Thursday, January 18, 2007


There are many theories about why we sleep. We do know that we cannot function for long without it.

The longest recorded stint of deliberate sleeplessness was a science experiment by seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner in 1965. He managed to stay awake for 11 days without the use of stimulant drugs

Towards the end of the time, he was experiencing hallucinations and feeling faint. Researchers then attached EEG monitors to his head as he went to sleep, which took less than four seconds. He awoke after sleeping for about 14 hours, and said that he felt fine.

Humans are (in the main) robust, resilient creatures who can survive under less than perfect conditions for extremely long periods of time, however, there is a wide body of evidence that shows many of us are not getting enough sleep.

A wide range of studies on sleep have come to overlapping conclusions on the benefits of sleep:

Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.

Safety: Sleep debt can lead to a greater tendency to spontaneously fall asleep during the daytime.

Mood: Sleep loss can contribute to irritability, inability to concentrate, and mood swings.

Cardiovascular health: Sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

Disease: Sleep deprivation depletes our immune functions.

Of course, there are times of life when the luxury of sleep is simply not on offer (babies anyone?). And some people find getting to/staying asleep a problem. However, if you know that you are spending too much time aimlessly TV channel- or web-surfing, it might be a good idea to try a few weeks of supplementing your sleep quota, and seeing whether it makes you feel any better.

One big side benefit of going to bed early is that many people get the desire to snack on 'comfort food' after 9pm (for me it is red wine and chocolate). If you're asleep, this isn't an issue!

On a personal note, I spent last year making a concerted effort to increase my sleep quota (from 5.5 hours to 7 hours a night). In the interests of full disclosure, I fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply, however, the results were very positive, including greater alertness and energy throughout the day (especially in mid-afternoon), and getting up in the morning now takes MUCH less effort than it did.


Major Look said...

I reckon all my sleep genes went to you - I try sleeping for long periods of time but can't!

Life isn't fair :-(

On the upside, I find I have a lot of hours in the day!

Let's Talk Sleep with Theresa Shumard said...

I think that Americans, especially, look to carry lack of sleep around (and bragging that they can go on only a few hours a night)like some kind of badge of strength. No one looks or feels macho (or strong) when they are sleep deprived!

Be well, Sleep well,