More sleep isn’t necessarily enough to bring improvements, says MIT study

A good night’s sleep is one of the most crucial foundations for a healthy life. Even if you are eating well, working out regularly, indulging in activities that boost your mental health, everything is bound to fall short if you are not well-rested. In fact, you might not be sufficiently rested even if you sleep 8-9 hours a day, states an MIT study. Instead, the answer lies in good quality sleeps and naps.

The study, titled ‘The Economic Consequences of Increasing Sleep Among the Urban Poor’ is published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. The study has been carried out by scholars from MIT, Harvard University, Perelman School of Medicine, and Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

It is based on the analysis of sleep schedules and productivity levels of 452 low-income works in Chennai over a span of a month. It found that even increasing participants’ sleep by half an hour did not improve their productivity, earnings, financial choices, sense of well-being, or even blood pressure. In fact, it only brought down the number of hours they worked.

The researchers also found short naps during the day are more effective than taking breaks and aid in one’s productivity and well-being. In addition, they also found that the conditions the workers were sleeping in was responsible in their low-grade sleep quality due to mosquitoes, noise, and the heat in Chennai. Hence, one of the researchers, Schilbach, suggested “adding sleep of poor quality may not have the benefits that another half hour of sleep would have if it’s of higher quality.”

Disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) disrupt our sleep cycles and cause us to wake up tired and restless the next day. (Photo: Pexels)

Elaborating further, Schilbach said a key thing that “stands out is that people’s sleep efficiency is low, that is, their sleep is heavily fragmented.” “They have extremely few periods experiencing what’s thought to be the restorative benefits of deep sleep… People’s sleep quantity went up due to the interventions, because they spent more time in bed, but their sleep quality was unchanged.”

The study also concluded that even though naps did not directly result in higher incomes, it definitely yielded to higher productivity per minute as compared to people who take breaks. †

“In contrast to the night sleep intervention, we find clear evidence of naps improving a range of outcomes, including their productivity, their cognitive function, and their psychological well-being, as well as some evidence on savings,” observed Schilbach in the study .

Competing with the findings of the study, Dr. Shibashish Dey, head, medical affairs, South Asia, ResMed notes the importance of good quality sleep by alluding to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the final in the four stages one’s sleep goes through. He says: “The REM stage is essential because it stimulates the areas of the brain that help with learning and is associated with the increased production of proteins. A good sleep quality lets us pass through multiple REM cycles. People who have a good sleep quality with complete REM sleep cycles show psychological resilience and resistance to neurodegenerative conditions that may fend off neurological disease.”

Dr Dey further emphasizes on good quality sleep as opposed to longer sleeping hours and shares symptoms of disturbed sleep: “Disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) disrupt our sleep cycles and cause us to wake up tired and restless the next day. Therefore, we must be mindful if we are experiencing symptoms such as irregular breathing, restless leg, or snoring. These are indicators of inadequate quality sleep. If we are experiencing these symptoms, our body isn’t getting the restorative benefits of quality sleep for the total amount of time we are in bed.”

Sleep in a dark room without any light or sound disturbances. (Photo: Pexels)

If you are someone who has disturbed sleep and keep waking up during the night and tired in the morning, Dr Dey suggests the following to improve sleep quality:

Sleep in a dark room without any light or sound disturbances Have a fixed time to sleep and wake up Ensure you are exercising or indulging in any kind of physical activity during the day Ensure you are getting some exposure to sunlight during the day. This helps in the secretion of serotonin in our brains which eventually helps in the secretion of melatonin at night Avoid frequent daytime naps as these may hamper our sleep at night In case one is experiencing symptoms such as daytime tiredness even after a 7–8-hour long sleep, morning headaches and lack of productivity, it is time to consult a sleep specialist.

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