Am I dead yet? NYTimes Warns of Dire Consequences of "Cheating Ourselves of Sleep"

From The New York Times, a poorly argued article, "Cheating Ourselves of Sleep," concludes that, "Failing to get enough sleep night after night can compromise your health and may even shorten your life."

I shared the article with a friend who knows that often I do not get enough sleep and the response was that based on this article I ought to be dead by now, several times over.

Here are some phrases and then snippets from the awful alarmist article, in order but without context, showing how little hard logic, science or medicine underlies the claims in the article about your health from the prestigious New York Times. 

Note the use of blurry terms like "chances are" "most people" "can compromise" "may even" "can profoundly affect" "are negatively affected" "a risk factor" "tend to" "can be harmed" "linked" "may ultimately result" "risks...are higher" "may also be" "risk may also be elevated" "risk may result" "increased risk" "can also experience" "may be more susceptible" -- the connections between lack of sleep and all of these potential health conditions are just plain blurred and conditional and none of them is causative. Nowhere does the article give any hard numbers or actual percentages of anything bad caused directly by diminished sleep.

Yes if you don't sleep enough it is nearly a certainty that the next day you will feel tired. I don't know where and how the Times concluded that less sleep "may even shorten your life." 

That's going way out on a limb. As I read this foggy article through a few times I could see nothing that proves too little sleep will cause you to die more quickly.

Here are the shoddy sentence snippets for the above hazy phrases.
  • Think you do just fine on five or six hours of shut-eye? Chances are...
  • ...most people require seven or eight hours of sleep to function optimally. 
  • ...can compromise your health and 
  • ...may even shorten your life. 
  • ...can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health.
  • ...a number of bodily systems are negatively affected by inadequate sleep
  • ...a risk factor for depression and substance abuse
  • ...People with PTSD tend to relive their trauma when they try to sleep...
  • Dr. Germain is studying what happens in the brains of sleeping veterans with PTSD in hopes of developing more effective treatments for them and for people with lesser degrees of stress that interfere with a good night’s sleep.
  • ...myriad bodily systems can be harmed by chronically shortened nights. 
  • ...linked insufficient sleep to weight gain. 
  • ...may ultimately result in Type 2 diabetes. 
  • ...The risks of cardiovascular diseases and stroke are higher in people who sleep less than six hours a night.
  • ...(In terms of cardiovascular disease, sleeping too much may also be risky. Higher rates of heart disease have been found among women who sleep more than nine hours nightly.)
  • The risk of cancer may also be elevated in people who fail to get enough sleep. ...The increased risk may result from diminished secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. 
  • ...an increased risk of potentially cancerous colorectal polyps in those who slept fewer than six hours nightly.
  • ...Children can also experience hormonal disruptions from inadequate sleep. 
  • Dr. Vatsal G. Thakkar, a psychiatrist affiliated with New York University, recently described evidence associating inadequate sleep with an erroneous diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. In one study, 28 percent of children with sleep problems had symptoms of the disorder, but not the disorder.
  • ...short sleepers may be more susceptible to everyday infections like colds and flu. 
  • ...During sleep, new learning and memory pathways become encoded in the brain, and adequate sleep is necessary for those pathways to work optimally. People who are well rested are better able to learn a task and more likely to remember what they learned. The cognitive decline that so often accompanies aging may in part result from chronically poor sleep.
  • With insufficient sleep, thinking slows, it is harder to focus and pay attention,...
  • ...In driving tests, sleep-deprived people perform as if drunk, and no amount of caffeine or cold air can negate the ill effects.
Some Talmudic points of complexity to consider:

  1. If you sleep less, you have more waking time, so in effect you definitely are living awake longer. There are no hedges about that fact.
  2. That assumes that being awake is preferred to being asleep - because you can produce more and experience more of life. If you are unproductive and idle - sleep may be no less preferable to waking.
  3. The article does not even begin to delve into the value of dreaming while asleep. At the very least, dreams can be interesting, entertaining and dramatic. I've done some impressive things in my dreams and also have confronted some true nightmares.
  4. I've solved numerous problems while dreaming and have come up with innovative concepts and ideas.
  5. Aside from the alleged health value of sleep - of which I not convinced - it is hard to assess what has more value - waking life or sleeping life. And your mileage may vary. Some people never remember their dreams. Some people dream in black-and-white - nothing at all colorful or vivid.


Reb Yudel said...

The fact that it's a risk factor doesn't mean you're actually dead.

The interesting question is how many hours of life are cut by the increased odds of polyps, versus how many are gained by being awake.

Henry Frisch said...

I have found that napping has a tremendous geometric effect on the total amount of time I need to sleep.