• Even a few nights of sleep loss could affect people's well-being: Study
  • The highest jump in symptoms appeared after just one night of sleep loss
  • Participants didn't return to baseline until they had more than six hours of sleep

Do you have a habit of sleeping less on weekdays then sleeping in on the weekends? A new study has found that it only takes three nights of sleep loss for one's mental and physical well-being to deteriorate, and it all starts on day one.

People have different sleep needs depending on their age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day including their naps while teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Among adults, those aged 18 to 60 are recommended to have seven or more hours of sleep every night. But with people's busy lifestyles, many think they can simply make up for lost sleep on weekdays by sleeping in on weekends.

In a new study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, lead author, Soomi Lee of the University of Florida's (USF) School of Aging Studies, found that even just a few consecutive nights of sleep loss can cause both physical and mental well-being to "greatly deteriorate," USF said in a news release.

"Experimental studies have shown that just 1 night of sleep loss impairs next-day performance, mood, and energy," the researcher wrote. "Yet, little is known about the effects of consecutive sleep loss on daily well-being in participants' own settings."

Lee looked at the possible effects of sleeping less than six hours for eight consecutive days for the study. According to USF, experts have noted this to be the "minimum duration" that's needed to support the average adult's "optimal health."

The study involved looking at data from 1,958 adults in the Midlife in the United States Study. They were all "relatively healthy and well-educated" and provided daily diary data of their physical and mental behaviors for eight consecutive days. About 42% of the participants had at least one night of sleeping 1 1/2 hours fewer than their usual routines.

'Just One Night' of Sleep Loss Can Impair Daily Function

Data showed that three consecutive nights of sleep loss was enough to begin causing great deterioration in the participants' physical and mental well-being. Symptoms they experienced included feelings of irritability, nervousness, loneliness, anger and frustration as well as physical symptoms such as aches, gastrointestinal problems and upper respiratory issues, among others.

The highest jump in these symptoms happened after just one night, which then "steadily" worsened and peaked on day three, following which the body seemed to get used to sleeping loss. But on day six, the severe physical symptoms were "at its worst," USF noted. And until the participants had more than six hours of sleep, they did not return to their baseline levels.

"Many of us think that we can pay our sleep debt on weekends and be more productive on weekdays," Lee said as per the news release. "However, results from this study show that having just one night of sleep loss can significantly impair your daily functioning."

This suggests that making an effort to "break the vicious cycle of sleep loss" may help protect people's well-being. It's not just the amount of sleep one has but also its quality that can contribute to well-being and health, CDC said.

"Improving sleep quality may be helped by better sleep habits or being diagnosed and treated for any sleep disorder you may have," the CDC said.

Millions of Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder like insomnia each year. Pixabay (CC0)