The Need for Sleep

by F.

This winter I’m taking my cue from the bears. Around November, I usually start getting depressed. I either take Buspar, which seems to kick start the effectiveness of my Prozac, or I stare at a 10,000 lux light for 20-30 minutes a day. Both seem to work. But this year, I am experimenting with a different solution: more sleep.

I’m sleeping 9-10 hours a night now, waking up with the sun, at around 7:30 or 8:00 AM. And (knock on wood) it seems to be working: I feel fine. In fact, I feel good. It may be the sleep, or there may be some other cause. I’ll have to check into it. But even if it’s not, the sleep seems to have other beneficial effects.

Somewhere I picked up this stupid idea that 6-8 hours of sleep was enough. I may have picked this up in the workplace, where there is a cultural norm that says, essentially, “Successful people sleep little and achieve a lot.” There are the stories of executives we’ve all heard about (“I sleep 3 hours a night, get up at 4:30 AM, dine on an aspirin an a Diet Coke for breakfast, do yoga at 10:00 AM for 17 minutes, then am back at my desk where I stay until I go home at 11:00 PM so I can tuck my girls in.”) But guess what? Those stories appear to be bullshit.

The Harvard Business Review, I would guess, is probably partly responsible for the “no sleep” mythology. Now it turns on itself, ouroboros like, reporting on some research by Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School. The Economist gives us a nice summary graf:

The macho business executive who rises in the small hours and toils late into the night gets short shrift from Charles Czeisler, a specialist in sleep and sleep deprivation at Harvard Medical School. Dr Czeisler forcefully argues that going without sleep can impair judgment: four hours of sleep for four or five days in a row, or staying awake for 24 hours straight, creates a state akin to drunkenness. Moreover, like drunks, the sleep-deprived do not realise that their decisions are being made at below-optimum mental strength. “With too little sleep,” Dr Czeisler says, “people do things that no CEO in his or her right mind would allow.” A sidebar to the interview with Dr Czeisler highlights new advances in sleep technology, including car alarms that sound when the driver becomes drowsy.

Sleep more, work smarter. Now that is a compelling mythology.

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