Sleep: A user’s guide

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Updated Sep 26, 2013

sleep on wheel ODSleep is absolutely essential for every human being. Despite scientists still not figuring out the process entirely, we know a lot about this daily activity. It is a process so common it consumes nearly one-third of our lives. This translates to an estimated 26 years spent in slumber if we assume the average American lifespan of 78. That’s a lot of shut-eye. 

According to Dr. Anuj Goyal of Sleep Diagnostics of Dayton/Sleep Specialists, there is no magic number for the right amount of sleep. “This will vary among individuals and age groups,” Goyal says. “Healthy adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Some individuals need to sleep 8-10 hours per night based on their genetics. Oversleeping has been linked to a host of medical problems including diabetes, heart disease, and an increased risk for death.”

On the other side of the coin, not enough sleep is also detrimental to your health. 

“Sleep deprivation studies have shown a lack of sleep to be fatal in rats,” Goyal says. “Lack of sleep can kill you. If someone is completely deprived of sleep, they can die within 2 weeks. For practical purposes, long-term sleep deprivation can result in weight gain, accelerated aging and depression, and it can compromise your immune system making you susceptible to various illnesses.”

The most cited record for sleepless hours was held by 17-year-old Randy Gardner of the U.S., who stayed awake for an astonishing 264 hours back in 1964. Gardner was monitored by physicians as part of a sleep-deprivation study. There have been many who have sustained longer periods of wakefulness, but Gardner’s case was closely controlled, and is the most scientifically sound to date. It’s impossible to tell if someone is really awake without intense medical supervision. People can take cat naps with their eyes open without even being aware of it. After just four days without sleep, Randy began hallucinating, believing that he was the collegiate football player Paul Lowe, winning the Rose Bowl.

As Goyal noted, sleep patterns vary from person to person. There is no “blanket statement” that can be made about how much each person needs to be healthy and productive. There are two main types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and its opposite. In healthy adults, sleep begins with non-REM sleep and alternates with REM sleep throughout the night in a cyclical fashion. This sleep pattern can be affected by many factors including age, the amount of recent sleep, the time of day or night, or behaviors prior to sleep such as exercise, stress, temperature and light, as well as chemicals (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine) and medications. Sleep patterns are ingrained, but can be altered based on sleep schedules, daytime napping, or any of the factors mentioned above.

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The FMCSA has directly referenced sleep patterns (Circadian rhythm) in its defense of the new hours of service rules in court. While these patterns do exist and are very important to daily function, it is impossible to impose these findings on a large group of people due to the extreme variation in personal patterns. Based on the science of sleep, there is no way to say “everyone” performs better when they sleep (or rest) during a 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. period of time.

While it remains true that a large number of people rest better during hours of darkness, it also remains a fact that a large number don’t. No all-inclusive rule will assure better cognition and safety from the masses.


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