Sleep, That Unconscious Feeling You Get Sometimes

We all wish there were more hours in a day. A little more time with our families, a few more hours of daylight to play another game of tackle football with our buddies, just an hour more to complete that last level on the new Call of Duty video game. Unfortunately most often the thing we sacrifice to indulge these loves could very well be killing us. I speak of course of sleep. I’m frequently guilty of this myself. Treating sleep more as a nuisance or as a reservoir of free time to be dipped into at will. And why not? We’ve all heard how many of the great leaders and geniuses have typically subsisted on 4 hours or less a night. Leonardo Da Vinci and Thomas Edison were said to have slept in 10-minute bursts, totaling only 2 hours per day. Winston Churchill claimed to have logged no more than 4 hours each night. The trouble is this is decidedly atypical and according to many sleep scientists a primary contributor to innumerable adverse health effects from memory loss, to depression, and even obesity.

According to these same sleep scientists only approximately 10 percent of adults can successfully deviate from the prescribed 7-8 hours per night. This forces the vast majority of us “normal folk” to make a choice and after looking at the latest statistics it becomes clear that shut-eye frequently emerges as the loser. According to an article in Men’s Health magazine (, the CDC shows that American males in their 20’s typically average around six hours of sleep each day and those between the ages of 30 and 44 are the worst avoiders of sleep, routinely admitting to less than six per night. That puts the vast majority of us easily into the thoroughly sleep-deprived category.

There is almost unanimous agreement among scientists that this type of sleep deprivation is incredibly detrimental to our health. Let’s take a look just at the three examples I mentioned previously and which I think may be of particular importance to men: memory function, depression, and obesity. A study at the University of Pennsylvania ( shows that two weeks of getting only six hours of sleep per night yields the same loss of alertness and memory as not sleeping at all for a full 24 hours. The same research also found that inadequate sleeping also damages memory consolidation, which is the process by which the brain organizes learned information for storage in permanent memory. So for those of us in a constant state of studying, this means that extra sleep is in fact more beneficial than reading that chapter again for the umpteenth time.

Just as compelling is the overwhelming evidence of the link between obesity and sleep deprivation. According to Professor Cappuccio of the University of Warwick (, who recently completed a study on this relationship, “The ‘epidemic’ of obesity is paralleled by a ‘silent epidemic’ of reduced sleep duration with short sleep duration linked to increased risk of obesity both in adults and in children. These trends are detectable in adults as well as in children as young as 5 years.” His study found that, among other things, lack of sleep causes increased production of the enzyme Ghrelin, which actually stimulates appetite, while simultaneously causing a reduction in levels of Leptin, which suppresses appetite. This double-whammy was found to lead to nearly a two-fold increase in the risk of obesity. In addition, it has been observed that those who sleep less tend to have higher body-mass-indexes, larger waistlines, and higher body-fat percentages. In a related study, as diabetes is often an additional consequence of obesity, recent research conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine ( found that participants who reported sleeping less than six hours also had an increased incidence of diabetes.

These are obviously major health concerns that can affect not only our current quality of life, but also how we weather old age, and can even extend to the well-being of our children. Sleeping, like breathing, is a fundamental part of our biology and it is important that we remember to treat it as such. Plus, let’s face it, I’m certainly no Thomas Edison and chances are you’re no Leonard Da Vinci, so why don’t we put that Madden ’09 season on pause and get some sleep.


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