Experts Agree: You Do Need More Sleep Than You Think

Elinor Block
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IKEA

While we all try to get our eight hours sleep each night, in reality, most of us don't get that kind of shut-eye until the weekend. And although chugging down a load of coffee can make us feel like we're wide-awake during the day after six hours or less, the truth is that we're probably much more tired than we think.

According to a new study published in the journal Brain and Behavior, those who say they don't need as much a sleep, or think that they feel alert during the day after shorter night's sleep, might not be as awake as they think. Carried out by researchers at the University of Utah, a report found that patterns of neural connections in the brains of so-called "habitual short sleepers" suggest that some of these people may be efficient sleepers, but may also be "more tired than they realize."

For the study, the researchers divided nearly 900 participants into three groups—those who said they slept a "normal" amount of hours over the previous month, those who slept six hours or less each night but felt tired, and those who slept six hours or less and felt alert. 

To understand each group's sleep behaviour, they analysed their brain patterns using an MRI scanner. For both groups of short sleepers, the participants exhibited connectivity patterns more typical of sleep than wakefulness while in the MRI scanner.

Some short sleepers may have briefly drifted off, even those who said they were unaffected by less than six hours per night. So what's going on here? Are they lying about this state of wakefulness, even though they don't get much sleep?

Study co-author and radiologist Jeff Anderson reveals why this might be the case: "People are notoriously poor at knowing whether they've fallen asleep for a minute or two."

So what does this mean exactly? One theory is that the brains of those who say they're not tired on less sleep are perpetually in overdrive. 

"This leaves the possibility open that in a boring MRI scanner they have nothing to do to keep them awake and thus fall asleep," says University of Utah neurologist Christopher Jones.

While the study is still ongoing, there is already evidence that those who say they don't feel the need to sleep are often people who need constant stimulation, hence why they'd be more likely to fall asleep in something "boring" like an MRI scan.

Study co-author Paula G. Williams, PhD, said the alert short sleepers were "high in behavioral activation and reward drive, often with hypomanic characteristics, for example, high activity, distractibility, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, and engaging in pleasurable, but potentially risky behavior."

"We believe they are likely engaging in highly stimulating activities that serve to override the physiological need to sleep," revealed Williams.

However, when these individuals are subjected to a less-stimulating environment (like the MRI scan), their ability to stay awake may quickly fade. Keep scrolling to see our favourite products for sleep.

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