Is sleep really for wimps? OR: What actually keeps us going!

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
(Thomas Dekker, Elizabethan dramatist)

When life is particularly stressful and we find ourselves overloaded with work, deadlines we have to meet as well as appointments we have to attend, we often postpone our nightly rest or try to get along with a minimum of sleep. Who does not fear the dragging sound of the alarm clock ringing in the morning, when you desperately feel the need to squeeze in a few more hours after a long night of work or studying. We are all familiar with the effects of too little sleep. Aside from feeling terribly tired, we have a hard time concentrating on things, being creative becomes very very difficult and we tend to be a little bit crankier than when we got a good night’s sleep.

After we sleep, we feel refreshed and ready to take on our daily tasks. What is typical though for today’s society and its quest for performance and effectiveness is that we reduce our sleeping hours and write off the importance of sleep as irrelevant or incidental. We brag about on how few hours of sleep we can function and we think we can catch up on sleep later or as the common proverb suggests “when we are dead”. Margaret Thatcher even famously said “Sleep is for wimps”.  You can find a vast amount of instructions on how to train yourself to sleep less online. As if this actually was a good idea! Do you know why sleep deprivation was used as a method of torture? Because it works. The consequences of not getting enough sleep are shocking and already fundamental after only 24 hours.

We actually spend a third of our lifetime sleeping. And this is exactly the amount of sleep our bodies as well as our minds need to unwind, restore and refresh. How much time a person actually needs can vary, but generally speaking an adult needs between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night, children as well as teenagers need even more hours of z’s.

As we sleep, our brain never does

In his TEDMED Talk “One more reason to get a good night’s sleep” Jeff Iliff explains that our brain is perfectly able to revitalize and even “clean out it’s waste accumulated during the day” by flushing it with cerebrospinal fluid. But mind you, this only happens during sleep. If we deprive ourselves of sleep this puts our body’s as well as our mind’s function at stake. These “waste products” that stay inside our bodies may even be related to cerebral illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.

We sleep because we get sleepy

The exact reason why we sleep has not really been cleared up by today’s science. Circadian (in case you are wondering: someone who explores the natural rhythms of our bodies) neuroscientist  Russel Foster explains the possible reasons in his TEDGLOBAL talk “Why do we sleep?”. Foster states sleep as “the single most important behavioral experience that we have”. He lists restoration (that is why you feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep), brain processing as well as problem solving (“I should sleep on that problem”, we all know that feeling, right? ) and enhancing creativity as the main reasons we sleep.

He also stresses the results you get from depriving yourself of sleep such as

  • the increasing tendency for addiction
  • weight gain resulting in even more
  • stress, which leads to all kinds of related
  • diseases of body and mind such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

As you can see, a little (or actually a lot) of sleep goes a long way. This sleep calculator helps you to work out how much time you need to feel happy and healthy.

In her talk “How to succeed? Get more sleep” at TEDWomen Ariana Huffington explains that it is actually possible to “sleep yourself to the top”. But not how you think. She talks about the way to a more productive, more inspired and more joyful life – by getting enough sleep.

Now plan your next rest and go to bed as soon as you can!

Good night
Sleep tight
(Don’t let the bedbugs bite…)


Photo credit: Cover image by Pixabay

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About Elli Kling

Elli loves nothing more than travelling the world & getting to know other cultures. She likes reading, cooking and is obsessed with japanese green tea. She has a background in communications, enjoys writing and is also part of the TEDx Communications & PR Team.

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