Gregg D Jacobs, Ph.D.  

Interests: Sleep medicine, Behavioral Medicine
UMass Memorial Medical Center
Sleep Disorders Center
Worcester, MA
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Is Sleep Deprivation a "One Size Fits All" Phenomenon?

Dec 25, 2008 - 5 comments

Although sleep deprivation can have a significant adverse effect on our daytime functioning, it is not a “one size fits all” phenomenon. Recent research has shown that younger and longer sleepers (eight or more hours per night) are more sensitive to the effects of sleep loss. A recent study involving older people (on average, age 58) found that their performance after sleep deprivation was not significantly altered and another  study found that older people (on average, 68 years) appear to need less sleep than younger people (on average, 22 years).  

Besides age, there are significant “trait-like” differences in individual response to sleep loss. One study discovered that while some subjects showed significant impairment in daytime functioning after 36 hours of sleep deprivation, other subjects exhibited minimal impairment.  In addition, because the study involved a group of young, healthy adults, the researchers believe that individual differences in response to sleep deprivation in the real world population of young, middle age, and older adults would be even greater.

These recent findings demonstrate that the effects of sleep deprivation are not a "one size fits all" phenomenon: just as people have different sleep needs, their responses to sleep loss vary significantly.  

It turns out that the effects of sleep deprivation are dependent upon whether a person has experienced partial or total sleep loss; over how many days the loss occurs; whether recovery sleep is possible; and the circumstances under which the loss takes place. Sleep loss in laboratory studies on sleep deprivation, typically  involving only four hours of sleep a night with no recovery sleep allowed for a week or even longer, is far more severe than the more modest sleep losses most people struggle with in daily life.  And sleep loss does not have the same negative effects if the person is motivated to cope with it; for example,  if he or she dealing with a crisis, on call as a doctor, being paid to work long shifts with little sleep, or caring for a newborn. It also helps if the loss occurs under positive circumstances such as a vacation or social event. Of course, because of the stress of lab experiments, it is not clear if stress or sleep loss produces the impairment, but real-life sleep loss can occur as a result of stress. In fact, stress is a typical cause of sleep problems so we don't  know yet if the performance decrements after sleep loss are due to sleep loss itself or the stress that causes the sleep loss.

The bottom line: sleep loss does not always have significant detrimental effects on daytime functioning.

Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs, www.cbtforinsomnia.com/mh

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Avatar universal
by AudreyRose, Dec 26, 2008
I have a C-pak machine and a variety of masks.  With each different mask I still wake at 2:00AM and toss the mask off my face. I am in my sixties and have heart disease and Diastolic Dysfunction and they are triyng to see if these heart ailments are sleep apnea related. I also have a moistuizer device attached....Now, I go to bed at 9:00PM...So the machine works for 5 hours.  Isn't that good enough?  After tossing off the face mask I go back to sleep and sleep till 4:30AM.   Is this working for me?  Since early teen years, I have always fallen asleep in movies and in church and during lectures.  )-:

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by Gregg D Jacobs, Ph.D.Blank, Dec 26, 2008
Your question should go to Dr. Park in the Sleep Breathing Disorders forum.

Dr. Jacobs

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by Savas, Dec 26, 2008
Hmmm... I've always found that I do best if I sleep 4-6 hours a night. Longer than 7 hours and I feel sluggish and to put it bluntly, like hell.
In fact, I'd prefer to under sleep than oversleep. Generally I feel more energetic on those days.

I suppose I'm saying to all you 8-10 hour sleepers...be jealous. :-)

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by peggy64, Dec 28, 2008
Hello Dr Jacobs,

I have had severe insomnia for 3 years now. I have no problem going to sleep. I just wake up every 1.5-2 hours, and feel adrenaline rushes that cause a lot of anxiety.  

Name a sleeping pill...I've tried it. That is what is so frustrating. There seems to be nothing to relieve this.  I have hypothyroid and adrenal issues which contribute greatly to this problem. I have had sleep apnea tests,(negative) everything. It is just so frustrating.

It has been going on so long now, that it is interfering with living.  

I am now seeing an ND who thinks it is the Dilantin I take for seizures, but I have been on this for 8 years before any problems. She is working with me to get off the seizure medication, as she says she has discovered what is causing my seizures.

I have basically given up on finding any kind of relief.

Have you ever heard of anyone else with this problem, that seemed to be unable to be "fixed"?  

Thank you,

Peggy M.

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by Gregg D Jacobs, Ph.D.Blank, Dec 28, 2008
I have seen many patients who have tried everything to improve their sleep, including all the sleep medications, without success. However, the vast majority of these patients (80%) will experience improved sleep once they try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) since virtually all cases of insomnia have a significant “learned” component that can be unlearned. Please see my prior posts or my website for more information on accessing CBT.

Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs

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