It is common knowledge that the amount of sleep that we get has a definitive effect on our health as well as our cognitive ability. What has been an area of constant debate is how much quality sleep is necessary for optimal restorative properties. Of late, researchers have begun to study how much difference just an increase of one hour can make in our lives.
As part of a growing body of work, researchers at the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre in the UK published a study on the effects of sufficient versus insufficient sleep. Since that research compared extreme differences in sleep amounts, the researchers decided to conduct a study that looked at the effects of just one hour’s difference in sleep.
Researchers divided seven volunteers into two groups, and over two weeks had one group sleep for 6.5 hours while the other group slept one hour longer or for 7.5 hours. After the first week, researchers performed blood tests on the two groups and switched the regimen between the two groups for the second week.
While computer tests showed that all of the participants that slept one hour less struggled with mental agility tasks, blood test revealed that an hour less in sleep increased activity of genes associated with inflammation, immune system response and stress. They also observed an activity increase in genes that are associated with chronic illnesses such as diabetes as well as cancer risks.
Researchers have long known that the brain and body go through various stages of sleep. Deep sleep, which last only a few hours is where our brains move memories from short-term storage into long-term storage, allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. Without a sufficient amount of sleep that has the proper duration of deep sleep, these memories will be lost.
Another phase of sleep is known as REM sleep where one of the stress-related chemicals in the brain, noradrenalin, is switched off. This allows our mind and bodies to reach a state of calm while our brains reprocess all the experiences of the day so that we can process the day’s emotional events.
The effects of these sleep stages have profound impact on our health and cognitive ability. Interestingly, researchers are positing if increasing our sleep by just one hour a night from a range of six to seven hours can manifest itself in our careers, which encompass the majority of our waking lives. A research study published in the WSJ resource documents from two UCSD PhD candidates show that increasing average sleep by one hour per night produces a 16 percent higher wage.
These researchers began from the position of empirical research data that shows the connection between sleep, memory performance and focus on intensive tasks. They then utilized a large, nationally representative set of time diaries from U.S. workers to create a profile of the causal effects of sleep on wages. Their research suggest that a one-hour increase in long-run average sleep increases wages by 16 percent, which is equivalent to more than one year of schooling.
As more researchers delve into the specifics of the correlation between sleep and health to add to an already large body of work, those living with OSA that are CPAP therapy compliant are already seeing the effects of better sleep in their daily lives. As the debate on what constitutes enough sleep continues, it is becoming indisputable that the addition of an hour of quality sleep can have a significant impact on our lives in a country where less than seven is the norm.