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Blame smartphone alerts, constant connectivity and a deluge of media for our society's sleep deprivation. But the root cause of why we get less sleep now than our ancestors did could come down to a much simpler reason: artificial light.
New research comparing traditional hunter-gatherer living conditions to a more modern setting shows that access to artificial light and electricity has shortened the amount of sleep humans get each night.
Sleep deprivation is commonplace in modern society, but its far-reaching effects on cognitive performance are only beginning to be understood from a scientific perspective. While there is broad consensus that insufficient sleep leads to a general slowing of response speed and increased variability in performance, particularly for simple measures of alertness, attention and vigilance, there is much less agreement about the effects of sleep deprivation on many higher level cognitive capacities, including perception, memory and executive functions. Central to this debate has been the question of whether sleep deprivation affects nearly all cognitive capacities in a global manner through degraded alertness and attention, or whether sleep loss specifically impairs some aspects of cognition more than others. Neuroimaging evidence has implicated the prefrontal cortex as a brain region that may be particularly susceptible to the effects of sleep loss, but perplexingly, executive function tasks that putatively measure prefrontal functioning have yielded inconsistent findings within the context of sleep deprivation. Whereas many convergent and rule-based reasoning, decision making and planning tasks are relatively unaffected by sleep loss, more creative, divergent and innovative aspects of cognition do appear to be degraded by lack of sleep. Emerging evidence suggests that some aspects of higher level cognitive capacities remain degraded by sleep deprivation despite restoration of alertness and vigilance with stimulant countermeasures, suggesting that sleep loss may affect specific cognitive systems above and beyond the effects produced by global cognitive declines or impaired attentional processes. Finally, the role of emotion as a critical facet of cognition has received increasing attention in recent years and mounting evidence suggests that sleep deprivation may particularly affect cognitive systems that rely on emotional data. Thus, the extent to which sleep deprivation affects a particular cognitive process may depend on several factors, including the magnitude of global decline in general alertness and attention, the degree to which the specific cognitive function depends on emotion-processing networks, and the extent to which that cognitive process can draw upon associated cortical regions for compensatory support.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
The length and precision of this proverb leave little room for interpretation as to its meaning.
In 1928, Carl Sandburg suggested that 'Early to bed and early to rise and you never meet any prominent people'.
Our internal circadian biological clocks, on the other hand, regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. The circadian rhythm dips and rises at different times of the day, so adults' strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00 am and in the afternoon between 1:00-3:00 pm, although there is some variation depending on whether you are a “morning person” or “evening person.” The sleepiness we experience during these circadian dips will be less intense if we have had sufficient sleep, and more intense when we are sleep deprived. The circadian rhythm also causes us to feel more alert at certain points of the day, even if we have been awake for hours and our sleep/wake restorative process would otherwise make us feel more sleepy.
Changes to this circadian rhythm occur during adolescence, when most teens experience a sleep phase delay. This shift in teens' circadian rhythm causes them to naturally feel alert later at night, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 pm. Since most teens have early school start times along with other commitments, this sleep phase delay can make it difficult to get the sleep teens need -- an average of 9 1/4 hours, but at least 8 hours. This sleep deprivation can influence the circadian rhythm; for teens the strongest circadian “dips” tend to occur between 3:00-7:00 am and 2:00-5:00 pm, but the morning dip (3:00-7:00 am) can be even longer if teens haven’t had enough sleep, and can even last until 9:00 or 10:00 am.