America is addicted to sleep (not).

I’m taking a stand. I’m tired of people bragging about how little sleep they get each night. Why? Let me ask you, wouldn’t you be bothered by someone that bragged about driving intoxicated? Driving sleep-deprived is as bad, if not worse, than driving under the influence. One study found that that the average reaction time of an alcohol-impaired group was 294 milliseconds, while the average for a sleep-deprived groups was 300 milliseconds. And we aren’t talking about being drunk — we are talking about one or two drinks depending on your body mass. And we aren’t talking about getting no sleep — one group went with 1 hour of sleep in a 24 hour period and another with 2 hours every night for 7 days.


I’m tired of people saying they don’t need more sleep. As if sleeping was a waste of time! The benefits of sleep are well-noted and documented.

  • improves immune system
  • stabilizes emotions
  • restores us mentally and physically

But what can I expect from a society that still smokes even after being told that cancer-sticks will, without question, kill you. Tempt them, oh fate!

No, I suppose it is much easier to take some prescription medication for when you are sick, see a mental health therapist or take some life-numbing pill, or get hyped up on Starbuck’s caffeine when we are feeling tired. Hey, I do love that Starbuck’s (Note: I have Starbuck stock and it’s been a very bad year; please, support your addiction today)! Another solution: give up a half hour of your highly important “24” watching time, stop emailing when a quick phone call would do you better, or, in my case, stop blogging. And give in to sleep. You know you want it. MmmmMMmm. You can almost taste it.

These are probably the same people that “look down” on those of us who sleep, oh luxurious sleep!

And this is very much a cultural phenomenon. The National Cancer Society surveyed more than a million Americans in 1960 and found that people said they got an average of eight-and-a-half hours of sleep. Compare that with what most people say about their sleep today — 7 to 6. Where are those 1-2 hours going? Did we not really need them, or are we losing something important?

I get my sleep, and I’m often told too much. The thing is, I know what it is like to be sleep deprived. I even created a mini sleep-deprivation experiment. I would sleep in 2-3 hour intervals every 8 hours. In a 24 hours period I would have a total of 4-6 hours of sleep. I would possibly also take naps to make sure I was semi-safe on the roads and cognizant in meetings.

I made it just fine, and was highly productive. But I noticed I didn’t feel as “sharp”. That is, I preferred being able to stay up longer than 8 hours at a time before feeling tired again. I didn’t enjoy falling asleep while watching tv or a movie. Or driving. I clearly needed more sleep.

In 2002 I read The Promise of Sleep by Dr. William Dement. As a result, I started a sleep diary. I tracked how much I slept every night for several week. To ensure it was “natural’, I turned off my alarm clock, remember to express appreciation for having a job where I could be late, and went to sleep.

Instead, I just listened to my body as to when it said it was rested. The first few days I slept like a fiend — 14 hours, then 12, then 10, and so on. By the end of the week, I found that I slept about 8 hours every night as long as I went to sleep the same time. If I didn’t, or slept less than 8 hours, the next day I naturally “made” up the difference. So, if I slept 5 or 6 hours one day, I was assured to sleep 10 or 11 in the next and then go back to 8.

My sleep number is 8, although I find in times of mental or physical stress, I average about 8.5.

So, are you absolutely confident get enough sleep? Well, I have a challenge for you. One week, sleep without an alarm clock. See what happens. When you wake up, with no distractions, just write down how many hours you sleep each night. What do you have to lose, other than being sharp throughout the day and saving some money on coffee?

If you have told me you only need 7 or 6 hours of sleep, I’m talking to you. I’d love to hear from you. Hey, maybe you will end up only tallying 5 hours of sleep every night! Who knew you were sleeping TOO MUCH!

Yeah. Probably not.


2 thoughts on “America is addicted to sleep (not).

  1. Two comments:
    1) The Oversleep Phenomenon: If I naturally wake up with no alarm clock and then immediately get out of bed, I feel great all day. But if I linger in bed and snooze for more than thirty minutes, I feel sluggish and restless all day regardless of the fact that I “slept ’til I was done” (and then some). Hmmm.

    2) If I get aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes during the day, my sleep that night is higher quality enough that I can shave an average of an hour off my sleep time and feel just as well the next day. That’s a pretty sweet ROI – woot!

  2. The alarm clock just isn’t “natural”. Sometimes it wakes you up in the middle of a cycle, and you end up feeling groggy all day.

    As for the connection of exercise and sleep, it appears the body makes more efficient use of sleep when there was physical stress such as exercise. The problem is when people exercise right before they go to bed. This can usually excite them to the point they can not sleep even though their body may feel tired.

    Dement writes about these things in his book.

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