Sleep deprivation and health

There’s a big article, via Plasticbag, in The Washington Post about how sleep deprivation is killing Americans. And presumably everybody else aswell.

Sleep is something that I am quite interested in, because I’m rubbish at sleeping. I don’t think I’m an insomniac really, because I have no trouble at all getting to sleep on most nights. But I have no regular pattern.

I have always been a bit of a nightowl, apparently ever since I was very young. As I grew up I also discovered that television and radio are much better late at night than they are during the day or even the evening. Going on a walk at 4am is a brilliant experience. And because everybody else is in bed there are fewer distractions, so I can do things at my own pace and without being interrupted.

At first staying up until the wee small hours was great fun. But it is problematic if you have to get into school before 9am every morning. After a while simply existing became a bit of a chore. I often skipped breakfast to give myself more time to sleep. I can remember sitting there at school, half-awake. And I think I was quite bad at communicating aswell. Infact, I can remember actively avoiding talking simply because I didn’t have the energy to have a decent conversation. There were probably times when I only ever spoke when I had some snide comment that I really needed to make. That probably didn’t endear me to many people.

So staying up until 3 or 4am on a routine basis is now a no-go area. As a result, I generally feel more alert and up to the task of getting through the day. But I’ve never been able to fully shake off the general late-night habit. I find it very difficult, for instance, to go to sleep at a time like 11pm because it simply doesn’t feel to me like the day is over until about midnight or 1am, even if I got up really early in the morning. Radio is also still better, although television has taken a nose-dive if you ask me (or maybe I just grew up!).

I also have to partly blame coffee. I am sure that people who don’t drink coffee simply don’t stay up as late. I have imposed upon myself a 6pm (or whenever I get in) coffee curfew for nights where I have to get up earlyish the next morning. As it’s self-imposed it isn’t very strictly adhered to, but it makes me feel better. It might be a placebo. I could have coffee an hour before going to bed and have no problems drifting off (although I would probably have a headache in the morning).

Still, sleeping is a problem. I think on average I probably get enough. But the key words there are on average. I don’t go to sleep or get up at a regular time every day. I tried to get up at the same time every day during the summer holidays, at the unambitious time of 11am, and even than the plan only lasted a couple of weeks. Besides, if I tried to get up at the same time every day at the moment that would involve getting out of bed before 8am on a Sunday, which is just pointless.

So what happens is that I get up at a different time every day. Last year university really took its toll, and virtually every weekend I slept for a total of twenty or more hours. And I still felt tired. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be happening this year, thanks to a more convenient timetable with none of the long days which really drained me last year.

That’s not to say that my general sleeping patterns are any better. This isn’t a typical week, but nevertheless it is not unusual for me to have erratic sleeping patterns. On Sunday morning I only got about 3 or 4 hours of sleep, thanks to ITV’s idiotic policy of scheduling the only broadcast of the Formula 1 qualifying session late at night, when the race programme started at 5:20am. Then on Monday I got up at 11am. Today I had to be up before 8am. I am knackered right now — I’m amazed I’ve even had the energy to write this post. At first the day was okay, but then I decided to take some books out of the library which made the journey back a proper chore. Tomorrow I probably won’t stumble out of bed until about 11.

As such, it concerns (but does not surprise) me that the article notes that it is not only lack of sleep but erratic sleep that could lead to potential health problems. The worst thing is that we still seem to know so little about sleep. That’s a bit crazy considering that every single person does it every day (usually) for at least a quarter of the day (usually).

One thing that I can’t really get my head around is the fact that humans are ‘hardwired’ to operate during the day. Even if you spend years and years doing the nightshift, it is still more natural and healthy to be working during the day instead. I don’t really know why that should be, unless sunlight is a real necessity. Even then, it surely doesn’t much matter if you’re stuck in working all day.


  1. The balancing act one has to develop between getting enough sleep and squeezing every last minute out of your waking hours *does* get easier. Well, it has to once you start working full time, anyway…

  2. I can’t get to sleep for love nor money, but can languish in bed forever once I do nod off… normally with the help of some Benylin Original. Yum.