Until just a few years ago, I always thought of myself as just a not-very-good sleeper who could perform at a high level without a lot of zzz’s. 

As a kid, my natural state was “pretty wound up,” some combination of anxiety, energy, and ambition, that became most obvious after the lights went out and the tossing and turning began. 

In college, I chose a major (computer science) that I was wholly unprepared for and surrounded me with hyper-competitive geeks whose pale and sickly countenance as a result of long nights pouring over code was a badge of honor.  I figured if I can’t out-think them, I’ll need to out-work them and sleep became the obvious sacrifice.

My first job in a high-tech manufacturing plant that ran around the clock was followed by nearly two decades bouncing around management consulting and startup gigs that never hid the fact that the proverbial (and often mythical) gold at the end of the rainbow was going to come out of your hide.  Who needs sleep when there’s another PowerPoint slide with a 2x2 matrix to be made?

In my mid-40’s, a fascination with how far and fast I could push my body in the midst of age’s encroaching limitations led me to ultra-distance cycling and a window into the world of exercise-induced hallucinations.  But it was in this environment, where the effects of sleep deprivation impairments couldn’t be ignored (crashes have a way of focusing the mind), that I began to challenge my core assumption about my relationship with sleep.

And, after some focused research and self-experimentation, I concluded that a conscious investment in consistently getting “enough” high quality sleep is the ultimate enabler of all human superpowers.

Want to come up with an idea that will put a dent in the universe?  Sleep.

Want to be more resilient and calmer in the face of adversity and uncertainty?  Sleep.

Want to recover faster from a tough workout and crush your next race?  Sleep and sleep.

Almost all of my coaching clients have led with some version of the line, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.,” an ethos that I can certainly identify with. But none have failed to realize significant benefits from giving sleep a higher priority in their lives, oftentimes from just a few tweaks in their routine and environment.

Although the mechanisms of sleep still hold mysteries left to be discovered, it’s clear that sleep is essential—go without it for too long, and your brain basically starts to fall apart. 

Headaches can begin as soon as 24 hours after missing sleep. 72 hours in, memory is impaired and temporal and spatial distortions start to occur. After 96 hours without sleep, cognition is markedly impaired. After 144 hours, hallucinations ensue and there is a considerable loss of attention and manual dexterity. (1)

How do we know all of this?  The innate human tendency to explore the limits of what’s possible.  Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old high school student who stayed awake for 264 hours (11 days) in 1965 for a science fair, is often cited as the record holder.  Others have gone longer than Gardner's 11 days, though they may fall into sleep-like restful states.  Others suffer from Fatal Familial Insomnia, which—after months without sleep—leads to brain deterioration and death. (2)

It’s admittedly hard to defect from society’s cult of productivity that seems to act like an invisible force on our psyche and well-being.  But,  as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England wrote years ago, "Oh sleep! It is a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole".

Here are three things to think about, check out, or do to convince yourself that you deserve long goodnights this week and beyond:

1). For a better understanding of sleep cycles and the stages of sleep, check out this article from Whoop, a company that helps athletes, CEOs, and regular folks like us track our sleep and other physiological data (full disclosure:  I’m a satisfied customer and not compensated for the plug.).  If you like infographics, try this one on for size…

2). If you’re still skeptical that a lack of sleep is harmful to human health and performance, here are a number of articles, infographics, and a short video that, collectively, should leave you with no doubt:

3). How much sleep should you get and what should you do you get a better night’s sleep?  Here are a few places to start trying to figure it out:

Bonus:

 

(1)  https://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/123273/

(2) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-long-can-humans-stay/