The Science of Sleep

60 Minutes, The Science of Sleep — We’re sleeping less than ever:

In 1960, a survey by the American Cancer Society asked one million Americans how much sleep they were getting a night. The median answer was eight hours. Today that number has fallen to 6.7 hours – that’s a decrease of more than 15 percent in less than a lifetime. And from what the scientists 60 Minutes met are finding, we may be putting ourselves in a perilous situation.

.. and we’re paying dearly for it. Test subjects allowed to sleep only four hours per night are able to metabolize sugars at about the same rate as pre-diabetics, and have a voracious appetite. In other words, there may be a connection between cultural sleep deprivation and the obesity epidemic. And of course, memory and mental acuity in general suffer dramatically as well. Not to mention nice-ness (tired people are cranky people).

But what refrain is more commonly heard in the workplace than “I’m exhausted?” We’re compensating for the insane pace of everything by staying up later, perhaps fooling ourselves that we’ll be more productive if we just trim off a few of those hours “wasted” on sleep. But it ain’t natch’l, what we do.

“But you know I find it amazing to see how many people are asleep within five minutes of boarding an airplane at 11 o’clock in the morning. You know, sit down and boom. It shouldn’t happen. A normal adult shouldn’t be falling asleep at 11 o’clock in the morning, minutes after sitting in a small, uncomfortable airplane seat. It just shows that, you know, people are exhausted.”

Ever since Miles was born, I’ve been deep in this pattern, getting by on 5-6 hours/night (7 on a mellow day), day after day, week after week. I used to try and get one full 8-hour night per week, but now even that doesn’t happen regularly. You just get so used to being a zombie, it starts to feel normal. Every now and then you get a full night or something close to it, and the mental clarity is astonishing, this feeling of alertness like you remember from a long-ago life. I swear I’m going to reform, get back on the 8-hour track permanently… but I never do. They say we’d be more productive sleeping more than less – that the increase in sharpness more than compensates for hours lost in sleep. But it’s hard to convince myself of that.

Anyway, it’s well worth the watch (or read).

How many hours of sleep do you average per night?

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Music: Dengue Fever :: Oceans of Venus

6 Replies to “The Science of Sleep”

  1. Since I started training for the triathlon I’ve completely noticed the circular relationship between sleep, exercise, and food(fuel!). If one of those three gets out of whack the other two suffer, too. Breakfast really is the most important meal and what you stuff down your hole really does matter.

    I’m never going back! That is, apart from the occasional slip-up. But, that just keeps me honest.

  2. @zoe: Heh – Just went to put it in the NetFlix queue and found it was already there… I apparently added it months ago… on your recommendation perhaps?

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