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Sleeping, an unexpected miracle

The power of sleeping

Lack of sleep will have a real and visible impact. Let me explain.

I had a row with the cat. Moan, moan, moan, he hasn't stopped complaining since I came down to make tea at 6:15 AM.

My teenage daughter sat at the kitchen table giggling hysterically while I, very firmly, explained to the cat that if he wasn't happy with breakfast and didn't want to go out he should go and have a nap as he was overtired and showing off.

I'm a bit frazzled this morning. I didn't sleep that well and now everything is irritating. The cat, the labradors, the giggling teenager are all causing me a degree of stress that is out of all proportion to the situation.

When I sleep my normal eight hours I can crack jokes, ignore the cats moaning, and giggle along with the teenager at the absurdity of trying to have a meaningful conversation with a cat.

Sleep deprivation destroys your concentration

In 1965 Randy Gardner a high school student in San Diego California this stayed awake for 11 days and 25 minutes.

He is the holder of the scientifically documented record for the longest a human has intentionally gone without sleep without using stimulants of any kind.

Gardner set his record as part of his high schools science fair. His health was monitored by lieutenant commander John J. Ross and observed by Stanford sleep researcher Dr William C. Dem.

The main side effects from his marathon of sleeplessness included moodiness, problems with concentration, paranoia and hallucinations. Gardner’s record shows that extreme sleep deprivation is possible but is it sensible?

So how do we sleep?

Our sleep cycle is regulated by two systems in our bodies: sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian or 24-hour body clock. The sleep/wake homeostasis tells our bodies when the need for sleep is building up and our 24-hour body clock regulates the timing of sleepiness and wakefulness.

When we sleep we go through a series of 90 minute long sleep cycles. During that time we move through five stages of sleep:

  • Very light sleep during stage 1 to a very deep sleep at stage 4. 
  • The fifth stage of sleep is known as REM sleep — Rapid Eye Movement, this is where dreaming happens.

How much sleep do we need?

The World Health Organisation recommends eight hours of sleep per night.

In developed nations two-thirds of people fail to achieve this amount of sleep and suffer the consequences.

In his book, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, Professor Matthew Walker looks at all aspects of sleep from why we need to get our eight hours a night to what happens if we don’t.

Walker believes we are in the midst of a ‘catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic’ the consequences of which are far greater than we could imagine.

He argues that sleep needs to be incentivised. Sleep deprivation (less than seven hours a night) affects every aspect of your health and costs the UK economy over £30 billion a year in lost revenues.

How sleep deprivation affects health

The effects on our health from sleep loss are numerous and serious. There are significant links to Alzheimers disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.

A telling example he quotes in his interview with The Guardian is that after just one night of four or five hours sleep our natural killer cells, the cells that attack cancer, reduce by 70% and that lack of sleep is linked to bowel, prostate and breast cancer. 

Sleep deprivation also affects the bodies control of sugar. You are more susceptible to weight gain because inadequate sleep reduces the level of leptin, a hormone that signals to your brain when you are full, and increases ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger.

Getting too little sleep can effect the brains ability to remove the amyloid deposits that accumulate in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimers disease killing the surrounding cells. When we sleep deeply these deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. 

A couple of other worrying statistics from this interview :

  • Men who sleep too little have a sperm count 29% lower than those who get enough sleep
  • If you drive a car after just four hours sleep you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident
  • There are 100 diagnosed sleep disorders. The most common is insomnia

How does sleep-loss affect procrastinators?

Getting less sleep than you need leaves everyone edgy, a little irritable and a lot less productive. 

I’ve found if I’m tired my motivation to do what needs to be done will significantly lower.

I’ll be more inclined to procrastinate and revert to type by watching something on Netflix’s or Amazon.

On tired days achieving anything is a struggle and will leave me feeling guilty when I do nothing. I’ll get frustrated and snappy if there’s no choice but to buckle down and work.

I also find that the quality of what I manage is poorer than when I am rested and my creativity and ability to generate ideas is a lot lower than normal.

For me, if I want to do what needs to be done, I need to sleep a minimum of seven hours a night, preferably eight hours and to sleep for this amount of time consistently.

Bottom line: if we want to achieve, we have to be ready, prepared to do battle and overcome our innate desire to do nothing, otherwise we stay where we are and be the things we really want to avoid. 

Suggested Reading

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