I HAVE BUT ONE New Year’s resolution: I’ll be working on a habit that promises to lower my risk of cancer, boost my immune system and decrease the odds that I’ll succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. This activity has a host of other health benefits: lower blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and aiding weight loss. It has also been shown to improve mood, memory and creativity.
What is this wonder drug and how much will it cost me? My resolution for 2022: Get more sleep. And not just more sleep, but higher quality sleep.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a lifelong skeptic on the importance of sleep. Since my teenage years, I’ve gotten by with less than seven hours of sleep, sometimes far less. Like many people, I wore my sleep-deprived state as a badge of honor and a necessary evil in the pursuit of lofty ambitions.
No more. My eyes were opened by a book by sleep scientist Matthew Walker called Why We Sleep. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an eminent sleep researcher, Walker makes a compelling, evidence-based case for the importance of sleep and the costs we incur when we shortchange ourselves of its many benefits.
The World Health Organization has declared sleep loss an epidemic throughout industrialized nations. As Walker points out, “It is no coincidence that countries where sleep time has declined most dramatically over the past century, such as the U.S., the U.K., Japan, and South Korea, and several in western Europe, are also those suffering the greatest increase in rates of the aforementioned physical diseases and mental disorders.”
More than four centuries ago, the great bard himself spoke of sleep: “Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher of life’s feast….” William Shakespeare was, as usual, far ahead of his time.
Getting more sleep may, in fact, save your life. I read with amazement that vehicular accidents due to drowsiness exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.
But HumbleDollar is a site devoted to money. Assuming a longer, healthier and more fulfilling life are insufficient inducements to sleep more, consider how it might improve your finances. After adjusting for socioeconomic, educational and professional factors, economists Matthew Gibson and Jeffrey Shrader found that those who slept more earned more money on average. The return on investment? About 4% to 5% higher pay accrued to those who got an extra 60 minutes of sleep.
It may surprise you to learn that NASA has studied the occupational benefits of sleep. In the mid-1990s, NASA found that naps as short as 26 minutes could improve task performance by 34% and overall alertness by more than 50%. CEOs, please take note.
Should you see fewer articles by yours truly in 2022, rest assured: I’m not frittering away my time on social media or slaving away at work—but, rather, simply resting.
As someone who suffered through two years of working rotating shifts when I was young, I completely agree that sleep deprivation has many deleterious effects.
However, I think some of the purported benefits of sleep should be viewed with caution. The study on the economic benefits of sleep by Gibson and Schrader relied on the fact that there are earlier sunsets are associated with longer sleep and that people living in the eastern part of a time zone experience earlier sunsets than people living in the western part of a time zone. The authors cautioned that the wage benefits of longer sleep should not be interpreted as individual effects because of local-level variation.
The NASA study compared 12 rest-group crewmembers with 9 no-rest-group crewmembers on transatlantic flights. The small sample and the uniqueness of the task clearly raise questions about the validity and generalizability of the results.
Finally, while I strongly support evidence-based research, I think too many people are unaware that there are different levels of evidence that range from expert judgment at the bottom to comprehensive meta-analyses of randomized control trials. Thus, especially in medicine, it is common to note the level of evidence that exists for study findings.
Your comments are spot on, and a reminder to distinguish between quantity and quality of evidence. A wise older colleague of mine many years ago said “I prefer evidence-based medicine over eminence-based medicine”.
Yep. Reminds me of a commander of mine who used to say, “rest is a force multiplier.”
I wholeheartedly agree with your post. My father had recommended the book you cite a couple months ago. I picked it up in our library a few weeks ago and am now close to finishing it; it’s my bedtime reading. An excellent read backed up by extensive research. Many night owls who claim to only need 5 to 6 hrs sleep are probably fooling themselves; it may come back to bit them years down the road. I will also focus on more consistently getting in my 8 hrs in the sack going forward.
Walker’s book is superb.
If you want to improve the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep, I highly recommend Oura ring.
John, thank you for alerting us to the Matthew Walker book. The excerpt on Amazon piqued my interest and it’s now on on my list.
Excellent book by Mr. Walker … highly recommend it
John, great article and best of luck in 2022.
Someone once told me that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. During my career I worked lots of multiple and strange shifts. I still do some some occasional consulting, consistent of testing satellites from 8 PM to 8 AM. We used to have a term for people who worked too late and too long. We’d say they “went negative”, meaning they were no longer making a positive impact on the project, and were now detracting from, or dangerous to, the project. Learning ourselves to the point where we know when we are going negative is very important.
Love this site. I learn something new everyday. I have more to say, but it’s time for a nap.