Last week, Friday, I was in a great mood. I thought it must have been my positive outlook catching up with me. Maybe it was the time I had it he middle of the day to go for a hike. But, thinking about it, I don’t usually have strenuous days. When I was honest with myself, I realised that I had changed one thing that day, I was operating on about 9 hours of sleep. I know correlation isn’t causation, but I definitely felt a bit different.
According to my limited research, an adult requires between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night. I’m sure this would have been fairly easy in the days without lights and TVs. You know this if you ever find yourself in the wilderness. When the sun goes down, it’s time for bed. The earth comes with a built in sleep prompt. You go to bed, because there’s nothing else to do but walk over cliffs in the dark, or get attacked by animals with nocturnal vision. Now that we have a choice, we have to pull ourselves away from the pretty lights of our living rooms and electrical devices.
What drives many people to stay awake long after they should sleep is ambition. Now there’s nothing wrong with ambition, but in this case it may be misdirected. Sleep is seen by many as a weakness. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” “Sleep is the cousin of death.” These adages are commonly heard in our society, where accomplishment is paramount. However, without knowing it, we are eating our own tails, so to speak. Accomplishments come easier when we are performing well, and many studies have shown significant drops in cognitive performance that go along with sleep deprivation.
The consensus in the texts seems to be that less than 6 hours of sleep can have significant performance and health effects. 6 isn’t enough either. It’s enough to squeeze by at a lower level of performance, but far from the 7.5 to 9 hour ideal. Perhaps you always get six hours and feel fine. What may be happening is you have just gotten used to operating at a less than optimal level. After several days you normalize to the way you feel and perform with that 6 hours.
I recently listened to an excellent podcast episode on sleep. It was an interview with Dr. Kirk Parsley on Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution podcast. He goes into detail on the cognitive effects of neglecting sleep.
Here’s the link: http://robbwolf.com/2013/04/30/dr-kirk-parsley-episode-181/
You can download the episode or the show transcript on that page.
In my search I came across many websites that challenge our habit of sleeping 6 or less hours a night. Here are a few:
Now, in the spirit of balance, I’ll also post a link below from David Asprey’s page. He is a researcher that seeks ways to get people to perform at their peak. He claims that there is a way for people to operate at their ideal on less sleep as well. The perspective is controversial, but interesting.
Now, step away from the computer and go to bed zombies! Finish taking the world over in the morning.