The past few days have been the most stressful period as far as my gray cells can look back in time. The downside of all the stress is that my sleep cycle is terribly screwed up and there is no telling what the schedule for my sleep will be, say tonight. Although, sacrificing a bit of sleep does give me a lot more time to work rather than doze off for some rest, the body cycle, my concentration and focus have started to waver quite a bit.
I got intrigued and set about to analyze the effects of such a sleep starvation on the mind, health and found puzzling pieces of facts. Here i present to you, my review article on “Sleep deprivation and its ill-effects”.
Disclaimer : This is a review post about the different articles i found with information, facts from those sites on hacking sleep, sleep cycles, problems that sleep deprivation can induce and my thoughts to manage a balance between lesser sleep and better health. Read on if you want to learn all about ‘Sleep’. Or so i lure you !
Until the 1950s, most people thought of sleep as a passive, dormant part of our daily lives. We now know that our brains are very active during sleep. Moreover, sleep affects our daily functioning and our physical and mental health in many ways that we are just beginning to understand.
During sleep, we usually pass through five phases of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress in a cycle from stage 1 to REM sleep, then the cycle starts over again with stage 1 (see figure 1). We spend almost 50 percent of our total sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20 percent in REM sleep, and the remaining 30 percent in the other stages. Infants, by contrast, spend about half of their sleep time in REM sleep.
The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age. Infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about 9 hours on average. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days. Getting too little sleep creates a “sleep debt,” which is much like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid. We donâ€™t seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need; while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired.
Although scientists are still trying to learn exactly why people need sleep, animal studies show that sleep is necessary for survival. Sleep appears necessary for our nervous systems to work properly. Too little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day. It also leads to impaired memory and physical performance and reduced ability to carry out math calculations. If sleep deprivation continues, hallucinations and mood swings may develop. Some experts believe sleep gives neurons used while we are awake a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction. Sleep also may give the brain a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity.
With this brief introduction into the physics of Sleep, let us see what some of the recent articles and posts have to say about ‘Polyphasic sleep’, ‘Hacking Sleep’ and their effects.
Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern specification intended to reduce sleep time to 2â€“5 hours daily. This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short naps of around 20â€“45 minutes throughout the day. This is supposed to allow for more waking hours with relatively high alertness.
The method uses natural human sleep mechanisms to maximize alertness when sleep time needs to be minimized. However, it requires a rigid schedule which makes it unfeasible for most people. It can work well for those engaged in activities which do not permit lengthy periods of sleep (e.g. sailors).
Again, several articles have been written recently about Polyphasic sleep and the attention it has gathered, forces me to look into the subject in detail. But first, let us look at the Sleep cycles and understand the different phases involved during a normal sleep routine before trying to attempt Polyphasic sleep.
To start off, let us look at a great article which has detailed analysis on the sleep cycles, phases, physiological effects, the natural rythm and factors that can affect a normal sleep. The article is very formal in nature and looks more like a technical paper, but we have to note that it thoroughly analyzes the different components that induce sleep, namely
1) The circadian component and
2) The homeostatic component
The author then talks about some of the habits that are misconceptualized in society about sleep and talks about some of the myths and discusses the implications of each. I definitely did learn a lot in this part. I am sure you will too !
Here’s a detailed look at the sleep cycles, the average duration of each cycle and which cycle is important to feel refreshed and to avoid the uneasy feeling even after 8 hours of sleep.
In the course of the night, we alternately enter two phases of sleep :
- NREM sleep (named for non-Rapid Eye Movement) – Scientists believe that NREM is the critical moment of memory consolidation in which the hippocampus(central memory switchboard of the brain) works as the neural trainer for the neocortex in which long-term memories will be stored. Those long-term memories cannot be formed without entering appropriates stages of the sleep cycle! You cannot learn effectively if your sleep gets cut short in the morning. Or if it gets interrupted during the night. Even if you try to sleep 15 hours per day in short pieces of interrupted sleep, your learning results will be dismal! Long story short, No NREM -> Not a solid long term memory.
