• Oliver Blakemore

The Not-So-Mad Science of Sleep

Wake Up to the Dream of Better Sleep

Apart from those of us who occasionally suffer from bouts of insomnia, there are two groups that show particular interest in sleep deprivation:


And mad scientists.

That's the beginning and end of the argument in favor of the importance of sleep, as far as I'm concerned. But this article does come with a listicle collated and correlated from a sea of Scientific Journals out there, so that you don't have to. It can be tough to go through in one go, so we will talk a bit more about all of these in our next articles.


It could be said that, for the most part, scientists have the best interests of the human race at heart, somewhere deep down. But it's their job to figure out about fringe cases that most of us wouldn't encounter in our lives. It's a scientist's job to think of unlikely events and to simulate them, in order to discover what happens when stuff gets weird. That suggests it's weird--i.e., unnatural--to fail to get enough sleep. Scientists might have good intentions, but they're supposed to ask, "how is this wrong?"

What makes a scientist different from a mad scientist is the whole health benefits thing. Results.

A mad scientist might want to encourage sleep deprivation.

A scientist will tell you how come you ought to avoid it.

So for instance, scientists always discover at least one thing in common.

Sleep deprivation experiments always note a marked drop in cognitive efficiency, which is scientist talk for when people think worse. One study I found did an experiment with forty-eight (willing) subjects. Some slept enough--eight hours in a twenty-four-hour period. The rest didn't sleep enough. Some didn't sleep at all. The experiment went on for two weeks. The scientists knew that sleep deprivation is so bad for you that the subjects who weren't allowed to sleep only participated for three days. So not even "in the name of science!" was enough of an excuse to deprive these poor people of sleep for more than seventy-two hours.

Their results were as you'd expect: problem-solving dropped--coping dropped--energy levels dropped. Most of us can provide ample corroborative anecdotes to back that up. I know I can.

The thing I love about science is how often you can use it to support both sides of your conclusion. There is as much research corroborating the health benefits of coffee, for example, as there is that corroborates its bad side effects.

It's often a good exercise to ask ideas to defend themselves like this. A strong idea will pass the test of being challenged by its opposing idea. That's why I still drink coffee in spite of the science that says I shouldn't.

As a dutiful researcher...

I set out to find an alternative perspective to this idea that sleep is good for you.

I set out to find some reputable science that claims sleep deprivation is actually good for you.

It didn't surprise me to fail to discover that research. I found a paper that corroborated the drop in performance of humans who don't get enough sleep. Although the researchers couldn't determine a precise medical cause of this drop in performance. I found another paper that I like because it explains some of my experiences. Apparently, there is a small segment of the population that can get by with less-than-average sleep. They can't handle a lot less, and not a large segment of the population. Like, two in twenty-five, maybe, and only an hour or so less. Mostly, scientists agree that sleep is good for you.

Which is why mad scientists have helped sleep deprivation stay on the "cruel and unusual punishments" list.

The part that disgruntles me is naps. Because, like, have you ever thought to yourself, "Man, I'd really like a nap, but--". You get that far, but then you list off all the sources of guilt that you use to keep you one step ahead of the Grim Reaper? Because that happens to me every day. The hustle consuming us all keeps lighting a fire on our need to never take it easy.

What is up with that? What weird features of civilization combine to cause this weird guilt complex around RESTING? In a world full of unhappiness, hunger, and disease, and there is a portion of the population glutted with the greatest degree of plenty our species has yet achieved.

There is a portion of the population drowning in food, clean water, good health care, and shelter-- to a degree where we have to invent things just to cope with the plenty.

...And yet, somehow, we've discovered a way of sabotaging the only universal luxury accessible to everyone, enjoyed by everyone, needed by everyone: nap time.

So, finally, and in the interest of science and settling in with a logic that bodes well with you, here's a list of Sleep Aid Research we urge you to look into in order to find you Sleep Rituals and Sleep Habits that aren't so madly improbable for you and your current life:

1. There is considerable evidence in sleep deprivation and a drop in cognitive efficiency. Here’s Why You Can’t Think Straight When You’re Sleep Deprived, 2018 Sleep Deprivation Leads to Fragmented Memory Loss, Oxford Academic, April 2019 Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health

2. How much sleep you need changes throughout your lifetime. How to calculate when you should sleep, Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on November 12, 2019

How much sleep do we really need? Harvard Health August 2019 3 Reasons it's Harder to sleep as an Adult, Feb 2020


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