How to get enough sleep? Five Doctor’s Answers to Questions About Sleep

Today, March 16, is World Sleep Day! It has been held on the Friday before the vernal equinox since 2008. Its purpose is to remind us of the benefits of healthy sleep. It’s no secret that sleep helps us to be healthy, stress-resistant and energetic. We wish you enough sleep!

Are you getting enough sleep? Does a cup of coffee invigorate you in the morning? Are you taking melatonin medications? James Hamblin, MD and editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, answered the most popular questions about sleep in his author’s column.


When I was a doctor, my shifts could last 36 hours. All this time I did not sleep, and the breaks were most often only a few minutes long. It probably sounds like I’m showing off or showing my resilience. But I can’t think of a more shameful way to self-destruct other than alcohol abuse.

Lack of sleep manifested itself in the form of fits of anger and despair, mixed with a certain euphoria. I remember one time sitting with the family of a patient in critical condition, and his heart could stop at any moment. We discussed the last wishes of the dying man: he would like to be resuscitated and introduced a breathing tube. In the middle of the conversation, I tried to concentrate on the charts in my lap because I couldn’t help laughing. My physical reactions did not match what was in my head. It was humiliating, although no one seemed to notice.

Sleep experts often compare sleep-deprived people to drunk drivers: they get behind the wheel without thinking about killing someone. But as with drunkenness, sleep deprivation in the first place we lose consciousness.

Sleep disturbance is one of the most common causes of health problems. Lack of sleep causes a large number of chronic and acute diseases that have a huge impact on the quality of life. So far, scientists have not figured out why we sleep, but no animal with a brain can survive without sleep. I have found that what scientists know goes against what most people do.

How much sleep do you really need?

According to a 2014 study in Finland involving more than three thousand people, women should sleep 7.63 hours a night and men 7.76 hours. The statistics are difficult to interpret, so the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society brought together many scientists from around the world to understand the research. They looked at the effects of sleep on people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, cognitive impairment, and scientifically tested each document.

Bottom line: Most adults are more productive after seven to nine hours of sleep at night. If you go to bed and wake up every day at the same time – this also has a positive effect on the body. When we sleep less than seven hours, we are useless. When sleep time is reduced to six hours a day, the risk of getting sick is greatly increased.


Can you learn to sleep less?

In 1964, Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old student at San Diego Science High School, was experimentally awake for 264 hours. This is 11 days. The project caught the attention of Stanford sleep researcher William Dement. He and other scientists took turns observing and assessing the young man’s condition. During the experiment, the teenager did not take any stimulant drugs and did not suffer from lack of sleep. Dement said that on the tenth day, Gardner even beat him at pinball. Summing up the experiment, the teenager said that the main thing is to convince yourself that you do not want to sleep.

I asked David Dinges, head of the Department of Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, how many people can do something like this and not die. He replied that “when animals are constantly deprived of sleep, they will suffer serious biological consequences. One of these consequences is death. “

Cases like those with Gardner are usually documented. There are a small number of people who are considered to get enough sleep. This is 1% of the world’s population. They need four to five hours of sleep a day. But Dinges believes that in fact there may be more such people. And this is confirmed by studies of participants in transoceanic sailing races who did not have the opportunity to sleep long. The winners of the competition were usually those who slept less. The scientist notes that even if 1% of people can survive with less sleep, then we do not know how this affects their metabolism, mood and many other factors. “You can be cheerful, but act unconsciously. Or it can be hard to be around you because you are annoying and hyperactive, ”he says.

When Gardner conducted his experiment, the American military became interested in sleep research. They asked the question: can soldiers perform their functions with a minimum amount of sleep? Initial research showed that yes. But when the military sent the soldiers to the laboratory, this theory did not come true. The less the soldiers slept, the greater the overall sleep deficit, and with each subsequent night this deficit increased. Their psychological and biological indicators were extreme. The soldiers themselves did not acknowledge the lack of sleep, claiming that they were fine. But, in my experience, they couldn’t say anything else. In the following decades, the results of this study have been repeatedly confirmed.

