A good night’s sleep not only helps you feel more alert during the day, but also contributes to quicker thinking and better decision making under pressure – attributes that are be particularly important in such safety-related professions as air traffic control and power plant operations, new research shows.
The study, conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, found eight hours of sleep per night are ideal for health and productivity, and that people who routinely get only five to six hours take longer to perform certain tasks that require processing complex information.
"Our team decided to look at how sleep might affect complex visual search tasks, because they are common in safety-sensitive activities, such as air-traffic control, baggage screening, and monitoring power plant operations," said Jeanne F. Duffy, who led the study published online in The Journal of Vision.
"These types of jobs involve processes that require repeated, quick memory encoding and retrieval of visual information, in combination with decision making about the information."
For the study, researchers tracked the impact of sleep loss on 12 participants over one month. In the first week, all participants were scheduled to sleep 10-12 hours per night to make sure they were well-rested. For the following three weeks, they slept the equivalent of 5.6 hours per night, and had their sleep times scheduled on a 28-hour cycle, mirroring chronic jet lag. The researchers gave the participants computer tests that involved visual search tasks and recorded how quickly they could find important information, and accurately identify it.
The researchers found the longer the participants were awake, the more slowly they identified the important information in the test. In addition, they performed the tasks more slowly between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. than during the daytime.
"This research provides valuable information for workers, and their employers, who perform these types of visual search tasks during the night shift, because they will do it much more slowly than when they are working during the day," said Duffy. "The longer someone is awake, the more the ability to perform a task, in this case a visual search, is hindered, and this impact of being awake is even stronger at night."
This was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.