- REM sleep (named for Rapid Eye Movement) – The brain in REM sleep is a hard-working brain that has little to do with the notion of energy-conservation and rest in sleep.
To learn more on sleep cycles, read the above article and The power of the Sleep Cycle. There are some interesting quotes in the article about ways to improve the alertness, fitness and health even with lesser sleep if proportioned rightly. This is very interesting.
Another article which created quite a buzz on ‘Polyphasic sleep’ is the ‘Uberman’s sleeping schedule‘. The recent article over at Kuro5hin talks about the Uberman’s sleeping schedule or Polyphasic sleep where the author manages to get just 3 hours of sleep everyday and freeing more time to work with 5-6 20-30 min short naps.
The idea behind this is to maximize the REM(rapid eye movement) sleep when your brain is still mostly active, conjuring dreams that we see. Interesting concept again but not quite workable if you don’t have the luxury to control your working time. Also, the effects mentioned in the article are only short term and the author has no clue about the long term effects of such a Uberman schedule. Definitely a risky bet IMO.
After reading the previous article, i was searching to find the effects of such a polyphasic sleeping schedule and stumbled upon another article which quotes and mentions the effects of polyphasic sleep from journal articles. Let us quote from ‘Ubersleep? Hacking Sleep? Stupid!‘
Like i guessed, there are some serious side effects to such polyphasic sleep. Here’s a small list of the long term effects that you need to be aware of before trying any of this.
- Your health will suffer
- Less sleep equals more fat
- People who sleep normally, live longer
- You increase your chances of having a car wreck
Some of it, i could have guessed by intuition but some of it has factual data to support it.
Based on the previous article, i suspected that maybe obesity is somehow related to sleep deprivation. Reason : I have been eating very less over the past few days combined with lesser sleep but i have still managed to gain over 3lbs in weight in the past month.
This article argues that ‘lack of sleep’ is a factor for obesity. The author also mentions couple of good stories and research attempts to discern the effects of the polyphasic sleep.
But oh well, no one is stopping anyone from trying polyphasic sleep but IMHO, dont try it, without researching the full effects of what it will do to you !
Moving on, i did find more scientific articles that have made observations on ‘What Losing Sleep Does to a Body‘.
While many aspects of sleep remain a mystery — including exactly why we sleep — the picture that appears to be emerging is that not sleeping enough or being awake in the wee hours runs counter to the body’s internal clock, throwing a host of basic bodily functions out of sync.
“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” said Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”
The amount of necessary sleep varies from person to person, with some breezing through their days on just a few hours’ slumber and others barely functioning without a full 10 hours, experts say. But most people apparently need between about seven and nine hours, with studies indicating that an increased risk for disease starts to kick in when people get less than six or seven, experts say.
–Holy crap. If what they say is true, then i might have actually reduced my life span by atleast 10 yrs now for sleep starving myself over the past 6-7 years. Read this article too to learn some of the recent research activities being done to find out exactly the detrimental effects of inadequate sleep.
Another scientific article i found was ‘Down for the Count‘ which observes the sleeping habits of mammals in general.
“People who don’t have REM sleep are remarkably normal,” Dr. Siegel said. “There’s no evidence for any intellectual or emotional problems.”
So why do mammals and birds have REM sleep at all? “The best answer I can come up with is that it’s there to prepare you for waking,” Dr. Siegel said. “When the important work of sleep is done, REM sleep just makes you as alert as you can be while you’re asleep.”
–Well that rules out REM maximizing Ubersleep for me. Goodbye polyphasic sleep.
Now a few other articles suggest that “Deep Sleep May Be Genetic”. Eventhough the argument sounds appealing, i am very skeptical about the validity of such a thing. I think that deep sleep is directly related to a person’s stress level and ability to calm his mind. Hence, to get a deep sleep, I think that the psyche of a person matters and not the genes he derived from his parent. Well, i could be way off or closer than you think, but let further research prove me wrong.
In the light of learning scientifically about sleep, i feel obliged to link to another article that is based on sleep research. The article ‘Deep sleep short-circuits brainâ€™s grid of connectivity‘ discusses how the brain functions during deep sleep. Here’s a quote from the article.
