Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Obama White House: No Time for Sleep?

An important speech in Russia on Tuesday. The G-8 Summit in Italy on Wednesday. A visit to the Vatican in Rome on Friday. Another speech in Ghana on Saturday. Back to the White House to introduce the nominee for the U.S. Surgeon General yesterday.

Keeping up with President Obama is no easy task. It requires a pace that often leaves little time for White House staffers to sleep, the Washington Post

The long days may come with the territory. But the need for sleep won’t go away.

“You have your coffee at five in the afternoon, and it just doesn't do anything," press secretary Robert Gibbs told the Post. "Because you realize you're so far behind [in sleep] that a jolt -- you don't even feel it."

Administration officials insist that adrenaline keeps them going. But sometimes the exhaustion is too hard to hide: Economic adviser Larry Summers was
seen snoozing during a meeting in April.

But after six months in office, maybe White House staffers have trained their bodies to get by on less sleep. Does the body adapt to a schedule of restricted sleep?

A 2002
study in the journal Sleep put this question to the test. It examined the effects of “chronic sleep restriction.”

Participants slept for either 4 hours, 6 hours or 8 hours per night. They maintained this schedule for 14 days. Effects were compared with three nights of total sleep deprivation.

Results show that chronic restriction of sleep periods to 4 hours or 6 hours per night resulted in significant deficits in cognitive performance. The effects of sleep restriction were similar to those of up to two nights of total sleep deprivation.

So did participants adapt to the effects of sleep restriction? Not at all: Performance “progressively eroded.” It got worse over time, not better.

And participants didn’t seem to notice. Results suggest that they were largely unaware of these cognitive deficits.

“Claims that humans adapt to chronic sleep restriction within a few days…are not supported by the present findings,” the authors concluded. “It appears that even relatively moderate sleep restriction can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy adults.”

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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