Safety and OSHA News

Can you catch up on lost sleep during the weekend?

Sleep deprivation can negatively impact employees’ ability to work safely. A new study takes a close look on how much weekend make-up sleep helps employees stay alert.

The research from Penn State and three other schools has good news and bad news regarding make-up sleep.

Recovery sleep over the weekend reverses daytime sleepiness and fatigue, but doesn’t improve brain function.

Thirty healthy young (18-34) men and women participated in a sleep lab experiment of 13 nights — 4 baseline nights with 8 hours of sleep per night, then 6 sleep deprived nights with only 6 hours per night, followed by 3 recovery nights with 10 hours per night.

Sleepiness increased significantly after the 6-hour nights and returned to baseline after the recovery nights.

However, brain performance deteriorated significantly after the nights with less sleep but didn’t improve after recovery sleep.

This research looks at a short-term period. The effects of longer term sleep deprivation aren’t known.

These findings are particularly important for safety-critical jobs, such as healthcare workers and those in transportation.  Not being at peak mental performance could put the workers, their co-workers and others they come in contact with, such as customers and patients, in jeopardy.

Conventional wisdom

These findings coincide with conventional wisdom regarding recovery sleep.

In a 2009 online article, Dr. Michael Breus, the Sleep Doctor, wrote, “No, you can’t just pay off a sleep debt by sleeping late on the weekend.”

Breus pointed to three previous studies to back up his statement:

  • A 2003 study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found recovery sleep did not fully reverse declines in performance on a test of reaction times and other psychomotor tasks for subjects who had only a few hours of sleep per night.
  • In 2008, scientists in Stockholm, Sweden, found even after recovery sleep, study subjects still showed slight residual cognitive impairments a week later.
  • Another Walter Reed study found people recovered more quickly from a week of poor sleep when they had “banked” extra sleep beforehand — nights with ten hours of sleep.
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