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A lack of sleep can kill you (usmansheikh.com)
128 points by iapi on Aug 11, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

Providing an India Centric view: Hard work is almost irrationally idolized here. True Anecdote - I wanted to check out a Car on a Tuesday afternoon, the first thing the Car salesman asked me are you on a holiday today from Work? (it was inconceivable for him that I could take off at 3.30). I was at a talk by a very senior Computer Professional and heard the following boast - "no one in my company puts in less than 10 hours a day". The company he speaks about has 20,000 employees in one location alone. After the talk a ton of people congratulated him for inspiring them to drive their employees to work harder. The stupidity in those comments just boggles the mind.

From my experience in a couple of 'large Indian IT companies': it is a matter being seen by your boss as 'being around'.

Out of an average of the 10 hours put in per day, I daresay only about 6-7 are productive. The rest would be spent in coffee breaks, meal-time breaks, smoke breaks, and sending around pictures of puppies, kittens and babies.

To be fair though, quite a fair number of these IT workers are expected to work standard hours, and then put in at least a couple of hours face-time with the client. The client is [more often than not] either European or American, so there's no real way out.

I'd rather work smart than work hard any day.

My own conclusion: exercise and diet are overrated, I'll still do sleep experiments because I don't want to spend 1/3 of my life unconscious in bed. Things like uberman, everyman, siestas, melatonin supplements, and modifinil are all intriguing.

The writing of this entry bugs me. Generalizing from sample size of 1, "confidential sources" (he won't even link to papers apparently already published, all years ago!), and the sentence "For lack of space, I cannot explain here the ideal sleep architecture."

Taking the last stat to be true (Sleeping for <=5 hours per night leads to 39% increase in heart disease.) that's still only a change from something like 0.6% to 0.8%. (Initial percent from memory, so it may be off.)

You should have a look at this Reddit comment (and the rest of the threads under the parent post): http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/co5t9/i_attempted_poly...

"I tried the biphasic thing for about 2 months, then attempted the "uberman" thing for about 4 months. This was probably the biggest mistake of my life. [...] I'm actually now seeing several doctors (neurologists, endocrinologists) because I feel so "off" all the time. [...] This amount of masochistic, long-term sleep deprivation can fuck with your hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis."

There's several corroborating accounts in other comments under that post.

As I said in another comment here, everyone is different. Just be careful and make sure to pay attention to your body and mind's needs, and be aware of the risks.

Correlation is not causation. While his sleep patterns could have caused the problem it may have just happened at the same time.

"Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'."


Oh come on, give him a break. He didn't say "Correlation doesn't imply causation", which of course is silly, but he said "Correlation is not causation", which is spot on.

Anyway, I've never been able to successfully do the uberman for more than a few weeks, though I did do the everyman successfully for a few months. As with everything involving messing with the brain, which includes things as simple as caffeine, the results could be disastrous in certain people. As far as I know I'm not such a person. I worry about what things like drunk-inducing-amounts of Alcohol or LSD would do to my brain, which is one of the reasons I don't use such things, but I'd probably be fine afterwards.

I am not saying that his/her statement is incorrect. I am saying that it takes one mighty coincidence for that person to get those issues due to unrelated causes exactly at the same time that person meddled with sleep.

Possible? Yes. Probable? I don't think so.

Based on your profile, I'm assuming you're in your early 20s. When I was that age (15 years ago at this point), I had the same attitude. As I got older I started to feel the effects of bad diet and no exercise on my work and life.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to find ways to hack your sleep schedule or diet, but don't discount sleep as just wasted time in bed. If you don't treat your body right your mind will suffer.

I don't want to spend 1/3 of my life unconscious in bed.

2/3 conscious of a 100 year life is still better than 3/3 of 50.

That's assuming that you value all years equally, which most people don't.

With good living (and good luck), I've seen people very active and happy through their 80s and 90s.

With bad living, I've seen some very unhappy and dead people in their 40s, 30s, or even 20s (Winehouse, Cobain, Joplin, Morrison, et al, of the Forever 27 Club). Frequently death preceded by more than a few years of lower productivity.

Of course, luck plays a part too. I've known a few people who woke up dead, suddenly or otherwise, at a young age for no particularly predictable exogenous cause. But that's still statistically a low probability and for some cases (particularly accidents and violence) largely avoidable with appropriate precautions.

Is that really true? I'm looking forward to pretty much every phase of my life (except the death part, I could happily skip that).

You may be interested in the extensive discussion on polyphasic sleep on HN:



0.6% is probably at a younger age. It grows _a lot_ later in life... easily double digits.

The article does not address the correlation between the amount of stress people endure and the amount of sleep they take.

