How Important is Sleep?

“Sleep is the best meditation.”  – Dalai Lama

A good night’s sleep is very important. I’m sure you hear this all the time. Another one we hear all the time is “you need 8 hours of sleep every night.” We hear these vague statements all the time without really knowing their significance or what they really mean.

A video from AsapScience helps shed some light on the mysteries of sleep. The video starts by stating “the very function of sleep is still debated by scientists,” meaning that while it is pretty much understood you’re going to have a bad day with a lack of sleep, the exact reasons for needing sleep and its affects are still up for debate. It is known, however, that we do need sleep “to function efficiently and productively.”

In total, we sleep away around 24 years of our lives. That’s a frightening number. But before you swear off sleep in a misguided attempt to give yourself more time, understand exactly what a lack of sleep means: A recent study separated a group of people into 3 test groups over a 2 week period. The first group slept for 4 hours a night, the second group slept for 6 hours a night, and the third group got 8 hours of sleep a night. After two weeks, the group with 8 hours of sleep “exhibited few attention lapses or cognitive issues.” This probably comes as no surprise.

So, now you’re wondering how bad, really, could be getting only 6 hours of sleep a night be? According to the study, the individuals who only got 6 hours of sleep displayed the same cognitive deterioration as someone with a .1% blood alcohol content. Meaning, the people who only go 2 weeks with 6 hours of sleep are walking around essentially legally drunk. The individuals who slept 4 hours a night would sometimes fall asleep during their cognitive tests.

Leveling Off

You might now be thinking that certainly, this will level off at some point as your brain will get used to sleeping for this amount of time. Turns out this isn’t the case. Scientists have found that your brain function steadily decreases over the course of time as you continue to get a lack of sleep. They refer to this phenomenon as “sleep debt.”

We can recover from sleep debt if we give ourselves a few good nights’ sleep; however, the longer you go with sleep deprivation (i.e. less than 7-8 hours of sleep) the more good night’s sleep in a row you’ll need. So, if you go weeks and a month without getting a proper night’s sleep, you’ll need weeks and months to recover.

When it gets to months or years scientists are unsure as to whether or not the brain can ever be recovered entirely. Eventually, our feeling of tiredness will level off. We tell ourselves that we feel fine and that we don’t need any more sleep, but in reality our brain is still deteriorating, we’ve just become used to that deterioration and become less aware of it.

How Long Should I Sleep?

According to studies, we need a consistent 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Any less than that and we run a much higher risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and a 12 percent higher risk of death – this is on top of the cognitive issues.

The reverse to all of this is those who sleep too much (more than 8 hours) also have a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and a 30 percent higher risk of death – though, the silver lining is you don’t cognitively deteriorate.

There are those who have genetic mutations allowing them to sleep less than the average person without the cognitive deterioration and other risks, those these individuals are few and far between. So, before you take the risk in wondering whether you are one of these people, consider the consequences if you aren’t.

With this knowledge comes the responsibility of a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t seem so important to stay up and watch that T.V. show or stay out late when you consider what you’re doing to your mind and body. We need to take care of ourselves so we can make the world a better place. Regulating your sleep will help you discipline yourself as well as help your health and happiness! Be unconditionally responsible by keeping yourself and your health in check.

Please, share a method you use to help get to sleep or how getting to bed earlier has helped you increase your productivity!