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When people have difficulty getting sleep due to their work or the demands of day-to-day life, they accumulate a sleep debt. A person with a sleep debt does not get sufficient sleep on a chronic basis. The consequences of sleep debt include decreased levels of alertness and mental efficiency. Interestingly, since the advent of electric light, the amount of sleep that people get has declined. While we certainly welcome


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Chapter 4 | States of Consciousness 119



the convenience of having the darkness lit up, we also suffer the consequences of reduced amounts of sleep because we are more active during the nighttime hours than our ancestors were. As a result, many of us sleep less than 7–8 hours a night and accrue a sleep debt. While there is tremendous variation in any given individual’s sleep needs, the National Sleep Foundation (n.d.) cites research to estimate that newborns require the most sleep (between 12 and 18 hours a night) and that this amount declines to just 7–9 hours by the time we are adults.

If you lie down to take a nap and fall asleep very easily, chances are you may have sleep debt. Given that college students are notorious for suffering from significant sleep debt (Hicks, Fernandez, & Pelligrini, 2001; Hicks, Johnson, & Pelligrini, 1992; Miller, Shattuck, & Matsangas, 2010), chances are you and your classmates deal with sleep debt-related issues on a regular basis. In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation updated their sleep duration hours, to better accommodate individual differences. Table 4.1 shows the new recommendations, which describe sleep durations that are “recommended”, “may be appropriate”, and “not recommended”.

Sleep Needs at Different Ages

Age Recommended May be appropriate Not recommended

0–3 months 14–17 hours 11–13 hours 18–19 hours

Fewer than 11 hours More than 19 hours

4–11 months 12–15 hours 10–11 hours 16–18 hours

Fewer than 10 hours More than 18 hours

1–2 years 11–14 hours 9–10 hours 15–16 hours

Fewer than 9 hours More than 16 hours

3–5 years 10–13 hours 8–9 hours 14 hours

Fewer than 8 hours More than 14 hours

6–13 years 9–11 hours 7–8 hours 12 hours

Fewer than 7 hours More than 12 hours

14–17 years 8–10 hours 7 hours 11 hours

Fewer than 7 hours More than 11 hours

18–25 years 7–9 hours 6 hours 10–11 hours

Fewer than 6 hours More than 11 hours

26–64 years 7–9 hours 6 hours 10 hours

Fewer than 6 hours More than 10 hours

≥65 years 7–8 hours 5–6 hours 9 hours

Fewer than 5 hours More than 9 hours

Table 4.1

Sleep debt and sleep deprivation have significant negative psychological and physiological consequences Figure 4.5. As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can result in decreased mental alertness and cognitive function. In addition, sleep deprivation often results in depression-like symptoms. These effects can occur as a function of accumulated sleep debt or in response to more acute periods of sleep deprivation. It may surprise you to know that sleep deprivation is associated with obesity, increased blood pressure, increased levels of stress hormones, and reduced immune functioning (Banks & Dinges, 2007). A sleep deprived

120 Chapter 4 | States of Consciousness

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individual generally will fall asleep more quickly than if she were not sleep deprived. Some sleep-deprived individuals have difficulty staying awake when they stop moving (example sitting and watching television or driving a car). That is why individuals suffering from sleep deprivation can also put themselves and others at risk when they put themselves behind the wheel of a car or work with dangerous machinery. Some research suggests that sleep deprivation affects cognitive and motor function as much as, if not more than, alcohol intoxication (Williamson & Feyer, 2000). Research shows that the most severe effects of sleep deprivation occur when a person stays awake for more than 24 hours (Killgore & Weber, 2014; Killgore et al., 2007), or following repeated nights with fewer than four hours in bed (Wickens, Hutchins, Lauk, Seebook, 2015). For example, irritability, distractibility, and impairments in cognitive and moral judgment can occur with fewer than four hours of sleep. If someone stays awake for 48 consecutive hours, they could start to hallucinate.

Figure 4.5 This figure illustrates some of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. While cognitive deficits may be the most obvious, many body systems are negatively impacted by lack of sleep. (credit: modification of work by Mikael Häggström)

Read this article about sleep needs (http://openstax.org/l/sleephabits) to assess your own sleeping habits.

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