5 Things Science Recently Learned About Sleep

(By Jessica Stillman)

Just how much sleep do people actually need to function at their best? The standard answer is somewhere around seven or eight hours a night, but you’ve no doubt met some folks who claim to do just fine on much less than that. Are they lying? Better able to cope? Aliens? Actually, none of the above. A recent study involving twins showed that they probably just have a particular genetic mutation that means they require less sleep.

Whether you love it, long for it, or wish you could take a pill and make your need for it disappear, no doubt sleep has massive effects on your mood, productivity, and general ability to thrive. Which makes sleep a fabulous study for scientific inquiry.

What have researchers learned about the other roughly eight-hour shift you put in each day? Lots of weird, unexpected, and useful things, which PsyBlog recently rounded up. Here are a handful of the most intriguing.

1. Some people really do need only five hours of sleep (but you’re probably not one of them)

It’s an eternally debated question: Just how much sleep do people actually need to function at their best? The standard answer is somewhere around seven or eight hours a night, but you’ve no doubt met some folks who claim to do just fine on much less than that. Are they lying? Better able to cope? Aliens? Actually, none of the above. A recent study involving twins showed that they probably just have a particular genetic mutation that means they require less sleep.

“Those carrying the target gene variant slept, on average, for five hours, which was one hour shorter than their twins without the gene. When the twins were given cognitive tests after sleep deprivation, those with the gene variant did better, making 40 percent fewer errors,” reports PsyBlog. But don’t get too excited if you think this study means you can feel better about your crazy, sleep-deprived schedule. The chances that you’re one of the people with this variation are very low.

“For the vast majority of people, regularly getting less than about seven hours of sleep leads to concentration problems, lower energy levels, accidents, and, in the long-term, raises the risk of depression,” PsyBlog stresses. “The lucky few with this genetic mutation, though, can break this basic rule of sleeping.”

2. Fakin’ it makes you feel more rested

There are lots of ways to get through the day when you’re very far from well rested, from the ever-popular all-day caffeine solution to the doctor-endorsed afternoon nap, but here’s one intervention you probably never considered: just lie about it. It may sound totally ridiculous, but simply telling yourself that you feel more perky than you actually do can apparently give you a boost when they’re feeling exhausted.

PsyBlog explains that researchers arbitrarily told study subjects that they had slept either well or poorly. “Those told they’d slept better scored higher on tests of attention and memory than those told they’d slept poorly.” The easy-to-implement conclusion? “How you slept last night isn’t just about how you actually slept, it’s also about how you think you slept. This study suggests that tweaking your mindset a little could be enough to boost your performance.”

3. Sleep interruptions really mess you up

What’s better for you, four uninterrupted hours of sleep or eight hours during which you wake up multiple times? Sorry parents of newborns and others plagued by broken sleep, but science now has a conclusive answer: both are equally terrible. “The effects on mood, attention, and alertness for the interrupted eight hours were as drastic as only getting four hours sleep,” says PsyBlog.

4. Not sleeping enough can result in false memories

You know lack of sleep can negatively impact your cognitive performance as much as alcohol (you did know that, didn’t you?), not to mention increasing your risk of a variety of seriously unpleasant health problems, but here’s one effect of skimping on sleep that you probably never expected–it can give you false memories.

PsyBlog explains the research on the subject: “In the study, one group of participants were allowed to get a full nights’ sleep, while another had to stay up all night. In the morning they were given a load of information about a crime–some true, some false–that had been committed. The results showed that those who’d missed out on their sleep were the most likely to regurgitate the false information, rather than remembering the ‘true’ crime-scene photos they’d been shown moments beforehand.”

That’s key information if you’re planning to take the witness stand, of course, but it also underlines the dangers of, say, tossing and turning all night before a big meeting too. Just try keeping your facts and figures straight in the morning then, this research suggests.

5. Your teen may not be as lazy as she appears

Teenagers are notorious for being groggy and grumpy in the morning. Is that just because they stayed up too late on their devices or simply aren’t that enthused about getting up for first period math? Nope; your hard-to-wake-up teen actually has a valid biological excuse for being out of sorts when the alarm goes off.

“The part of the brain which regulates the sleep-wake cycle–the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus–changes in puberty. Teenage brains also secrete less melatonin so their ‘sleep drive’ reduces,” PsyBlog reports. “As a result, being forced to rise the next day at 6 a.m. for school or college means teens find it hard to get the eight to ten hours sleep that they need.”

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

Source: INC

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