A new study shows that a method some workers use to catch up on missed sleep may not be effective, making them vulnerable to accidents and errors.
After going for long periods without sleep, workers may not be able to make up for it by sleeping longer on weekends, according to the study.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston put young adults on a sleep schedule that a medical resident might experience: 33 hours awake followed by 10 hours sleeping.
That works out to about 5.6 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
The sleep-deprived subjects, along with a control group, were given performance tasks to test their ability to pay attention and gauge their reaction time.
Those who had less sleep performed the same as the control group if the test was given just two hours after they had awakened.
But, the sleep-deprived subjects performed significantly worse on tests that were given after 30 hours spent awake. And the results got worse as the study went from one to three weeks.
The subjects appeared to have developed a sleep debt that could not be made up by sleeping 10 hours at a time.
In the real world, a person who is regularly sleep deprived during weekdays might try to catch up on weekends. The person might feel pretty good during the first few hours after their long sleep, but the next time they lose sleep their work performance may start to deteriorate.
The findings are particularly applicable to people who work odd-hour jobs such as health workers, truckers and emergency responders.