Photo: flickr/Richard Elzey
Take a look around: The sleep deprived are everywhere. It has a lot to do with our culture of round-the-clock workdays, which has led the most driven people to wake up before the rest of the world does.
But why do some people only need five hours of sleep while others need eight or nine? There’s also speculation that you can train your body into performing on less sleep if you consistently rest for the same amount of hours.
Maggie Jones at The New York Times writes about a 2003 sleep study where the participants were broken up into different sleeping groups— four, six and eight hours. She reports that even though the participants in the four-hour sleep group said they were used to the regimen after two weeks, their ability to concentrate was compromised.
“While it’s tempting to believe we can train ourselves to be among the [four]-hour group — we can’t — or that we are naturally those [four]-hour sleepers, consider a key finding from [the] study: after just a few days, the four- and six-hour group reported that, yes, they were slightly sleepy. But they insisted they had adjusted to their new state. Even 14 days into the study, they said sleepiness was not affecting them. In fact, their performance had tanked. In other words, the sleep-deprived among us are lousy judges of our own sleep needs. We are not nearly as sharp as we think we are.”
Willie Geist admits in Bloomberg Businessweek that he wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to start his days, but he says it’s not easy. He writes:
“First, you have to tell your body lies. If you catch your body at a weak moment, as I often do, it might actually believe you when you tell it after four hours of sleep that you actually slept a full night and you feel like a million bucks. The trick usually works for a couple of hours before the body begins to suspect it’s the victim of a ruse. Once you’ve apologized for lying to your body, sworn never to do it again, and given it a buttery Croissan’Wich as a peace offering, your survival relies on staying busy for the rest of the day. I find when I’m totally focused on work, I don’t feel as tired as I am. The minute you downshift, the car starts to stall.”
It sounds exhausting, and whether we can actually trick our bodies into believing we can run on less sleep is something that will eventually affect us at some point. Maybe you’ll burn out or eventually have other health issues. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “the indirect costs of insomnia” — lack of productivity at work — actually costs an estimated $28 billion annually.
If you are feel your productivity deteriorate while at the office, try to catch some sun rays to counter the effect. A Belgian study says that sunshine will increase “attention, arousal and emotional regulation,” which can help you stay awake.
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