The struggle of going to bed in a sleep deprived nation


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A sleep-deprived nation

Sleep – everyone does it. It’s so simple. No one taught us how to do it. We just surrender in its sweet embrace… or do we?

In 2008 the National Sleep Foundation asked Americans about their sleep habits. The results confirmed what psychologists and medical doctors already knew: people don’t get enough sleep and even when they do, it is often poor quality sleep. People explained their sleep deprivation with increased work hours and not having enough time.

  • One third of people in the survey complained they get a good night’s sleep only a few nights each month.
  • 20% shared they have often lost interest in sex, because of feeling too tired and sleepy.
  • 29% said they regularly felt extremely sleepy during the day or fell asleep at work.
  • 36% of drivers admitted to have nodded off in the past year. Rates are even higher among daily commuter drivers.

Why do we sacrifice sleep?

That same year USA Today survey revealed that 57% of the interviewed sacrificed sleep in order to get more work done. This is partly explained by our society’s attitude towards sleep. We just don’t think it’s all that important or even consider it a waste of time. We say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “Life is too short to sleep.” We’ve fallen for the illusion that we don’t need sleep. That’s why we run on coffee and energy drinks, trying to get 5 more hours of energy, ignoring our bodily signals: fatigue, distractability, aches, altered mood and  irritability.

Ironically, we sacrifice sleep in order to get more done, but we end up messing up the work we’re doing. It either takes us longer, because we’re simply not able to focus and carry through tasks as productively as when we are well rested, or we make mistakes and bad decisions because sleep deprivation reduces mental capacity and flexibility. In the end, no one wins when we deprive ourselves of this natural biological need, that’s no different from the need for food and water.

How much sleep do we need?

Not everyone needs to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night. While this is considered the optimal amount for adults, there’s nothing magical about it. Some people need as few as 5 or 6 hours to wake up rested and refreshed, while others can’t function without their 8 or even 9 hours. We have found that those who need less sleep simply sleep more effectively. Scientists know this from studying people in Sleep Clinics. The number of such clinics in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years.

Don’t kid yourself, we all need sleep. Sleepless nights might actually sound like fun when you’re 20, but the truth is lack of sleep is altering our natural sleep-and-wake cycle, which can predispose to insomnia and other sleep-related disorders. Not to mention, we are purposefully depriving our bodies and brains of the vital rejuvenating power of sleep (that has shown to improve memory, concentration, physical and mental performance).

There are more than enough drivers nodding off as it is. There are more than enough people who cause accidents at work because they don’t get enough sleep. You really don’t want to be one of them, do you?

My advice?

If you are sleep deprived, just go to bed! You will get things done in the morning. Your body will thank you later.

Images: Jeffhillphoto and Scot McLeod

1 comment for “The struggle of going to bed in a sleep deprived nation

  1. December 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Your advice is very good, and I agree with it if your deadline is not tomorrow morning. Speaking of deadlines and sleep deprivation, a good addition to your advice is to finish our works as much before its deadline as possible. :)

    As to our society’s attitude toward sleep – that it is a waste of time – I think this attitude is constant. Especially when you figure out that a third of your life is spent sleeping. That’s 33%. Meanwhile, I think we all know that we need sleep… and curse nature for having not given us the ability to rejuvenate (meaning sleep) in, let’s say, 1-2 hours maximum. :)

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