Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sleeping it off

It's funny that Senators John McCain and John Warner continue to argue in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that sleep deprivation is torture and the CIA continues to use it as an 'enhanced interrogation technique,' yet we, the common populace, brag over our 6-Shot latte about our meager four hours of sleep the night before.

As one of those hearty never-say-die New Englanders, I have in the past taken pride in the fact that I 'require' very little sleep. And just to prove sleep deprivation impairs judgment, I was staying up to watch Sex in the City on UPN at 11:00p. There are several things wrong with this; 1. I can rent it, 2. it's edited for TV anyway, 3. I've seen all the episodes at least twice, 4. watching it makes me feel all jaded and stuff.

And I know my clients do it too - maybe not the 'Sex in the City' part, but workloads often demand longer hours. In a Harvard Business Online interview with Dr. Charles Czeisler, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, long-houred executives are described accordingly, "People like this put themselves, their teams, their companies, and the general public in serious jeopardy." The interviewer in this piece, Bronwyn Fryer, states, "To him, encouraging a culture of sleepless machismo is worse than nonsensical; it is downright dangerous, and the antithesis of intelligent management. He notes that while corporations have all kinds of policies designed to prevent employee endangerment—rules against workplace smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual harassment, and so on—they sometimes push employees to the brink of self-destruction. Being “on” pretty much around the clock induces a level of impairment every bit as risky as intoxication."

This from the same physician whose research showed that the risk of mistakes by attendings during weeks that include round the clock (30 hours) shifts increased by 700%. Um, that's statistically significant. The risk of death from these mistakes is three times higher. Interesting that when you're lack of sleep lands you in the hospital with your very own infarction, it will be the butter-fingered, sleep restricted resident that's responsible for fixing you.

Though your own bad habits are unlikely to lead to an untimely death - providing you take public transportation and don't operate industrial equipment - the impact on your day to day life is significant. According to 'Sleep and performance--recent trends' by Himashree G, Banerjee PK, and Selvamurthy W, "The detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on psychological performance are indicated as increased lapsing, cognitive slowing, memory impairment, decrease in vigilance and sustained attention and shift in optimum response capability. Its effects on physical performance are manifested as decline in ability to perform maximal exercise, self-selected walking pace and increase in perceived exertion."

And this is where I come in. Functional exercises are not so functional when you're not functioning. I know, I've seen it, I've coached you through it and I've cried in the file room after you leave. Says, Robb Wolf fellow coach, author, gym owner and brilliant sciency kind of guy in the recent issue of Performance Menu, "Well, clinically we have observed a handful of clients who have been stalled with fat loss efforts. Zone diet, check. CrossFit champs, check. Fish-oil, check. Fat Loss: no-bueno. Thorough questioning uncovers an average nightly sleep allotment of 5-6 hours. Approximately 50-60% of the minimum 9.5 hrs of darkness 'Lights Out' recommends for most of the year. Fixing this problem (ya know, sleeping) can induce a 5% shift in scale weight in only a day or two (water loss due to decreased insulin and cortisol levels) and an immediate reduction in umbilical adiposity (belly fat = insulin resistance)."

The will to work-out is another matter entirely. Sleep deprevation and it's impact on serotonin levels can also lead to depression according to the study "Differential effects of chronic partial sleep deprivation and stress on serotonin-1A and muscarinic acetylcholine receptor sensitivity," by Roman V, Hagewoud R, Luiten PG and Meerlo P.. In it's conclusion; "chronic stress and sleep loss may, partly via different pathways, change the brain into a direction as it is seen in mood disorders." That, in combination with Seasonal Affective Disorder makes for a less than festive holiday season.

And one last pointer, Dr. Czeisler suggests resetting your circadian rhythm if you need to operate on little sleep, "Photon for photon, looking up at the blue sky, for example, is more effective in both resetting our biological clock and enhancing our alertness than looking down at the green grass." Oh good, that should help us here.

1. The Harvard Business Online article costs money to download. Go figure. The interview quoted above was free but appeared by the same name.

2. The statistics regarding hospital mishaps came from NPR and aired this morning at a time when you should have been sleeping.

3. I did not read Addict Biol. 2002 Jul;7(3):285-90. “Does Paradoxical Sleep Deprivation And Cocaine Induce Penile Erection And Ejaculation In Old Rats?” in writing this post though apparently Robb Wolf did.

4. I can't remember what this links to but it must be useful http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?itool=abstractplus&db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=abstractplus&list_uids=12024958