‘Why I believe sleep is more vital than food’

Sleep tight: A Deep Rest “class” at a meditation studio in of Manhattan.
by Tony Schwartz

An American journalist, author and professional speaker, he was ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal. He founded and currently runs The Energy Project for business motivation.

Some still view sleep as an inconvenient waste of time. But not Tony Schwartz. He believes it is the most important factor in determining whether people are happy, healthy and productive.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week. At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? Probably hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly thinner. But basically you’d be fine.

Now you deprive yourself of sleep for a week. Not so good. After several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function. That’s why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

Insufficient sleep impairs our ability to consolidate what we learned that day. It wreaks havoc on our memory.

Here’s what former Israeli PM Menachem Begin wrote in his memoir White Nights about being deprived of sleep in a KGB prison: “In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep … Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”

So why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising? We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity.

Many of the effects we suffer are invisible. Insufficient sleep, for example, impairs our ability to consolidate and stabilise what we learned that day. In other words, it wreaks havoc on our memory.

So how much sleep do you need? When researchers put test subjects in environments without clocks or windows and ask them to sleep any time they feel tired, 95 percent sleep between seven and eight hours out of every 24. Only 2.5 percent sleep fewer than eight hours. That’s one out of every 40 people.

When I ask people in my talks how many had fewer than 7 hours of sleep several nights during the past week, the vast majority raise their hands. That’s true whether it’s an audience of executives, teachers, cops or government workers. We’ve literally lost touch with what it feels like to be fully awake.

As I began to gather research about sleep, I felt increasingly compelled to give it higher priority in my own life. Today, I go to great lengths to ensure that I get at least eight hours every night, and ideally between eight and a half and nine, even when I’m traveling.

With sufficient sleep, I feel better, I work with more focus, and I manage my emotions better, which is good for everyone around me. I dislike having even a single day where I haven’t gotten enough sleep, because the impact is immediate and unavoidable. On the rare days that I don’t get enough, I try hard to get at least a 20–30 minute nap in the afternoon. That’s a big help.

Here are three other tips to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep:

Go to bed earlier — and at a set time. Sounds obvious right? The problem is there’s no alternative. You’re already waking up at the latest possible time you think is acceptable. If you don’t ritualise a specific bedtime, you’ll end up finding ways to stay up later, just the way you do now.

Start winding down at least 45 minutes before you turn out the light. Create a ritual around drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to music that helps you relax, or reading a dull book.

Write down what’s on your mind just before you go to bed. If you leave items in your working memory, they’ll make it harder to fall asleep, and you’ll end up ruminating about them if you wake up during the night.

This is an abbreviated version of the article which you can read in full if you follow the link under Become An Expert.

You Decide

  1. Is sleeping more important than eating?

Activities

  1. Find out how many hours of sleep each person in your class averages per week. Compare the results with recommendations on the amount of sleep humans require.

Word Watch

Menachem Begin
Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 until 1983, most famous for signing a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
KGB
The main security agency in the Soviet Union - Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Besopastnosti (Committee for State Security).
Vast majority
As Schwarz writes, “Great performers are an exception. Typically, they sleep significantly more than the rest of us. In Anders Ericcson’s famous study of violinists, the top performers slept an average of eight and a half hours out of every 24, including a 20 to 30 minute mid-afternoon nap; some two hours a day more than the average American.”

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