Arianna Huffington: Getting Enough Sleep Is Non-Negotiable

The following is an excerpt from the new book The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington (Harmony Books, 2016): 

Death from overwork has its own word in Japanese (karo­shi), in Chinese (guolaosi), and in Korean (gwarosa). No such word exists in English, but the casualties are all around us. And though this is an extreme example of the consequences of not getting enough sleep, sleep deprivation has become an epidemic.

It is a specter haunting the industrialized world. Sim­ply put: we don’t get enough sleep. And it’s a much big­ger problem—with much higher stakes—than many of us realize. Both our daytime hours and our nighttime hours are under assault as never before. As the amount of things we need to cram into each day has increased, the value of our awake time has skyrocketed. Benjamin Franklin’s “Time is money!” has become a corporate-world mantra. And this has come at the expense of our time asleep, which since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution we have treated like some dull, distant relative we visit only reluctantly and out of obli­gation, for as short a time as we can manage.

Scientists are resoundingly confirming what our ances­tors knew instinctively: that our sleep is not empty time. Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity—a rich time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance. Properly appraised, our sleeping time is as valuable a commodity as the time we are awake. In fact, getting the right amount of sleep en­hances the quality of every minute we spend with our eyes open.

The in­cidence of death from all causes goes up by 15 percent when we sleep five hours or less per night. A 2015 article based on the latest findings by the American Acad­emy of Sleep Medicine, provocatively titled “Sleep or Die,” discussed the connection between lack of sleep and an in­creased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. In other words, getting enough sleep really is a matter of life and death.

And even when it doesn’t kill us, sleep deprivation makes us dangerously less healthy. Dr. Carol Ash, the director of sleep medicine at Meridian Health, points out that even los­ing an hour of sleep per week—which many of us do without a moment’s thought—can lead to a higher risk of heart at­tack. Even the switch to daylight saving time can temporar­ily disturb our sleep patterns.

Looking for even more warning bells? A Russian study found that nearly 63 percent of men who suffered a heart at­tack also had a sleep disorder. Men who had a sleep disorder had a risk of heart attack that was 2 to 2.6 times higher and a risk of stroke that was 1.5 to 4 times higher. A Norwegian study determined that people who had trouble falling asleep were involved in 34 percent of fatal car accidents. And those with symptoms of insomnia are nearly three times more likely to die from a fatal injury. A lack of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep and wake cycles, is linked to higher rates of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

By weakening our immune system, sleep deprivation also makes us more susceptible to garden-variety illnesses, like the common cold. It would actually be better for business if employees called in tired, got a little more sleep, and then came in a bit late, rather than call in sick a few days later or, worse, show up sick, dragging themselves through the day while infecting others.

A lack of sleep also has a major impact on our ability to regulate our weight. In a study by the Mayo Clinic, sleep-restricted subjects gained more weight than their well-rested counterparts over the course of a week, consuming an aver­age of 559 extra calories a day. People who get six hours of sleep per night are 23 percent more likely to be overweight. Get less than four hours of sleep per night and the increased likelihood of being overweight climbs to a staggering 73 per­cent. That is due in part to the fact that people who get more sleep produce less of a hormone called ghrelin—the “hunger hormone,” which increases our appetite. The sleep-deprived group also had lower levels of the hormone leptin, the “sa­tiety hormone,” which lowers our appetite. In other words, cutting back on sleep is a fantastic way to gain weight. Other research points to the role of sleep in the production of orexin, a neurotransmitter that normally stimulates physical activity and energy expenditure but is reduced when you are sleep-deprived.

The bottom line? When we’re not well rested, we’re not as healthy. And it shows. In a Swedish study, untrained par­ticipants were asked to look at photos of both sleep-deprived and well-rested people. Participants judged those in the sleep-deprived groups as “less healthy, more tired, and less attractive.” An experiment in the United Kingdom tested the effects of sleep deprivation on a group of thirty women. Their skin was analyzed and photographed after they slept for eight hours and then again after sleeping six hours for five nights in a row. Fine lines and wrinkles increased by 45 percent, blemishes went up by 13 percent, and redness increased by 8 percent. In other words, we wear our lack of sleep on our faces.

Adapted from THE SLEEP REVOLUTION: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington. Copyright © 2016 by Christabella, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. 

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