For years, I deprived myself of good sleep.
I was young. Ambitious. Ready and willing to take on the world. “Why waste so much time on sleep,” I thought to myself. There was so much that needed to be done, and I was convinced I could get by on four or five hours.
Of course, I wasn’t alone. The stories of famous entrepreneurs and other Type-A personalities that regularly pull all-nighters and survive on minimal sleep abound. In many cases, these people claim to function just as well, or even better, on less sleep.
But recent research indicates that many who chronically deprive themselves of sleep can’t accurately judge how this practice affects them.
A new study in Brain and Behavior systematically analyzed brain patterns of 839 subjects.
Researchers from the University of Utah asked individuals how much sleep they reported over the previous month, and to report any daytime dysfunction they experienced. (Daytime dysfunction was defined as having trouble staying awake while driving, eating meals, or engaging in social activities and who also deny problems keeping up enthusiasm to get things done during the day.)
Subjects were then separated into groups based on their answers. Conventional sleepers were defined as those getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, with “short sleepers” reporting less than six hours per night.
The patients were then placed in a “functional MRI,” where they were closely observed.
What were the results?
Compared to conventional sleepers, the study reported that short sleepers showed signs of “diminished wakefulness,” even among subjects who denied dysfunction. Additionally, researchers found that short sleepers who denied daytime sleepiness had more difficulty staying awake in the MRI than those who recognize the ill effects of their sleeping habits.
“It can be hypothesized that short sleepers denying daytime dysfunction underestimate their true level of daytime sleepiness,” concluded the authors of the study.
Are you one of the 30% of working adults in the United States who routinely get six hours of sleep or less per night?
If so, chances are you’re underestimating the truly adverse effects of your sleeping habits. Consistently short sleep duration has been associated with lower cognitive performance, mood swings, weight gain, and even death at an earlier age.
As for me, everything changed after marrying my wife. As one who recognized the need for good and consistent rest, she influenced my sleeping habits profoundly.
And you know what?
I’ve never felt better.
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A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.