So, for most of us, eight hours of sleep is excellent and six hours is no good, but what about if we split the difference? What is the threshold below which cognitive function begins to flag? While Dinges’s study was under way, his colleague Gregory Belenky, then director of the division of neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., was running a similar study. He purposely restricted his subjects to odd numbers of sleep hours — three, five, seven and nine hours — so that together the studies would offer a fuller picture of sleep-restriction. Belenky’s nine-hour subjects performed much like Dinges’s eight-hour ones. But in the seven-hour group, their response time on the P.V.T. slowed and continued to do so for three days, before stabilizing at lower levels than when they started. Americans average 6.9 hours on weeknights, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Which means that, whether we like it or not, we are not thinking as clearly as we could be.Sing about it, boys:
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