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.
Make Sleep Work For You, Anne Fisher, Fortune Small Business, August 25, 2008.
Published or updated August 27, 2008.