Recently, I’ve been on this really weird sleep cycle. First, it started with me going to bed later; therefore, I’d wake up later. That quickly evolved into me going to bed later and then having to wake up earlier due to obligations I had. This has been going on for the last month… until yesterday.
Yesterday, was my body’s way of saying enough-is-enough. I woke up early and was lethargic the whole day. I took multiple naps and was in bed for the night by 9pm.
So what really happened here? I should have known it was coming, I’ve heard about this on three separate occasions, from three different podcasts. It’s called sleep debt.
Sleep debt is often used to describe sleeping less than eight hours on any given night. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I never, or rarely get eight hours of sleep.” Trust me, I’m right there with you. Eight hours of sleep is hard to come by these days for many people, but maybe if we knew what was actually happening to our bodies when we didn’t get eight hours, we would be more inclined to actually get to bed on time.
Neuroscientist Matthew Walker during his interview with Shankar Vedantam of Hidden Brain said,
“If we didn’t need eight hours of sleep and we could survive on six, mother nature would have done away with 25% of our sleep time millions of years ago… if sleep does not provide a remarkable set of benefits then it’s the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.”
Now, that’s a very strong statement! Evolution, among other things, has gotten us as humankind to where we are today. Breathing, functioning the way we do, walking, etc. So why push the boundaries of evolution that have been so consistent and successful in the past?
Well, in my opinion, and the views of many well-respected scientists, we push the boundaries of sleep due to our societal norms.
In this same interview, Matthew Walker brought up another good point. When a baby sleeps for the majority of the day, nobody thinks, “Wow, what a lazy baby.” For the baby, sleep is justified because many people understand it is a crucial part of their development process. But why does that notion change as we get older? Yes, we’re no longer babies, and we have responsibilities, but the notion that we can sleep when we’re dead might actually kill us.
Just ask Arianna Huffington, creator of the Huffington Post. From lack of sleep and being overworked, Arianna found herself lying in a hospital bed recovering after passing out and broke her cheekbone during her fall. The worst part, she alluded to, was that if anyone had asked her earlier that day how she was, she probably said, “I’m fine.” Does passing out and breaking her cheekbone due to lack of sleep sound “fine”?
If we’re honest, we all do this. We say we’re okay when we’re not. We get no sleep and then try to accomplish our daily to-dos. But what we really don’t know is that whenever we get less than eight hours of sleep, the way we subjectively perceive our quality of work, and how we objectively execute them leaves much to be desired. To put it simply, we aren’t as productive and sharp as we think.
That may not come as a surprise, but it’s a big deal. Most of us aren’t great drivers, to begin with, but put a bunch of sleep-deprived drivers on the road and something is bound to go wrong.
Or for the college student that pulled the all-nighter, you are almost guaranteed to know less than if you took just a two-hour nap before the exam.
It really sucks that our society doesn’t value sleep, but it only takes a few people to change that narrative. Ultimately productivity speaks for itself, not the fewest hours slept.
I write all this to say, don’t be fulled into thinking that sleep isn’t necessary, or that you don’t need the recommended eight. We’ve all tried it, and for the most part, we’ve all felt quite miserable because of it. Sleep is one of those things where the tone of your whole day could be different if you just got enough. So save yourself the trouble and get eight.
If you would like to learn more about the importance of sleep and how it affects you, you can listen to “Eyes Wide Open: Part 1 & 2” from NPR’s Hidden Brain, as well as Chase Jarvis, Tim Farriss, and/or Sean Stevens’ interviews with Arianna Huffington.
You could also read Arianna Huffington’s Book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time and/or Sean Steven’s book, Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. Both of these books are wonderful resources to help you better understand how important sleep is and how much better you can be because of it.
To bring this blog post full circle, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson. I didn’t have to end up in the hospital like Arianna or with insomnia like many people who push their boundaries of sleep. All I needed was one full weekend of lethargy to realize that I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. Moving forward I plan to get eight hours of sleep or at least shoot for that because being tired, unproductive, and ineffective is not the way I want to honor my body.
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Until next time, get up, get moving and live your best life.
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