Margaret Thatcher was once quoted as saying that “sleep is for wimps” and that she required just 4 hours shut-eye a night. Along with many of the world’s high profile politicians and entrepreneurs, there has long been a consensus that achieving success requires people to stop being “lazy” and start sacrificing sleep in order to get where they are going.
If Donald Trump is to be believed, he chose to get by on just one hour a night on the campaign trail. But is sleep deprivation really something to be admired or is it dangerous?
Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington, is one convert to the belief that better sleep makes better business sense in the long term. The CEO, who once admitted to living off 3-4 hours sleep a night, had a life-changing experience in 2007, which completely changed her approach to rest and recovery.
Exhaustion caused Huffington to collapse at her desk, breaking a cheekbone as she fell. After waking up in a pool of her own blood, she was rushed to hospital where doctors told her that she was suffering from fatigue.
Looking back on the experience Huffington admitted that the signs had been there for some time, saying that she was “more irritable, more reactive, less present and absolutely less joyful”.
“When I’m sleep deprived, I tend to focus on what is not working rather than what is working.”
Now, Huffington has released her own book entitled The Sleep Revolution, which covers the new ground rules she sets herself to ensure that rest is as regimented and organised as the rest of her day.
Research into sleep deprivation
According to an ever-increasing body of medical research, the case for better quantity and quality of sleep is becoming hard to ignore. Simple fatigue has been show to slow reaction times, reduce coordination, increase absentmindedness and decrease awareness.
But the dangers of long-term sleep deprivation are even more significant. Clear links have been drawn between sleep and obesity, with sleep deprivation found to affect metabolism significantly. In tests, 73% of people who slept for fewer than four hours a night were found to gain excess weight, with the body’s survival response craving an estimated extra 900 calories a day. This weight gain in turn can be closely linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions associated with weight issues.
And the effects of sleep loss aren’t just physical. A number of studies have shown that sleep plays a vital role in the consolidation of memories, helping brain function and facilitating learning. It is no surprise then that scientists are now relating sleep deprivation to conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
If this wasn’t enough, latest estimates suggest that sleep deprived workers are costing the UK economy £40bn a year. Research firm Rand Europe estimated that tired employees missing work or being less productive could be equated to 1.86% of economic growth.
Perhaps the most shocking statistic quoted in the research was that those sleeping for fewer than 6 hours a night were 13% more likely to die than those sleeping between seven and nine hours.
Using the data collected from a survey of 62,000 people it was estimated that even a small shift from 6 to 7 hours sleep a night could result in a £24bn boost to the UK economy.
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