What led you to write The Sleep Revolution?
As I went around the world talking about my last book, Thrive, I found that the subject people wanted to discuss most—by far—was sleep: how difficult it is to get enough, how there are simply not enough hours in the day, how tough it is to wind down, how hard it is to fall asleep and stay asleep, even when we set aside enough time. And since my own transformation into a sleep evangelist, everywhere I go, someone will pull me aside and, often in hushed and conspiratorial tones, confess, “I’m just not getting enough sleep. I’m exhausted all the time.” Or, as one young woman told me after a talk in San Francisco, “I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired.” By the end of an evening, no matter where I am in the world or what the theme of the event is, I’ll have had that same conversation with any number of people in the room. And what everyone wants to know is, “What should I do to get more and better sleep?” So I decided I wanted to take a fuller look at the subject because it’s clear that if we’re going to truly thrive, we must begin with sleep. It’s the gateway through which a life of well-being must travel. From the moment we’re born until the moment we die, we’re in a relationship with sleep. I wrote The Sleep Revolution to examine this ancient, essential, and mysterious phenomenon from all angles, and to explore the ways we can use sleep to help regain control over our out-of-kilter lives.
Why are you so passionate about the power of sleep?
For one thing, sleep is something we all have in common – it’s one of humanity’s great unifiers. It binds us to one another, to our ancestors, to our past, and to the future. No matter who we are or where we are in the world and in our lives, we share a common need for sleep. And right now, we’re in a sleep crisis.
At the same time, in the last four decades, science has validated much of the ancient wisdom about the importance of sleep. We’ve made incredible discoveries about all the things going on in our brains and our bodies while we’re sleeping, and these findings have fueled a sleep renaissance, in which the power of sleep to profoundly affect virtually every aspect of our lives is beginning to be recognized.
You say that sleep deprivation is the “new smoking.” How so?
Unfortunately, the comparison is apt, both in terms of the dangers and our attitude. Everywhere you turn, sleep deprivation is glamorized and celebrated, from “You snooze, you lose” to highly burned out people boasting, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” The combination of a deeply misguided definition of what it means to be successful in today’s world—that it can come only through burnout and stress—along with the distractions and temptations of a 24/7 wired world, has imperiled our sleep as never before.
What do we lose when we lose sleep?
It’s a long list. To name just a few things we lose, there’s creativity, memory consolidation, our ability to learn and solve problems, our ability to manage stress and anxiety, and a well-functioning immune system. Yet the myth persists that we can do our jobs just as well on four or five or six hours of sleep as we can on seven or eight. It’s a delusion that affects not only our personal health but our productivity and decision making. In other words, we may not have as many good ideas as we would have otherwise had, we may not be as able to come up with creative solutions to problems we’re trying to address, or we may be short-tempered or waste a day (or day after day, or year after year) going through the motions. And in some occupations—in our hospitals, on our highways, or in the air—lack of sleep can be a life-or-death matter.
An Australian study found that after being awake for seventeen to nineteen hours (a normal day for many of us!), we can experience levels of cognitive impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 percent (just under the legal limit in many US states). And if we’re awake just a few hours more, we’re up to the equivalent of 0.1 percent—legally drunk. (more…)