Post No.: 0123
Get some sleep… is something I keep having to tell myself(!)
Sleep is for repairing the body and for the consolidation of memories. Toxic debris that builds up in the brain during the day is flushed away during sleep. So it’s not a waste of time – well evolution must’ve gotten something incredibly wrong to make so many animals sleep, which is a vulnerable time against predators, and for so long every day or night too, if it were a waste of time! It takes up about a third of people’s lives so it’s vitally important (dogs and cats need even more sleep – woof). Although your self-awareness shuts down, your brain doesn’t switch off when you sleep – a lot happens that is essential to your well-being, and also potentially your creative productivity, even when you’re unconscious.
Regularly getting a sufficient amount of sleep is critical for your mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation can explain a wide variety of misbehaviours, grumpiness, poor concentration levels, poor diet choices and other symptoms (so sleep deprivation is one thing you must check out first with somebody like a child who is underperforming in school). A lack of sleep negatively affects our decision-making, stress tolerance, physical health, concentration levels and other cognitive abilities.
Performance or productivity becomes lower than it could be, quality of output suffers too, and people make poorer judgements and take greater risks thus increasing the probability of accidents. Sleep deprivation can increase one’s pain sensitivity, and an increased pain sensitivity can cause a lack of sleep, hence a vicious circle. Sleep deprivation can have much the same effects as drinking alcohol – in fact, alcohol has a greater effect the more sleep-deprived one is. It also negatively impacts one’s social life because people don’t tend to like to hang around grumpy, tetchy, sleep-deprived people, and sleep-deprived people don’t tend to want to socialise either.
Sleep deprivation is correlated with numerous morbidities (diseases), including diabetes, obesity (due to ghrelin and leptin hormone changes, which make one feel hungrier and less sated respectively, and so make one tend to choose calorie-dense food and drink options) and general mortality/death. So it cannot be reiterated enough that sleep is critical for achieving good mental and physical health, for feeling as happy as possible, maintaining a healthy weight, a lower blood pressure, maximising one’s willpower/self-control capacity during the day, being more productive during the day, sharpening one’s thinking skills, creativity and storing memories for the long-term.
People are often poor judges of when they have sleep deprivation – probably because one’s own tired and impaired brain is trying to make a judgement or decision about how tired itself is(!) And even a little bit of sleep deprivation can make a huge difference to one’s concentration, performance and mood (e.g. driving when drowsy), which can lead to accidents and poor decision-making, even if one doesn’t realise or admit to it. The quality of sleep matters too, although waking up now and again during the night is fine as long as one can get back to sleep again each time and ultimately get enough total sleep; bearing in mind one may be missing out on a lot of deep sleep if sleep is chronically interrupted, meaning that fragmented sleep tends to be just as bad as sleep deprivation.
Yawning is obviously a sign that one is tired – yawning is the body’s way of trying to stay awake (so we don’t yawn when conscious but trying to get to sleep, but yawn when conscious and trying to keep awake or alert). People can lazily lounge and rest their eyes but most people cannot choose to actually fall asleep at will within just a few minutes of closing their eyes, thus if a person can do so then they usually need to sleep due to sleep deprivation. Of course, the reasons why someone is so sleepy at a time when they’re expected to be wide awake may or may not be good or nice ones (e.g. they were checking their social media all night or they have acute stress, chronic depression or a sleep disorder of some kind); and it doesn’t mean that if one cannot fall asleep within 20-30 minutes of closing one’s eyes then one cannot be tired (this could be a sign of insomnia, caused by e.g. not being able to silence one’s mind due to constant thoughts or a distracting pain).
Most people who claim to only need ≤6 hours of sleep per night actually take regular nap(s) in the day because they need more sleep than they’re getting at night alone, thus they are getting more sleep than they claim because they’re napping during the day (which I suppose is better than not napping for one’s health under those circumstances). Overall, when accounting for these daytime naps (or as some like to call them, ‘power naps’) – ‘successful’ people on average only sleep several minutes less per day than other people on average. And who knows? Even if one sleeps far less and considers oneself successful, maybe one could sleep a little bit more and be even more successful (and happier and healthier too)?
One needs a consistent sleep time and a consistent wake time to entrain the circadian rhythm. ~7-8 hours of sleep for adults is optimal (children need more) – either too much or too little sleep is correlated with a decrease in life expectancy and many detrimental or at least sub-optimal effects for health and waking function. But note that these correlations are not necessarily or always due to causations (e.g. those with other life expectancy-decreasing health problems, such as sleep apnoea or concussion, may find it harder to sleep for very long or may find that they need to sleep for an extremely long time respectively).
