We don't even know how tired we are
An eye-opening new sleep study. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Let's start with a story. See if it sounds familiar, but be forewarned: There's a surprise twist at the end.
Let’s call the main character Sally. Like many busy people, Sally sometimes gets overcommitted and overstretched. It’s not just work, it’s not just her family, it’s not just her social life, it’s not just her other interests—it’s everything together.
Something has to give, and Sally would be the first to admit that it's often her sleep schedule that goes first. She stays up late, gets up early, burns the candle at both ends.
Then the weekend comes, and she crashes.
She sleeps in, maybe gets to bed early. By Sunday evening, she feels rested, refreshed, and rejuvenated—ready to tackle the new week.
Now for the surprise twist.
It comes from an eye-opening new article in the journal Trends in Neurosciences, which synthesized decades of research on what happens to our brains when we accumulate a sleep debt, and then try to make up for it.
In short, it's not what we think happens—and not what we've been taught to think over the years.
Instead, according to authors Zachary Zamore and Sigrid C. Veasey of the Chronobiology and Sleep Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, there are at least three crucial things to know:
First, when we accumulate a sleep debt, we lose some of the subjective ability to judge how that lack of sleep affects us.
Second, even though we don't realize it, objective tests show that we continue to have "deficits ... in vigilance and episodic memory" even after "2-3 nights of recovery sleep." Key: The deficits persist even if we feel "less tired" after recovery sleep.
Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, studies suggest that this persistent sleep loss—even when we try to catch up on it—can lead to "heightened susceptibility to neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease ... and Parkinson's disease (PD)."
This is a really interesting and alarming journal article to my eyes, running nearly 10,000 words. Among other things, it brings home just how difficult and crucial it is to study what happens when people become sleep deprived:
Difficult, because of the ethical and practical considerations.
(How can you measure sleep deprivation without causing it, and how can you cause it despite recognizing its significantly negative effects? As an account in The New York Times about the study pointed out, in some sleep-deprivation experiments on animals, the animals don't survive.)
Crucial, because as Zamore and Veasey concede, "sleep disruption is an inevitable occurrence in modern societies."
(Simply knowing that sleep deprivation is bad for you doesn't change the fact that sometimes we run out of hours in the day, and have to make tough choices.)
For that matter, it would be no challenge to come up with many other studies describing additional negative effects of sleep deprivation. I've written about many of these:
A study of young doctors working as hospital interns that found that those who had regular sleep habits had better moods and fewer depression symptoms.
A study suggesting that people who sleep fewer than six hours a night have a 30 percent higher chance of becoming obese than those who sleep between seven and nine hours.
And a study suggesting that lack of sleep ruins sex drive and wrecks testosterone levels in men.
Yet, as much as I hate to admit it, even though I'm the person who wrote all these articles, I'm also the person giving up sleep to write this article right now, because I couldn't find time to get everything done during the day.
But at the same time, the idea that we might not actually feel the degree to which lack of sleep harms us—let’s just say it’s a scary notion. So with that, let’s call it a night. And if you’re reading this first thing in the morning after getting up too early, you have my permission to go back to bed for a bit.
Just because I’m curious…
Most days, I send this newsletter at around 7:00 a.m. Eastern
(which is my time zone). Maybe 7:02, just to be different.
I’m curious to know what time zones you’re all in. I’ve asked before, but the audience keeps growing. (This is a good problem). So, let’s do a very easy poll. It should just be 1-click!
(I’m only allowed 5 options, so if it’s not one of the ones below, let us know in the comments!)
7 other things worth knowing today
President Biden announced Monday that the U.S. government killed the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahiri in a "successful" counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan that removes the terrorist from the battlefield "once and for all," and degrades the terror network's ability to operate. (Fox News)
Hundreds of people are missing and at least 35 are confirmed dead in flood-stricken Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said, as rescue workers continue to comb the region, unable to access areas left isolated after floodwater washed away bridges and inundated communities. "I've lived here in this town for 56 years, and I have never seen water of this nature," Tracy Neice, the mayor of Hindman, Kentucky, told CNN. "It was just devastating to all of our businesses, all of our offices." (CNN)
Today, Kansas becomes the first state in the nation to put the question of abortion rights directly to voters since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Kansas is a conservative state that former President Donald Trump handily won twice, but the question of abortion-rights is proving to be divisive and unpredictable. (Politico)
The first U.S. Capitol riot defendant convicted at trial was sentenced to more than seven years in prison Monday, the longest punishment handed down to date in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress. Guy Reffitt, a recruiter for the Texas Three Percenters movement, was convicted March 8 of five felony offenses, including obstruction of Congress, interfering with police and carrying a firearm to a riot, and threatening his teenage son, who turned him in to the FBI. Prosecutors had asked for 15 years. (WashPost)
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was set to visit Taiwan on Tuesday, three people briefed on the matter said, as China warned that its military would never “sit idly by” if she visited the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing. (CNBC)
This is a very sad story, but I felt like I should share it. Basically, it's about how people are unaware of the degree to which the drivers of some large contemporary SUVs and trucks are unable to see immediately in front of the vehicle, resulting sometimes in tragedy. The TV station reporting on this did an experiment where they counted how many children could sit in front of an SUV (stationary, obviously), before the driver had any idea they were there. There's a bit of a trigger warning here, as it all starts with the story of a woman who was unable to see her 4 year old son in front of her GMC Denali SUV, and ran over and killed him in the driveway. (NBC Washington)
Beyoncé says she will remove the word “spaz” from one of her new songs, “Heated,” after she received criticism from disability advocates. A rep for Beyoncé tells Rolling Stone, “The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced.” Thematically similar but not related: Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay is facing backlash on TikTok from some users after posting a video in which he appeared to select a lamb to slaughter for a meal. (Rolling Stone, NBC News)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Unsplash. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here. See you in the comments!
Another sleep study? I don't think sleep is always a one size fits all proposition. Who can ever know what is happening within a person's body at any given time? Lack of sleep is just one factor among hundreds or thousands that may or may not have longer term effects for any one person. For sure, drugs can never fix the problem or any problem for that matter.