Is it possible to die from lack of sleep?
Just like drowning isn’t caused by water, but by the consequent lack of oxygen, chronic tiredness won’t kill you. But the consequences of not getting enough sleep are very serious, and span across performance, happiness, and health.
In 2014, a 25 year old football fan was watching the football World Cup from home. You know, when the Netherlands beat Brazil 5-1. He was found dead in his armchair the next morning. Cause of death: sleep deprivation.
The man had stayed up for 48 hours in a row in order to watch the games from a different time zone, until he suffered a stroke, which the doctors linked to severe lack of sleep.
Why we hate sleep so much
Sleep deprivation has terrible consequences: it increases inflammation in the body, saps your memory capabilities, slows your reaction time, reduces your creativity, and can even affect your vision. And all of this is just related to performance.
Lack of sleep also affects your overall health, increasing the risk for cardiovascular diseases (like a stroke), mental health, obesity, and even cancer.
Where to find happiness and performance.
Being tired vs being drunk
A study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney compared the effects of not getting enough rest with those of drinking alcohol. The research looked at various performance parameters such as reaction time, memory capacity, hand-eye coordination, task speed and execution. After 17 hours of being active without sleep, subjects’ performance level was comparable to that of someone with a 0.05% alcohol concentration in their blood or above. That’s the legal limit for drink driving in the US, by the way.
After 20 hours or more without sleep, performance lowered to levels equivalent to an alcohol concentration of 0.1%.
Results show that impairments in performance which have been judged as the legal limit for driving safely may start to occur as early as 17 hours after waking and around 18 hours on average after waking.
You wouldn’t be too proud to go to work a little drunk every day. Or to tell your family and friends you haven’t been sober around them in weeks. And yet, “busy” work culture celebrates lack of sleep like a badge of honour.
It’s the curse of knowledge workers: because your output isn’t easily measurable nor predictable, the focus shifts to making your work rituals as blatant as possible. Celebrating lack of sleep is the equivalent of theatrically shuffling papers all day and then claiming you’re “too busy”. Ok, but what value have you actually created?
In the meantime, 30% of the US population is subject to sleep deprivation.
What actually is sleep deprivation?
Because it sounds like such a grave term, it’s quite easy to distance ourselves from the concept of sleep deprivation. I don’t want this post to help you make that mistake and underestimate the problem.
Sleep deprivation is simply the condition of being affected by lack of sleep or sleeping at the wrong time of day. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re sleep deprived. Case closed.
This means that if you don’t get enough rest, you are living with one hand tied behind your back, shrinking your performance levels, and increasing your health risks.
If you’re thinking “but I’m special, I don’t have time to sleep”.
Remember that billionaire investors would out-sleep you in order to out-negotiate you.
Sleep can be a powerful weapon, allowing you to make the most of your awake time. And because not many people cultivate it, it can give you a strong edge against the competition.
Because most people fall into the sleepless warp.
The sleepless warp
Here’s how the warp works:
- Pull an all-nighter and tell yourself it’s a one off.
- The next day, your productivity drops due to lack of sleep.
- Extend your workday into the evening once again, because it was impossible to fit everything during day time.
- Procrastinate and waste time deciding whether to go to bed again.
- Go to bed eventually.
- Wake up and start again from point 2.
As you get less sleep, your productivity plummets, requiring more time per tasks, which in turn leaves less time for sleep, creating a vicious, self-feeding circle.
It’s very difficult to get out of the sleepless warp, because your lack of rest has made your mood negative, increased anxiety, and brought poor judgement due to decision fatigue. If this wasn’t enough, there’s a certain social stigma attached to sleep. Few people will understand why it’s a good idea to catch up with your sleep levels and then do quality work afterwards. But that’s just one more reason to do it, and out-sleep everyone else.As you get less sleep, your productivity plummets, leaving less time for sleep. Click To Tweet
How to get more sleep?
The first step to getting more sleep is acknowledging its importance. Sleep is key to a healthy, happy, and productive life. This will help you bump sleep up your priority list.
Then, create a sleep time and a morning routine and stick to it. Simply work backwards from your wake up time to make sure you get 7-8 hours (you know how much you need!). Let me repeat this. Stick to it.
If you need some extra sleep, that’s ok. Remember, you’ll reap the (many) benefits tomorrow.
Here’s what I did last Monday.
Your go now: when was the last time you caught up on sleep?
Send me an email and brag about the benefits of sleep and how it made you feel.