Personal health

The benefits of eight hours sleep

By September 10, 2013 5 Comments

I try hard to get 7.5-8 hours sleep every night. I’ve been doing that for the 2-3 years since I read Kurzweil’s Transcend and various other books and articles which stressed the benefits of getting enough sleep and the dangers of not. I’ve just now finished watching Russell Foster’s Ted talk Why do we sleep? which makes many of the same points. In his summary slide at the end he lists the pros and cons of sleeping well.

Enough sleep leads to increases in

  • Concentration
  • Attention
  • Decision making
  • Creativity (up to 3x)
  • Social skills
  • Health (including mental health)

and reductions in:

  • Mood change
  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Drinking and smoking

There’s probably nothing that surprising in the list, but go back and take another look. These may well all be things that you would like to improve in your life, and getting enough sleep will help with them all in a single stroke.

At the beginning of his talk Russell gives a brief history of sleep. In short we used to respect our need for enough sleep and enjoy our rest, but twenty or thirty years ago our attitudes changed and, in the words of Margret Thatcher, started to think that ‘sleep was for wimps’. Average sleep has fallen from eight hours a night in the 1950s to 6.5 hours today. I don’t think this was a change for the better.

As I said at the start of this post I have been making sure I get enough sleep for a while now, and I feel the benefits (and can also feel it when I go through periods of not getting enough time in bed). When I tell people my story they often acknowledge that they would also benefit from getting enough sleep, but then say there is no way they can make it work with their life style. Entrepreneurs say this to me a lot.

My view is that consistently taking time from sleep to put more time into work or partying may well be a false economy. The benefits of extra time can be outweighed by poor concentration and problems arising from poor decision making and stress (particularly in interactions with other people). From a personal perspective, when I was in my twenties I used to think that I could battle my way through tiredness and still perform at a high level. Looking back now I think I was wrong.

Going from 6.5 hours sleep a night to eight hours is a bit of a pain. The time has to come from somewhere and generally that means ones’ social life. The big change for me was to cut out a lot of TV (I now watch less than two hours per week) but I also take myself home earlier on nights out. Although that’s probably just because I’m getting old 🙂

Like most everything good in life you have to make sacrifices to get it, but for me getting enough sleep was definitely worth it.