For some, it seems more natural to sleep in two blocks of ~4 hours per night (biphasic sleeping) and this is okay but not necessary. The biphasic sleep pattern that most people in the past followed probably shifted into one phase due to the advent of artificial lighting, which pushed people to sleep a bit later and thus pushed the two phases of sleep into one ~7-8-hour block. But social influences (e.g. school and work hours, leisure times) play a greater role in determining going-to-bed and getting-up times than the level of light or darkness, such as the changes of seasons. This makes obvious sense in places near the poles where there can be perpetual day or perpetual night. Artificial light can delay going-to-bed times (particularly for ‘night owls’) but doesn’t tend to decrease overall sleep durations – people who sleep later just tend to get up later, and people who sleep earlier just tend to get up earlier.
Sleep durations apparently haven’t actually decreased much in recent decades on average, yet more people report feeling sleep deprived today (especially women during the years they have children, understandably). To explain this, it could be down to people nowadays socialising later into the nights, an increased caffeine and/or alcohol consumption, and/or the misguided belief that one can fully catch up on sleep in the weekends – hence people are on average sleeping the same number of hours overall per week compared to in the past but are distributing this amount in more uneven amounts during the week, which won’t fully lead to feeling recuperated. (This is somewhat analogous to thinking that one can starve oneself during the week and then stuff oneself beyond full during the weekends – one is still going to feel hungry for much of the week even if total consumption during the week seems reasonable overall.)
If you feel you need to catch up on sleep during the weekends then it’s a sign you don’t get enough sleep during the weekdays. Even though trying to catch up on sleep at the weekends is better than denying yourself it, you cannot always successfully catch up on lost sleep – if you lose sleep regularly, your body gets used to the pattern and you’ll start to think that a sluggish, grumpy you is the normal you when it’s not. And oversleeping can have a similar effect as jetlag, so try to never have any more than 9-10 hours of sleep at any one time, even on days that you’re trying to catch up on sleep.
Feeling that one needs to rely on stimulants, like caffeine, to function is also a sign of not getting enough sleep – caffeine works best as a temporary solution rather than a regular crutch that one is dependent on just to feel ‘functional’. (And note that taking a stimulant (e.g. cocaine) along with a depressant (e.g. alcohol) won’t ‘balance you out’ – you’ll just be both high and drunk and your judgement will be doubly bad!)
One can apparently ‘bank’ some sleep before an upcoming all-nighter though (e.g. by going to bed earlier by an hour for a few nights before a stretch where one is going to be up all night) and this will be better than not doing so, and better than even taking short naps during an all-nighter. But it’s not better than keeping to a regular pattern of sleeping ~7-8 hours per night and avoiding all-nighters altogether when it comes to one’s health and performance, even if one ‘catches up’ sleep during the weekends. (Like education, cramming to catch up is better than nothing, but steady pacing is best of all.) Any prolonged contiguous stretch of sleep deprivation is not recommended (i.e. a little bit of sleep deprivation each weeknight is, although still not the best, better than one long bout of sleep deprivation per week) so all-nighters aren’t recommended as a regular thing.
The immediate effects of sleep deprivation are impaired reaction times, judgement, short-term memory performance, vigilance, motivation, vision, problems with information processing, a decreased ability to perform at the highest levels one can, and increased moodiness and snappy, aggressive behaviours – which will at least partly explain why many teenagers (adolescents) in the modern world are irritable, take risks and have poor judgement and so forth! Puberty will ‘phase delay’ sleepiness times, meaning that adolescents will suddenly biologically want to sleep later and get up later – but because of the current school start and end times at nearly every High/Secondary school around the world (despite this scientific knowledge of phase delay in adolescents having been known for a very long time now), they must get up earlier than is biologically optimal for them hence they feel generally sleep deprived. (As a note, girls tend to reach puberty earlier than boys on average.) So sleep phase shifting is not a problem in itself (and this includes those who do night shift work) – it’s just incompatible with the current socio-cultural set-up in just about every country. If adolescents were allowed to sleep later and get up later then they’d generally feel a lot better and generally perform a lot better!
Well I’m a puppy and I need a lot of sleep so I’m going to stop this post here. (Fluffystealthkitten is almost always sleeping it seems! She can’t hear me talking about her because she’s, well… asleep.) I will write more about the subject of sleep some other time.
(Whispering) Oh I heard you puppy. I’m the queen of stealth (sneak sneak).