Why We Need Sleep

Do you get enough sleep?

At the time of this writing (December 31, 2008), I’m going on four hours of sleep. I’ve gotten used to it, I think. I may get an additional hour now and then, but rarely more than that. As sick as it sounds, sleep deprivation seems the sacrifice for the blessing of two beautiful kids in diapers and a promising start-up business.

But that sacrifice is not good, because I’m feeling it. I especially feel it when I do get an occasional eight hours of sleep. I wake up groggy and feel my routine’s been messed with. I’m longing to feel rested and in a better mood more of the time.

But there are other reasons to pay attention to sleep. It was hard to miss the recent University of Chicago study that produced overwhelming evidence of the powerful link between sleep and heart health. The researchers documented for the first time exactly how much of a risk shortened sleep can be: one hour less each night can increase coronary calcium by 16%. Hear that? That means serious heart problems.

While there is much controversy and mystery over sleep, most agree on why we need it. It’s critical to maintaining optimal cognitive skills like speech, memory and problem solving. With a lack of sleep, not only do we feel horrible, it becomes more difficult to concentrate, span our attention and make rational decisions. The impact of sleep deprivation on performance is oft compared to alcohol intoxication. Extreme sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations.

We also need sleep to rejuvenate. Studies also have shown that our bodies secrete growth hormone during sleep, which is critical for rebuilding tissues. Sleep loss’s interference with hormones has been linked to appetite control and weight gain, possibly contributing to obesity. Incidentally, my doctor ordered me to lose 10 pounds.

So enough is enough. I don’t do end-of-year predictions or resolutions, but I’m going to try my hardest to get more rest – starting now.  I’m going to prioritize things better and I may have to cut some things out. It will be tough, but I simply need more sleep.

And it’s not just me. Driven by hyper competition, government and business leaders have fallen into the bad habit of sleep deprivation. It trickles down into widespread practice and culture. It results not only in mediocre decisions, but bad decisions and low performance. Sleep deprivation should not be the norm, because we’ve all got a lot of tough problems to find solutions for in 2009.

So let’s all try to get more sleep — let’s say, at least eight hours per night. The world will be a better place.

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. I highly recommend ” Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival”. It disucsses how seasonal variations of light affects our internal clocks, and the role that lack of sleep has on creating a craving for sugar.

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