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Sleep Makes You Healthier and Smarter

This article was written by in Health. 14 comments.


A former high-powered, strongly motivated boss of mine did not believe in sleep. In order to be the best in the world at what we do — and this was the goal, no doubt — sleep is an obstacle to be overcome. I disagreed, as it seemed to me at some point, bodies and minds will find what they need whether or not you try to control them.

While he was in his office until four in the morning many nights, trying to work, I was getting the sleep I needed to be effective during waking hours. Our disagreements about this as well as some other philosophies of life eventually led to my departure from the organization.

Scientific studies have long proven the importance of a good night’s sleep, but there’s some new research that links sleep deprivation and serious illness.

A 2008 research project at the University of Chicago’s medical school kept young, healthy volunteers awake for all but four hours a night for six nights running. The result: The levels of subjects’ hormones shifted – in particular a hormone called leptin that affects appetite. They became ravenously hungry, scarfing down pizza and ice cream long after they would have felt full normally, and their blood sugar shot up to pre-diabetic levels – an ominous result after less than one week of inadequate sleep.

…[T]he World Health Organization (WHO) has gathered data from around the globe showing that sleep deprivation depresses the immune system, to the point where WHO is considering labeling chronic sleep deprivation a carcinogen, comparable to tobacco and asbestos.

Sleep deprivation also results in an overestimation of health; people deprived think they have more control than they do.

One experiment at U. Penn’s medical school kept subjects up until 4 A.M., woke them at 8 A.M., and then gave them a series of tests designed to measure memory, alertness, and the ability to react quickly to new information. The researchers were startled to find that subjects’ mental acuity declined markedly after just one night and kept dropping with each successive night of four hours’ sleep. Even more worrying: The study’s volunteers were unaware of their impairment. One woman, so fatigued that she could barely say her name, was nonetheless certain she was able to drive home.

In addition to these studies, entrepreneurs surveyed about their sleep habits have claimed to come up with many of their ideas while asleep. So it seems that sleeping is good for business.

Here are five free ways to improve sleep and five more free ways to improve sleep. Get Rich Slowly also has a brief guide to better sleep.

Make Sleep Work For You, Anne Fisher, Fortune Small Business, August 25, 2008.

Published or updated August 27, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Eric

I’m one of those people who don’t get much sleep. On weekends I average 4 hours per night, during the week I average 5 per night. I know many people who sleep 8-10 hours each night and trust me, their intelligence levels are not effected by the sleep they get.

In terms of health, the people I know who sleep 8-10 hours a day are far less healthy than I am. I get sick on average once every two years. I run 2.5-3 miles each day and Bike through the hill country 8 miles a few times a week. I actually come up with more idea’s while running or biking than I ever have while sleeping.

These studys are usually done using people who are used to having a lot of sleep. Sure, take someone who usually gets 8 hours, put them in for 4 hours of sleep and see what happens. I could tell you the results of that study without the government funding. I think a far better study would be to take the individuals who run companies such as your old boss, who normally only get a few hours of sleep and throw them into this study. I believe the results would be very different, I can function just fine off 4 hours a sleep per night, then again it’s because my body has been reprogrammed to work that way.

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avatar Heidi

I could use a nap right now.

I have known for years that I function better with the proper amount of sleep – I’m one of those people who needs a lot of it (8-9 hours is ideal). I have been struggling lately because work and wedding stressors keep me up (rolling tings over in my mind) until 2 or 3am. It’s frustrating to be aware that I’m not getting the rest I need, but I also don’t want to use sleep aids.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Ah, Flexo, I see you worked for That Guy. I used to work for That Guy, as well. It was a nightmare.

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avatar Emily

I think it can depend on the person, as exemplified by Eric — some people really need their 8 hours of they can’t function (like me) while others can get by on just 4 or 5 hours and be totally fine. I have read a huge book on sleep last summer that was really fascinating. It talked about tons of major studies done on sleep and proved all the awful effects sleep deprivation can have (at a certain point of sleep deprivation you literally are driving drunk). In a slightly inhumane study done a while back, puppies in an experiment died from not sleeping at all, I think for a week. So yes, our bodies definitely need sleep. And it sucks when your boss is that kind of person who does only need a few hours, because they may not understand that not everyone works that way, and sleeping a full eight hours does not mean we’re lazy! Those people are not the norm. Maybe they’ve trained themselves to get by on that little sleep or have something different genetically…but I don’t know anyone who can survive like that.