People who pour their lives into work generally tend to have less sleep and be more stressed. So, is it the sleep, the stress, or both that kill people?

Do people who deprive themselves of sleep truly maximize their potential?

I, for one, can feel a huge difference in my ability to focus on cognitive challenges when I'm well-rested and I've engineered my environment in such a way that eliminates distraction. Doing truly challenging work well requires peak mental performance. It's hard to see how it's possible to do that if one is actively sabotaging his or her physical and mental machineries.

If you are not getting enough sleep (7 hours)

Why 7 hours? We're being preached the importance of REM sleep, and yet half the REM sleep of the night typically comes between the 7th and 8th hour.

Does anyone know how this reasoning applies to people taking multiple short naps? I had a friend who did this for a semester. What about hyposomniacs? Are they more efficient or is something missing? I have a friend who naturally cannot sleep more than 5 hours a night - he wakes up naturally after 5.

edit: I wrote apples instead of applies...

Wasn't there some poor kid who passed away of heart failure somewhere in Asia from gaming 24-7, and they blamed it on lack of sleep?

I was under the impression that the lethality of sleep deprivation was not something that was widely questioned..

On a related note, BBC Horizon has an interesting documentary on sleep and your body clock called The Secret Life Of Your Body Clock.

I realize that "The Secret Life Of X" is one of their title patterns, but in this case it just sounds awkward.

I don't believe running marathons is considered healthy. Actually any kind of intensive (I don't know the English term for it) sports would be considered not good for longevity most research says. I've seen (semi) prof runners, rowers and a badminton player in my own circles die of heart attacks and cancer (long) before their time, while people who never did much of anything sporty (and smoke + drink) are currently over 90 (yes, I personally know far more sport/health people dying before 60, and 50, than I know people who live unhealthy; no-one unhealthy died before 80, while in the 'healthy' category, I've had a lot of deaths). This all doesn't prove anything, neither does this article, but the lack of sleep would've been more interesting if the guy would be 'normal', aka, not running marathons, but play the weekly rounds of squash and golf.

This does not surprise me, nor does "lack of x will kill you" and the same goes for "too much of x will harm you". Just do things in moderation, or do what you feel you need. Our bodies seem to be pretty smart and often work themselves out - so just listen to it. If you feel tired, go to sleep. If you're hungry, then eat.

For biologists and doctors, it might be fun/interesting to study but for the rest of us I think we should just use common sense and listen to our bodies. I personally abhor these "fads".

this article is good but i'm not 100% sure marathoning is healthy as it implies...

They also never address whether he had a congenital heart problem

This reminds me of one of my favourites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Terrors_(Star_Trek:_The_N... (spoiler there)

But seriously, TNG writers managed to capture so many important ideas in sf-fashioned stories... Nice hack.

No sources cited; also, the facts the author claims the sources provided (chronic sleep deprivation <5 hours/night increases heart disease risk by 39%) are very far from justifying the conclusion he came to (that Ranjan Das's fatal heart attack was almost certainly due to his chronic sleep deprivation <5 hours/night). Justifying that conclusion would require that the relative risk be something like 10:1, not 1.39:1.

In short, while a lack of sleep can kill you, this article is superstitious nonsense that insults the intelligence of its readers.

Why didnt the article cite any sources?Just saying "paper published in 2006" is not very convincing

Sort of related: has there been any evidence as to why sleep deprivation kills you? A friend and I were hypothesizing about it once, although neither of us are particularly knowledgeable about biology so it was a bunch of probably wild guesses.

Some papers published on this topic:

Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk. (http://www.med.upenn.edu/uep/user_documents/dfd10.pdf)

Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. (http://med.stanford.edu/school/Psychiatry/narcolepsy/article...)

Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. (http://www.med.upenn.edu/uep/user_documents/DurmerandDinges-...)

Insomnia with Objective Short Sleep Duration is Associated with Type 2 Diabetes. (http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2009/07/28/dc...)

From the article:

"Complete and partial lack of sleep increased the blood concentrations of High sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-cRP), the strongest predictor of heart attacks. Even after getting adequate sleep later, the levels stayed high!

Just one night of sleep loss increases very toxic substances in body such as Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Tumour Necrosis Factor-Alpha (TNF-alpha) and C-reactive protein (cRP). They increase risks of many medical conditions, including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Paper published in 2004."

So this issue has gotten to the "it just happens and we're not sure why?" The below comment (same depth level) is kind of the intuition I had, your post gives some reasons why, but I wonder if anyone knows the ground causes, or if that's as low level of abstraction possible at this point.

Sleep probably strains the body (and hence, the heart) less than wakefulness. Your heart is more liable to break down and fail if it's been overused without rest, which is exactly what happens when you stay up.

