Why is Awake the New Sleep?

It was no surprise to me to read a recent study that showed that when Stanford men’s basketball players got more than 10 hours of sleep nightly, their on-court performance improved dramatically. They ran faster sprints, took more accurate shots and were less fatigued. Another example of more sleep translating into improved awake performance.

Facts About Sleep Deprivation

According to a recent national survey and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, here are the current facts about sleep:

  • Adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep nightly.
  • Short sleep is defined as less than 6 hours of sleep.
  • Almost half (48%) of Americans say that they are not great sleepers.
  • More than 35% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep.
  • On average, “good” sleepers get 1-hour more sleep every night than poor sleepers.
  • 13% say that they never get a good night’s sleep.
  • 1 in 20 Americans have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving in the past month.
  • 1 in 5 Americans have sex less often or have lost interest in sex because they are too sleepy.
  • In general, we sleep one hour less every night with each passing generation.

Sleep as Oxygen

During sleep, body temperature falls, muscles relax, the heart beats more slowly, blood pressure and pulse rate fall, and breathing slows. Clearly, sleep is more than simply rest and relaxation. It is a time of growth, recuperation and repair. Losing sleep may not physically kill you like being oxygen-deprived, but short sleep patterns are linked to depression, obesity, heart disease, loss of sex drive, attention disorders and a higher likelihood of developing a work-related disability. One Swedish study even showed that sleep deprived people look tired and less healthy and therefore less attractive to others.
Not only that, it’s not that easy to bounce back after losing sleep. The impairments caused by sleep-deprivation remain even after sleeping in for a day. Full recovery after sleep deprivation may take several nights of extended sleep.
So why does our society applaud those who stay up working all night rather than sleeping? Sleep deprivation is no badge of honor; it’s a threat to your health. Maybe this is why the Guinness Book of World Records refuses to recognize any record claims for lack of slumber. In my view, sleep ranks up there with nutrition and exercise as important pillars for a healthy, long and fulfilling life.