How does caffeine affect us?

Caffeine is the most consumed stimulant in the world. It causes in our body such reactions as if we were in an extreme situation. Caffeine increases the level of adrenaline in the blood, such as when we sense danger. Our body is activated to run away from a bear or pick up a stone that has fallen on our climber friend (most likely, he died, but it is worth checking). Caffeine has been shown to improve athletic performance in the short term. It also makes our brains work better and prevents the body from relaxing. But if we do give ourselves a break with caffeine, it will increase our anxiety levels. Unfortunately, most of us run these processes every day in the office.

Small doses of caffeine can be beneficial, otherwise it will break our internal clock. And then we will have to go to the pharmacy for medicines that will help us sleep.


In 2013, a 24-year-old copywriter for a PR agency in Indonesia died after prolonged sleep deprivation. It collapsed a few hours after the tweet “30 hours of work and I’m still on my feet.” She fell into a coma and died the next morning. An acquaintance of her family later wrote on Facebook that the girl was killed by overtime work and too much energy.

There is no evidence that energy drinks can kill or hospitalize people. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns us for good reason that caffeine overdose is dangerous and can lead to death.

Why can’t you take your smartphone to bed?

When we look at light, it hits the retina of the eye, and our hypothalamus receives a signal. This part of the brain is of great importance. It controls many of our body’s reactions by processing sensory information. The hypothalamus also controls sleep cycles. When there is less light, the hypothalamus suggests it is time to go to bed. He says to his pineal gland neighbor: “Hey, make me melatonin and put it in my blood.” And he answers: “Okay.” Therefore, we feel drowsy. In the morning, the hypothalamus reacts to light and says that it is time to stop the production of melatonin. That is why it is necessary to minimize the time in front of the screen before bed. Phones and tablets emit light that affects our sleep cycles. Using the night mode, which is now available on some phones, should minimize the negative effect.


How do melatonin drugs affect sleep?

Melatonin is one of the few hormones that can be purchased without a prescription. It is considered a dietary supplement. As with caffeinated pills, this drug can be purchased in any quantity.

In 2015, Ben Yu dropped out of Harvard to pursue a biotech startup. He released a product called sleep spray, which contains melatonin. Spray it on your skin and it will help you fall asleep. Ben referred to melatonin not as a hormone, but as a “biological signaling molecule.” I asked him if clients were afraid to spray it all over their bodies. “People don’t seem to care,” he replied. During fundraising for the implementation of the project on Indiegogo, 410 thousand dollars were raised, which is 2 106% more than the planned amount.

In a world where many people suffer from sleep deprivation, the promise of sleep makes one forget about caution.


Unlike melatonin pills, which are quickly eliminated from the body, the spray will keep you dormant throughout the night as the hormone gradually penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream. Melatonin supplements have been shown to help you fall asleep faster, but there is no evidence that they increase overall sleep time or quality. And, of course, the consequences of long term use are unknown. Melatonin is essential for the functioning of the most delicate systems in the body, and David Dinges is especially concerned that such drugs are used by young people.


Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Drink caffeine in moderation, even if you don’t feel like it is affecting you. The same goes for nightclubs. Maybe you can have a glass of beer with a friend not at four in the morning, but at ten in the evening? Remember that even in night mode, your smartphone emits light and affects how your brain reacts. Instead of looking at the screen, make love. And if you read before bed, then read the print.

In order for sleep to be correct and useful, we advise you to read the books “The Science of Sleep” “The brain in a dream” “Blue Zones in Practice” “Peace at every step” “Forever tired” “Closer to the body”, “Life at full power”, “Always on time”, “100% charged”.

Want to always feel refreshed and super productive? Our selection of books on healthy sleep will help you organize your nightly rest.

Translation: publishing house “MYTH”.
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