In the human brain, cells talk to one another through the routine exchange of electrical signals. But when people fall into a deep sleep, the higher regions of the brain – regions that during waking hours are a bustling grid of neural dialogue – apparently lose their ability to communicate effectively, causing consciousness to fade.
After reading so much about the different kinds of sleep cycles, methods to optimize sleep, i definitely felt that there is one other thing all the previous authors missed out. Meditation.
Meditation builds up the brain
What effect meditating has on the structure of the brain has also been a matter of some debate. Now Sara Lazar at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, and colleagues have used MRI to compare 15 meditators, with experience ranging from 1 to 30 years, and 15 non-meditators.
They found that meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula.
â€œYou are exercising it while you meditate, and it gets bigger,â€ she says. The finding is in line with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the cortex. It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis â€œarenâ€™t just sitting there doing nothing”.
The growth of the cortex is not due to the growth of new neurons, she points out, but results from wider blood vessels, more supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections.
-The research reinstates what we already know about the oriental methodologies involving meditation and the benefits of it. Theories apart, i have been practising meditation for well over 2 years although not very regularly and from my personal experience i can say for sure that if you do it right, it can compensate for hours of sleep deprivation. At the end of the meditative session, i usually feel alert, more conscious, and more alive. The symptoms of drowsiness and lethargy vanish and i am ready to do more work. It is important to understand the process of meditation to get the maximum benefit. The vital component is the ‘breathing’, which will determine how peaceful a feeling you are going to reach and the steadiness of your breathing will quicken the process. I am no where near an expert on this and i suggest that if you are interested, read up more or ask a professional.
Anyway, IMHO, meditation can definitely help me more than any theory on polyphasic sleep. But hey, no one is stopping you to try something different. And if it works, i’d be happy to know.
Diverging from the topic a little bit, on the topic of Alarm clocks, here’s another interesting article : ‘Alarm clocks are bad. How to wake up and feel better‘.
If you are one of those persons who relies heavily on alarm clocks to wake up in the morning, like i do, then you already know how irritating the sound of the alarm can be. But is there an easier way to wake us up with an alarm, without abruptly disrupting the sleep but to slowly ease in to getting up, and to avoid that groggy feeling after sleep ? Yes. The article provides an innovative method that aims to do that albeit expensive. In the end, another cool idea and a nice theory !
Here’s another scary finding ! An article that took sleep deprived doctors as test subjects has recently concluded that the attention, vigilance, driving skills suffer as much from long work hours & overnight shifts as from blood alcohol level of 0.04%.
Read more about ‘Lack of sleep affects young doctors just like alcohol‘.
In the end, there seems only one way to beat the time crunch. A ‘28 hour day schedule‘. I have thought about such an idea before but never realized that someone else would be interested on similar lines. Here’s the crux of the idea.
We know that there are 24 hours & 7 days in a week, a total of 168 hours. Instead, if we have 28 hours/day with a 6 day week period, we could have longer hours in a day, more time to work and more time to sleep. Voila ! But us humans, err, me i am sure, will still manage to work for 22 hours and get only 6 hours of sleep. Now i wonder how that would be like !
Sleep well. Eat well. Life is probably(?!) not worth screwing around. My advice : Screw polyphasic sleep. Embrace meditation.
You only have one life to live. Enjoy it while it lasts.
1) Polyphasic sleep – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
2) The power of the Sleep Cycle
3) Good sleep, good learning, good life
4) Uberman’s sleeping schedule
5) Ubersleep? Hacking Sleep? Stupid!
6) Sleep Well or Die. Part II
7) Optimal sleep
8) Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body
9) Down for the Count
10) Deep sleep may be in your genes
11) Deep Sleep May Be Genetic
12) Deep sleep short-circuits brainâ€™s grid of connectivity
13) Meditation builds up the brain
14) Alarm clocks are bad. How to wake up and feel better
15) Lack of sleep affects young doctors just like alcohol
16) A 28 hour day schedule
17) More links on Sleep, its importance, effects of deprivation