Sleep: a fountain of youth

In a New York Times interview last year, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla/SpaceX/whatever, said he works 120 hours a week and pulls all-nighters. As a very, very minor stockholder, I’m struck by his sacrifice, discipline, super-human productivity. But as a doctor, none of this is OK.

Why sleep?

Our body is a machine, programmed to shut down daily for maintenance. The younger you are, the more physical you are, the more sleep you need. Sleep is more than a La La Land where your dreams build a human colony on Mars. During sleep, your body and brain work tirelessly to connect, reconnect, grow, learn, repair, regenerate, remove toxins, ready to reboot for a new dawn. Sleep is your built-in fountain of youth.

For decades, doctors have known sleep deprivation – acute and chronic – impacts health. But they’re just getting to know how bad it is: increased incidence of heart diseases, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, depression, diabetes, strokes, obesity, etc. In children, it fosters impulsive behavior, irritability, amotivation, and impairs growth. If you’re trying to lose weight, sleep deprivation is the albatross in an uphill battle. It drives you to eat more.  

Can you make up the sleep later?

An recent study published in Current Biology tried to answer that.

It recruited 36 healthy, young adults. The subjects, divided into three groups, were observed over nine days. The first group got as much sleep as they needed (up to nine hours). The second group was restricted to five hours of sleep.

The third group, in an interesting twist, was restricted to five hours of sleep on weekdays but could sleep late on weekends, followed by two more days of restricted sleep.

Here’s what they found: In the two sleep-deprived groups, insulin sensitivity started to decline after three days of sleep deprivation; that is, their blood sugar shot up like a diabetic. Compared to the group with adequate sleep, both sleep-deprived groups gained an average of three pounds.

The authors concluded, “Weekend recovery [sleep] did not prevent weight gain or improve insulin sensitivity.” One likened the damage of sleep deprivation to that of smoking – progressive, long-term.

They also observed that the group who slept in late on weekends had problems falling asleep on Sunday night even though they had to get up early on Monday. As if you need another reason to make Monday more miserable.

I know it’s hard to go to sleep. The precious, quiet hours after a long day of bosses and colleagues, family and friends, dishes, laundry, lawn, bills. Plus the worries, drowned out by the day’s noise, now throb like a purple stubbed toe, keeping you up.

Thus, my letter to Elon Musk:


Spending a third of your life sleeping may seem like a colossal waste of time. But believe me, you’ll live longer – and write fewer nutty tweets. So turn off your electronics. More exercise, less Ambien (and pot). Think pleasant thoughts. I’ll share mine: a Youtube video of Westlake Patrolman Funari helping ducklings cross Center Ridge Road.

Try, Elon. Make sleep a priority.

Sincerely, Diana

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 10:28 AM, 06.04.2019