March, 2002    Vol. 1   No.3


Don’t Sleep Yourself to Death

A study called “Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia” found the best survival was among those who slept 7 hours a night.1  People who slept 8 hours or more, or 6 hours or less, had an increased risk of dying.  Prescription sleeping pill use also was associated with an increased risk of dying.  However, people reporting that they suffered with insomnia was not associated with an increase in the risk of an earlier death.  This study involved 1.2 million men and women between the ages of 30 and 102 years.

COMMENT: This information should help quiet misguided experts who have been recommending you “sleep your life away.”  There are health professionals who believe more sleep is the answer to most of our health problems.  However, in truth, the ideal amount of sleep we need for optimal health, based on good scientific research, is a lot less than you have probably heard.  Certainly we need some sleep to rejuvenate, re-energize, and restore ourselves. Studies have shown that without enough sleep a person's ability to perform even simple tasks declines dramatically, resulting in impaired performance, irritability, lack of concentration, and daytime drowsiness. Drowsiness is a very serious matter when it comes to driving or operating other dangerous machinery.  From our earliest childhood we have been taught sleep is good for us, and the more the better.  The refreshment derived from a good night’s sleep, and the associated relief we enjoy from pain and worry while we are asleep, reinforces such advice.  More sleep is also recommend in order to look better – “beauty rest.”

But, like most of our behaviors, there is a down side to too much sleep.  Besides wasting valuable waking moments, too much sleep is the leading cause of depression.  And less sleep can relieve serious depression.2  A scientific review of studies found an average of 59 percent of patients showed a marked decrease in depressive symptoms the day after a night of sleep deprivation.3   Sixty-seven percent of people diagnosed with depression responded positively to sleep deprivation.  Why? Because sleep produces a “depressogenic substance.”  Therefore, for many people less sleep means relief of depression.  Using less sleep to control depression has the following advantages: Sleep deprivation is highly effective, works quickly, is easy to administer, inexpensive, self-administered, and the effects are rapid. (You can read more about this in The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss book.)

The current population sleep average is 6 to 7 hours a night.4 Young children, pregnant women, and people who are ill require more sleep than average.  As we age, most people require less sleep. One way to determine personal sleep requirements is by waking up without an alarm clock. However, a better way to find the amount of sleep you need is by “trial and error.”  Find what you require to wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested in the morning and to remain alert all day -- without suffering from depression.  For most healthy adults that will be about 6 to 7 ˝ hours – maybe, by no coincidence, an amount associated with the least risk of death.  Is this just another example of the mind-body connection where happy people live longer and healthier?  That’s one of my conclusions.

1)   Kripke DF.  Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002 Feb;59(2):131-6.

2)   Gillin JC. Sleep deprivation as a model experimental antidepressant treatment: findings from functional brain imaging.  Depress Anxiety. 2001;14(1):37-49. Review.

3)   Wu JC.  Effect of sleep deprivation on brain metabolism of depressed patients. Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Apr;149(4):538-43.

4)   Jean-Louis G. Sleep duration, illumination, and activity patterns in a population sample: effects of gender and ethnicity. Biol Psychiatry. 2000 May 15;47(10):921-7.




©2002 John McDougall All Rights Reserved