Let me get it straight right at the outset — sleeping less than 8 hours a day makes you dumb, unhappy and disease-prone. It will decrease your scores, it will reduce the number of friends you have, it will reduce the number of years you will live.
But most of you end up sleeping only 6 to 7 hours a night. That’s criminal. Let me tell you why. Stay with me while I explain it fully. This will be long.
Before you start thinking that I am just preaching something I don’t know about, let me admit that I have learnt the truth about sleeping in two ways: through my own experience, and through scientific research done by reputed scientists.
Firstly, my own experience. For years, I have slept less than the prescribed 8 hours, and most of the ill-effects that you see described here have been drawn from my own (and my friends’) experiences. Secondly, the points that come after are backed by solid science. We must always trust science, over our lazy instincts.
Let’s begin, then.
One of the greatest effects of sleep loss is mental laziness. A couple of years back, when we were in class VII, many of us had just created Gmail accounts and along with it came a chat app: Hangouts. Not being content with talking face-to-face with each other at school, we would stay up late at night, chatting with each other on Hangouts. T
he next day in class, my teacher would be the only one speaking in the class (though my school is famous for its participative classes) and the rest of us would be staring blankly, often not even registering what he said. We didn’t realize then that this was due to lack of sleep, so despite numerous scoldings, the classroom “discussions” remained as boring as ever.
Not only do conversations become dull, but productivity also diminishes due to lack of sleep. For example, we read more slowly, or solve sums more slowly when we sleep less. Nowhere that’s more vividly demonstrated than the standardized test (e.g. SAT or GRE) scores — which dramatically improve after a month of solid 9-hour sleep. I can testify for this myself – I was stagnating around a score of 1520 or so in SAT, but after heeding my teacher’s advice to sleep for 9-hours a night for a month, when I finally gave the SAT this October, I scored a 1570 (out of 1600). A 50 point improvement during a month, at a high level of score, is quite unnatural.
Less sleep makes you forget things. One of my sleep-deprived friends was once supposed to inform a junior class that their exam was going to start at 8:00 am. Evidently his brain had switched off on the short 2-minute journey from the school admin block to the classroom. By the time he reached there, he announced the exam time as 8:30. As you can see, lack of sleep can make you less alert and less focussed on the present moment.
The consequences can get more damaging as you get into higher classes. Senior students often have to study a lot and prepare for exams. With the burden of textbooks on our shoulders, we tend to think that sleeping too much will result in a lot of wastage of time. There are two flaws with this argument.
Firstly, most people tend to waste zillions of hours engaging in other frivolous activities.
Those hours would be better spent sleeping. Secondly, the dichotomy between sleep and work is non-existent. Sleep is the time when new memories are processed in the brain. So if you spend too much time studying and too little time sleeping, you won’t be able to remember much of what you read. In other words, you may spend all your time staring at your books, but you won’t learn anything if you don’t sleep on your new knowledge.
The ill-effects of lack of sleep isn’t just confined to work. Sleep can make you happier as well. Less than 8-hours of sleep makes you fatigued and irritable. Since you can focus less on your activities, you get less of the ‘flow’ experience which is at the root of happiness.
Apart from making you less intelligent (at least relative to your potential) and unhappy, sleep deprivation can also take a toll on your health. Because sleep boosts immunity, lack of sleep can make you fall sick more often. You’ll understand that this is true if you have ever had a fever and recovered quickly after a whole day of sleep.Furthermore, growth hormones are released in the body during sleep. So your growth can also be stunted if you sleep less in your formative years.
Sleep loss also makes you fat. Sleep promotes the release of hunger-suppressing hormones. As a result, when you are sleep deprived, you tend to eat more than you need to.
All the health benefits resulting from sleep finally enhances athletic performance. Even if you don’t care that much about your mental abilities decaying, you surely don’t want to become a bedridden, obese dwarf.
‘Well, all that is fine, but I genuinely don’t feel sleepy’, you might say. Maybe you don’t, but that is only because of modern inventions such artificial lights and gadgets. Naturally, there isn’t any light after sunset. So evolutionarily, we are built to go to sleep at that time. However, these modern technologies now keep you awake beyond the biological sleeping time.
So, try to discipline yourself to switch off all lights and avoid all gadgets (e.g. TV, smartphone) at least half an hour before going to bed. That way, you may find it easier to fall asleep at an appropriate time.
And if all of this fails to convince you, ask yourself, why would you even want to stay awake and suffer in a world as horrible as this one?