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avatar orange fan

the thing with me is that my dad never sleeps so i always thought dads stay up all night, now im grown up and i cant sleep, but i wish i could i feel tired all the time

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avatar jim

I think it’s funny that some people think everyone is just like them.. it’s also amazing that those people get as far as they do.

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avatar Vic

It entirely depends on how you program your body. Human Mind and Body are capable of achieving amazing things. It all depends how one trains it.

As far as sleep is concerned, also depends on timing of it as well. The best way of resting your body is to go to bed early like 9 pm and get up by 4 am. Six hours sleep is sufficient though many successful people can do with 4 hours/day.

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avatar matty dread

this is a lot like what they found with the hydrating your body study a few years ago….

Remember when they said if you were going to do strenous exercise in the heat you must drink x amount of water? then people were dying from water toxification. then a smart dr. said “look, your body is very smart. it tells you when you need water. its called getting thirsty. if you are thirsty, drink water. if not, don’t”. i think sleep works the same way.

i’ll tell you this though. as a father, i have found that less uninterrupted sleep is way better than more interrupted sleep. i try to get 8 hours, but with my daughter being young, if I can get 6-7 straight hours i feel way better than 2 stints of 4 hours interrupted by a 30 minutes water/tuck-in break with my daughter at 2:30 a.m.

i agree with poster #1 on the running. it really frees your mind.

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avatar Sarah

What a coincidence! Sinus pain has limited my sleep to a maximum of 3 hours a night for the last several days. I can’t concentrate, I can’t remember the day of the week or meetings that happened just yesterday, my blood glucose remains too high even though I have no appetite, and today after getting on the highway for an appointment, I forget how to get to the office of the doctor I’ve been seeing for 2 years.

It’s 5:20pm for me and its bedtime. Good night!

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avatar Plamen

I was shocked reading recently, as well mention in this post, that length of my sleep is linked to my weight – the less I sleep the more chances to gain pounds …

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avatar Matt

I agree that you need to get the optimal amount of sleep for your body but what that amount is exactly will depend on your body and situation. I get about 6 hours of sleep a night and some days i’m a bit tired and some days I’m just raring to go. I truly believe that studies that try to overgeneralize and apply broad stroke averages to everyone aren’t neccessaryily accurate. Yes they’re accurate when you look at them with the large numbers theory but if you were to compare that study to a group of people who simply require less sleep the findings would be brought into question.

For some people they need 6 hours, others need 8 and others still need 4. Being attuned to your bodies needs is the critical factor and using guidelines such as this study to determine what works best for you is more important than anything else. Not getting enough sleep is bad but if some study says you need 8-10 hours per night or you’ll never function properly might not apply and in fact might make you lethargic (too much sleep has an impact as well).

Speaking of sleep I need to get my 6-7 hours.

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avatar Shawn

I agree that people need varying amount of sleep from personal experiences and observations -> most of my friends are fine with 6-7 hours of sleep, a few regularly sleep only 5-6 hrs / night but a couple others have to get at least 8-9 per night otherwise they appear very sluggish and drained out and get confused often during day time.

I suppose that the 8-hr / night is a good guideline but it’s not a golden rule and does not apply to everybody. The same with the recommend water consumption per day – 1 gallon. I’ve tried to be “healthy” and drink 1 gallon or more a day and I felt absolutely sick and wanted to puke, and this was done on a intermittent schedule, as recommended by the “experts.”

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avatar Savings Toolbox

I think a lot of people fail to realize that sleep is important to your finances as well. Being deprived of sleep can cause a lot of health problems which leads to increased medical bills and prescription medications. The risks of accidents are also increased when you are not getting enough ZZZ;s.

Also, lack of sleep can cause mistakes when dealing with financial matters and making what should be simple decisions.

Thanks for the post!

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avatar sean2078

“In addition to these studies, entrepreneurs surveyed about their sleep habits have claimed to come up with many of their ideas while asleep. So it seems that sleeping is good for business.” .. yeah right! can you say “don’t know what you’re talking about” in your sleep? LMAO

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