- rely on caffeine to get you through the day?
- sleep longer on the weekend than on weeknights?
- pull the occasional all-nighter?
You’re doing it wrong.
When you sleep 6 hours or less in a given night, you don’t allow your body to heal itself. This can make you hungrier, weaker, dumber, sicker, less-focused, and more prone to mood swings.
It’s not what Daft Punk had in mind.
But I can make it up on the weekend!
There is a concept called sleep debt. Say you sleep 6 hours on weeknights and 10 hours on the weekend, when you should be getting about 8 hours — a typical routine.
If you do the math, this would put your total sleep debt at 6 hours for the week (5 days * -2 hours + 2 days * 2 hours = -6 hours).
Maybe you even recover your sleep debt entirely within a week, such that your debt is 0 hours.
Researchers now have evidence that you can never fully recover from more than 20 hours of sleep debt.
The problem is this: sleep debt is not zero-sum. It’s up for debate whether you can completely recover from short-term sleep loss—up to a few nights—by making up sleep debt. But chronic sleep loss is a different story entirely.
Researchers now have evidence that you can never fully recover from more than 20 hours of sleep debt. In our typical routine of 6 hours’ debt per week, you would reach 20 hours of debt within 4 weeks.
So no, you really can’t make up for lost sleep on the weekend.
No time to sleep. Gotta get to the gym!
Diet and exercise are widely recognized as the pillars of health. But what if I told you sleep is even more important?
When you work out, you actually need more sleep to recover. If you don’t sleep adequately both before and after a workout:
- your muscles won’t grow as much as they could
- you’ll be less likely to achieve PRs
- you’ll expose yourself to a higher injury risk
- you may suffer from chronic inflammation
You would be better off going to the gym less often and sleeping more. This way, your body is fully recovered after each workout and prepared for the next session.
I get by fine on 6 hours!
Oh, you think you are an exception? There is a group of people known as short sleepers, who can thrive on just 6 hours of sleep.
Less than 1% of the population has the genetic variant to be a short sleeper.
But less than 1% of the population has the genetic variant to be a short sleeper. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than to be part of this group of sleepless elite.
The more often you deprive yourself of a full night’s sleep, the more you feel that it’s not a problem. But just because you feel fine doesn’t mean you are fine. It’s a lot like alcohol consumption.
Here are some additional side effects of chronic short sleep:
Compared to those getting adequate sleep, males who don’t get enough sleep may have:
- a 29% reduced sperm count
- more deformities in the remaining sperm
- lower counts of testosterone
- smaller testicles
That is in addition to reduced athletic performance.
Disrupted menstrual cycles
Males are not the only ones who suffer when they lose sleep. Short sleep is associated with infertility, and it can wreak havoc on menstrual cycles.
Ugly facial appearance
People who got less-than-needed sleep for just one night were rated as appearing significantly less attractive and healthy than those who got a full night of sleep.
Heart attack risk
Those who chronically sleep 6 hours or less per night are 200% more likely than those sleeping 7+ hours to suffer from a fatal heart attack or stroke in their lifetime.
When you are sleep-deprived, you tend to have a strong appetite. The hormone ghrelin, which is associated with hunger, increases. Meanwhile, the hormone leptin, which is associated with satiety, decreases. Stressed-out and hungry, you are more likely to reach for unhealthy foods.
In addition, when the body hasn’t had enough sleep, it can’t process the foods you’ve consumed appropriately. This contributes to elevated blood sugar. Over the long term, unhealthy overeating is associated with weight gain and obesity.
More likely to get sick
People who slept 6 hours or less for one night were 4x more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a virus, compared to those who slept more than 7 hours in the same night.
Esteemed sleep researcher Matt Walker recently published the book Why We Sleep*. It explores the mechanisms and rationale behind sleep in an easy-to-understand manner. You can find the book in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible format*.
Programmer extraordinaire DHH says sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor. This guy created a widely-used web programming framework and runs a successful company, so it’s not like his advice comes from left field.
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