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Is Sleep Over-rated?

Can one save the hours spent on sleep and use it more productively?

Is it really necessary to sleep for 7 to 8 hours?

Is it possible to go without sleep for days on end?

These types of questions have been posed by several people to me including my college-going son who thought that sleep is a luxury one could do without.

There are many schools of thought on this subject.

Medical professionals have published data on how much sleep one should have, depending on their age. It will range from 7 to 9 hours for adults to 12 or more hours for very young children.

There are yogis who would swear that 5 hours is a luxury and they can make do with 3 hours.

Your parents will have a compelling argument to bolster why their say-so is the final word.

But each of us, if we are sensitive to our body, moods, emotions, and productivity can sense when we have overslept or underslept.

If we have this disturbing pattern over a period of time, it leads to medical conditions, impaired cognition, lowered productivity, and in extreme cases early death.

The facts are:

  1. We cannot do WITHOUT sleep for multiple days. Even one day without sleep is not advisable to maintain a healthy body and mind.

  2. The hours of sleep is dependent on your age, social condition and health condition. More than 8 hours and less than 4 hours is not advisable for a healthy adult.

  3. Spiritually inclined people doing early morning practices could make do with just 4 hours, but the normal adult will need their 6 to 8 hours of sleep.

What to expect after 24 hours without sleep

Many doctors, interns, students and others work on extended shifts. While it might be unpleasant to stay up all night, it won’t have a significant impact on their health if it is occasional. Studies have compared 24-hour wakefulness to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent which is above the legal limit to drive.

Some effects of going 24 hours without sleep include: drowsiness, irritability, impaired decision-making, altered perception, memory lapses, sensory impairments, decreased hand-eye coordination, tremors and increased risk of accidents or near misses. These symptoms go away once you’ve had some sleep.

After two nights of missed sleep, most people have difficulty staying awake. They might experience periods of light sleep that can last up to 30 seconds. During these periods the brain is in a sleep-like state. It happens involuntarily and you might feel confused or disoriented. It also disrupts the immune system.

After 72 hours without sleep, most people experience an overwhelming urge to sleep. Many are unable to stay awake on their own. It limits the ability to think, especially executive functions such as multitasking, remembering details, and paying attention. This level of sleep deprivation can make it difficult to complete even simple tasks.

People who have undergone this level of sleep deprivation may get emotionally disturbed and irritable. They may experience a depressed mood, anxiety, or paranoia. Research has also found that sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to process others’ emotions. In one study, participants with 30 hours of sleep deprivation had difficulty recognizing angry and happy facial expressions.

Finally, several days of sleep deprivation can significantly alter perception. You might experience hallucinations and sometimes illusions, a misinterpretation of something that’s real.

Not getting enough sleep over a short period, such as a week, may cause:

  • anxiety

  • unstable moodiness

  • drowsiness

  • forgetfulness

  • difficulty concentrating

  • difficulty staying alert

  • cognitive impairments

  • decreased performance at work

  • increased risk of illness or injury

In the long term, not getting enough sleep can reduce immune functioning and increase your risk of certain health conditions.

These include:

  • high blood pressure

  • heart disease

  • stroke

  • obesity

  • type 2 diabetes

  • mental illness

The amount of sleep you need per night varies according to your age. In general, newborns and infants need more sleep, and adults need less sleep. Sleep quality is also important. If you’re concerned about how much sleep you’re getting, make an appointment with your doctor.

It isn’t clear how long humans can truly survive without sleep. But it is clear that extreme symptoms can begin in as little as 36 hours. This includes a reduced ability to think, poor decision-making, and speech impairment.

So get a full night of sound sleep so you can lead a fully productive life the next day.

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