If you consistently skimp on sleep, getting less than eight hours a night, your brain is not functioning all that well and you don’t even know it, according to findings by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Your perceptions about just how tired you are and how well you are functioning are warped by going to bed too late.
Experts recommend eight hours of sleep per night, but too many people get a lot less. And if five to six hours nightly is your norm, researcher Jeanne F. Duffy has found that your daily performance slips.
“Our team decided to look at how sleep might affect complex visual search tasks, because they are common in safety-sensitive activities, such as air-traffic control, baggage screening, and monitoring power plant operations. These types of jobs involve processes that require repeated, quick memory encoding and retrieval of visual information, in combination with decision making about the information,” says Duffy.
Participants in the study were tested on how quickly they could find important information and how accurate they were in identifying it. The longer the participants were awake, the more slowly they identified the important information in the test. Additionally, participants’ mental functions slowed as the sleep-deprived weeks went on. They didn’t even perceive their impaired state until well into the second week.
“The longer someone is awake, the more the ability to perform a task, in this case a visual search, is hindered, and this impact of being awake is even stronger at night,” warns Duffy.