There has long been a school of thought that one performs all sorts of physical and mental tasks at a higher level when one has had a good night’s sleep, and there is all sorts of anecdotal evidence to back up that viewpoint. On the other hand, there has also been a school of thought that a minimal amount of sleep is all that is necessary, and anything beyond that is merely a hedonistic indulgence. There now seems to be a growing body of responsible research that comes down very much on the side of the former viewpoint, and with some important additional health implications.
You can read all of the material and see videos on the 60 Minutes website by clicking here, which I advise most earnestly. If you’re not able/inclined to do so, here are some quotes from the program that I think are particularly important:
“…what if you do sleep, just not enough? [Four volunteers] have to stay awake until 4 a.m., then are woken up at 8 a.m. for five nights in a row. Then they’re given tests to measure the effects of what’s called “chronic partial sleep deprivation.” … there’s a cumulative impairment that develops in your ability to think fast, to react quickly, to remember things. And it starts right away. A single night at four hours or five hours or even six, can in most people, begin to show effects in your attention and your memory and the speed with which you think. A second night it gets worse. A third night worse. Each day adds an additional burden or deficit to your cognitive ability…”
“…Dr. Dinges says people who are chronically sleep deprived, like people who’ve had too much to drink, often have no sense of their limitations. They believe they’ve trained themselves. “I think it’s a convenient belief. For the millions of people who don’t get enough sleep because their commute to work is too long, or they spend too many hours at work, or they just want this lifestyle of go, go, go, it’s convenient to say, ‘I’ve learned to live without sleep.’ But you bring ‘em into the laboratory - and we have an open challenge to any CEO or anyone in the world, come into the laboratory - we don’t see this adaptation," he says. One thing sleep researchers do see is that their sleep-deprived volunteers often have mood swings: they get short-tempered, then become almost giddy, sometimes within seconds…”
“…By almost all measures, we are sleeping less than ever before. 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…”
“… “We did a study where we restricted sleep to four hours per night for six nights,” Van Cauter explains. “And we noticed that they were already in a pre-diabetic state. And so, that was a big finding.” The study’s subjects were on the road to diabetes in just six days, and that’s not all - they were also hungry. Van Cauter has made a radical discovery: that lack of sleep may be contributing to the epidemic of obesity in this country through the work of a hormone called leptin that tells your brain when you’re full. “We observed that the volunteers, they actually had a drop in leptin levels,” Van Cauter explains. “Leptin was telling the brain, ‘Time to eat. We need more food.’”
“Even though they’d eaten,” Stahl remarks.
“But in fact they had plenty of food,” Van Cauter agrees.
Several large-scale studies from all over the world have reported a link between short sleep times and obesity, as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke…”
There’s a lot more where that came from, and it has definitely made me begin to self-monitor more closely the connection between my moods/behavior and the amount of sleep I’m getting. At a stretch, it may even offer me some insight into the moods/behavior of others, though I will proceed cautiously in that area, since there are so many other factors that feed into that equation.