Get Some Sleep

As one who tends to stay up far too late sending emails, I’ve been interested in the number of stories I’ve seen about sleep issues during the past few weeks.

Here are some facts to consider — sleep on them and see what you think.

People who suffer from insomnia take sick days twice as often as those who do not, according to a report by The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. The study found that over a six-month period, the condition cost employers an average of 4.4 days of wages for each untreated sufferer, plus indirect costs due to lower productivity and mistakes made because of lack of sleep.

Harvard Business review reports:

34% of American adults take a nap on a typical day. Napping is most common at the lower end of the pay scale — 42% of those with annual incomes below $30,000 told the Pew Research Center they had napped in the previous 24 hours — and it declines as income rises. 21% of those with yearly pay between $75,000 and $99,000 reported napping, the lowest of any income group. The urge (or the time) to nap returns among those who make more than $100,000: 33% had napped in the past day..

USA Today reports in today’s paper:

6 hours of sleep? It’s not enough

SAN FRANCISCO — Scientists have good and bad news for hard-driving people who boast they need only six hours of sleep a night.

The good news is a few may be right: Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco have identified a family with a genetic mutation that causes members to require only six hours sleep a night. The bad news? The gene is vanishingly rare in humans, found in less than 3% of people.

So almost everyone who says he needs only six hours’ sleep is kidding himself. And the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation are serious, says Clete Kushida, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and director of Stanford University’s Sleep Medicine Center. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in motor vehicle accidents, deficiencies in short-term memory, focus and attention. It’s also tied to depressed mood and a decrease in the ability to control appetite.

The family members — a mother and daughter with the gene mutation — were discovered by researchers at UCSF studying circadian rhythms, the waxing and waning biochemical cycles that govern sleep, hunger and activity. Neither woman needed more than six to 6½ hours of sleep a night, and yet both were well-rested, healthy and energetic.

“One of them is over 70, always traveling internationally and extremely active. She dances three or four nights a week,” says Ying-Hui Fu, a professor of neurology at UCSF.

When scientists examined the pair’s DNA, they found a mutation in a gene called DEC2, which governs cell production and circadian rhythm.

The mutation seems to result in people who need much less than the normal eight to 8½ hours that most humans require for well-rested functioning, according to the paper, which is published in today’s edition of the journal Science. The research by Fu and her colleagues determined that humans and mice that carry the mutation get more intense sleep, as measured by slow-wave electrical activity in the brain, and so they need less of it.

But Fu estimates that only about 3% of the population is likely to have this gene and cautions that most people who habitually get less than eight hours sleep a night are only building up a large, and dangerous, sleep debt.

Fu says her lab is investigating whether it might be possible to mimic the effects of the gene with therapeutic compounds, but she cautions the research is only at the very beginning. For now, the only real answer to true productivity is to sleep as much as your body needs, she says.

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