Url broken for me

The weird thing is that in our understanding of business culture, it is widely accepted if not applauded to be putting in crazy hours and telling of heroic acts of not-sleeping-enough to work and stay fit. At the same time, drinking at work or showing up drunk to work is definitely frowned upon and is reason enough to get fired.

Now here is the thing: studies have shown that sleeping less than 5 hours WILL have negative effects on your body and mind and on your ability to do any job... and frequently or constantly sleeping less than 5 hours even more so, it can even cause hallucinations. And severe lack of sleep can be directly compared to the negative effects of alcohol on your ability to do any work.

But we are applauding the one and frowning upon the other...?

How ridiculous is that, really? Someone with as many responsibilities as a CEO for SAP India openly admitting to only sleeping 4 or 5 hours daily should be treated like someone who just openly confessed downing a glass of vodka for breakfast and lunch each day. And I strongly doubt his "ability" to pull that off... I would imagine someone so competitive and successful and career-focused with that little sleep would not refrain from relying on a little chemical "help". And even if he was still productive enough, just imagine how much better he could have performed if he actually got 6 to 9 hours each night?

This is really nothing but grossly negligent IMHO.

While I agree with everything you say in general and I'm a confident advocate of "you should get more sleep!", I find it hard to condemn people for specific cases.

I need 8.5 hours of sleep per night to function properly, and the effects are very noticeable if I get reduced sleep for more than a couple of days in a row.

At the same time, I know several people who sleep 3~6 hours per night and I will not convince them otherwise: One suffers from insomnia for as long as he can remember and has effectively adapted his life around it, and another genuinely feels rested and is unable to sleep more.

We're all different with different needs, and we need to take that into account. But unfortunately most people don't pay attention to their needs and walk around like zombies five days a week, or worse.

People tend to overestimate their own abilities and performance.

Especially when they're operating in an impaired state: drugs, alcohol, fatigue, or cult-like communities (which often combine all of the above and then some).

This is very well established in literature particularly regarding management and business:

http://forum.johnson.cornell.edu/faculty/russo/Managing%20Ov... http://www.capitalideasonline.com/articles/index.php?id=2360 See also: Blindspots analysis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindspots_analysis

I can honestly hardly believe the 3- to less-than-6 hours figure if it constantly is less than 4 or 5 per day... studies indicate that this, by and large, is where it WILL start having impacts but of course there could be exceptions and maybe there is a kernel-hacker gene!

There is indeed a genetic difference, a very few people are able to sleep less with no negative side effects: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/artic...

That's a great point. There are also studies that show driving tired can be just as bad as driving drunk.

"Sleeping well helps keep you alive longer. Among humans, death from all causes is lowest among adults who get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly, and significantly higher among those who sleep less than seven or more than nine hours."


Sleep itself probably doesn't make us live longer, but it could be a good measure of how we are living our lives - amount of stress, anxiety, etc.

That last bit is important; don't confuse the correlation and causation. Sleeping more than nine hours a day won't kill you, it just correlates with other conditions related to death, like obesity or terminal illness or old age.

The problem for me, as someone who working on a side project, while also holding a full-time job is that I get so sleepy and tired while I'm at work, and when I return back home I get so energized and don't feel like sleeping. It's like even if I sleep 5 hours that previous night, I just stop being tired when I get home to work on my own stuff

Yes, and those of us who look after children during the day, and write code from 10pm - 3am, then get up a few hours later to do it all again...

Reminds me of when Homer takes a second job at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay for Lisa's pony.

I'll work from midnight to eight, come home, sleep for five minutes, eat breakfast, sleep six more minutes, shower, then I have ten minutes to bask in Lisa's love, then I'm off to the power plant fresh as a daisy.

I'm totally not complaining at all. Bringing up a young child from a few weeks old when mom went back to work is quite a big deal for a guy in the US, and just a huge privilege that I've been lucky to experience. My daughter 'reading' and babbling and turning pages of books in her playpen is something to behold in a 1 year old.

But 'the fact of the matter is' there's just no way to work for the 10-14 hours you and the child are awake together, at least not on computer programming.

So I've adapted to working in short 1 - 5 hour long bursts either during nap time (short) or after bed-time (long). Using git and GitX has really helped me out with focusing on just one or two aspects and getting those to commit-able state in the time available, versus my usual touch every file and have my svn revision open for weeks.

I'm building my first commercial Cocoa app right now, and it just crossed into being developer-useful, for me personally, and will be more widely useful once the UI is all hooked up.

Oh great. Yet another "foo can kill you" thread. Honestly people .. this is starting to sound like /.

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