these studies were only found after a full week of extended sleep, even when attempts were made to eliminate any prior sleep debt.
What can we take away from this research?
Banking sleep is a useful tool to have in our fatigue risk management toolbox. However, realising the benefits of extra sleep requires lengthy planning and preparation. This makes it more of a ‘special occasion’ tool, rather than a ‘daily-use’ tool. In the event you do manage to use banked sleep to assist in preventing fatigue, do enjoy the extra sleep. It’s possibly the most well-rested you’ll ever get.
- Arnal, P. J., Sauvet, F., Leger, D., van Beers, P., Bayon, V., Gougard, C., Rabat, A., Millet, G. Y., and Chennaoui, M. (2015) Benefits of sleep extension on sustained attention and sleep pressure before and during total sleep deprivation and recovery. Sleep, 38(12), 1935-1943.
- Kamdar, B. B., Kaplan, K. A., Kezirian, E. J. and Dement, W. C. (2004) The impact of extended sleep on daytime alertness, vigilance, and mood. The impact of extended sleep on daytime alertness, vigilance, and mood. Sleep Medicine, 5, 441–8.
- Rupp, T. L., Wesensten, N. J., Bliese, P. D. and Balkin, T. J. (2009) Banking sleep: Realisation of benefits during subsequent sleep restriction and recovery. Sleep, 32(3), 311-321.
In the News
As anyone who has unwittingly drifted off at their desk will know – tiredness can really creep up on you when you least need it. But a new study is offering some good news: it claims to prove that we can bank sleep – and store it up in advance of a tiring event.
Alternating between nights of very little sleep and long “catch up” attempts is linked to poor attention and creativity in young adults, particularly for those working on major projects, according to a new study at Baylor University.
Video: How to sleep longer
A short video with Priyanka S. Yadav (Pediatrics and Sleep Medicine Specialist) who provides simple tips for sleeping longer.