It’s past your bedtime!


Ah, New Year’s. A time for resolutions, typically focused on living more healthily.

Apparently the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, not trusting us to do it ourselves, has decided to make our resolutions for us: it’s started 2011 with a series of stories lecturing Canadians on how unhealthy their lifestyle is, and started something called the “Live Right Now” initiative.

Yes, apparently determined to live up to its nickname as “The Mother Corp.,” CBC is telling us to eat our vegetables, quit watching TV and go outside and play, always wear clean underwear in case we’re hit by a truck (OK, I may have made that one up) and, most motherly of all, to “Go to bed, it’s past your bedtime!”

Apparently a CBC poll has revealed that six out of 10 Canadians get about one hour less than the six to eight hours of sleep recommended for most adults. (Ironically, since our clock radio is set to the CBC, I was actually awakened the other day by the CBC telling me I wasn’t getting enough sleep.)

Although I personally don’t think it’s the job of a national news organization to nag its listeners, I can’t argue with the fact that sleep deprivation is a growing problem.

Whether you blame the advent of electric light or the advent of the Internet, which keeps millions of people staying up late playing games, catching up on email, Twittering, Facebooking, or watching their 37th consecutive YouTube video of cats doing something cute, there’s no doubt we’re one sleepy bunch.

Lack of sleep does more than just make you grouchy, too. The CBC quotes Dr. Rachel Morehouse, medical director of the Atlantic Health Sciences Sleep Centre in Saint John, as saying lack of sleep can affect your metabolism, contributing to obesity and Type 2 diabetes; your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off general infections such as colds; and your mental health, contributing to clinical depression.

And, of course, lack of sleep decreases your ability to learn, focus and be alert, and has contributed to an unknown number of accidents and disasters worldwide, from individual car crashes to things on the scale of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Research into the physical cost of sleep deprivation is continuing. To give just one example, just this week the results were released of a study conducted by a team at the University of Colorado, led by Associate Professor Kenneth Wright, which quantified for the first time the energy expended by humans during sleep.

The finding? Missing one night of sleep drains as much energy from you as walking slightly less than two miles.

The study included seven young adult subjects, all of whom were required to stay in bed for the entire three days of the study. Their diets were carefully designed to meet their individual daily energy requirements, and they had exactly the same meals at the same times during each of the three days.

The first day consisted of 16 hours of wakefulness followed by eight hours of sleep. Days two and three included 40 hours of sleep deprivation (one sleepless night), followed by eight hours of recovery sleep.

The researchers found that the amount of energy expended by their subjects during 24 hours of sleep deprivation was about seven percent higher than during a typical night of sleep. (Interestingly, energy expenditure during the eight hours of recovery sleep was about five percent lower than normal, because they slept more soundly than usual.)

The metabolic cost of sleep deprivation would have been higher if the subjects hadn’t been confined to bed, Wright suspects, since typically people don’t spend sleepless nights lying down.

The research is of interest not only to scientists who are still trying to figure out exactly what sleep does for us, but also to those who are trying to figure out what lack of sleep does to us. And Wright is quick to point out that just because the metabolic cost of skipping a night’s sleep is equivalent to a long walk, skipping sleep is hardly a safe or suitable alternative to exercise, and in fact (as I noted earlier) has been linked with obesity.

Probably a good thing he clarified that. It’s all too easy to imagine the supermarket tabloid headlines: “I Didn’t Sleep For A Week and Lost Five Pounds!”

With the CBC currently nagging us to both lose weight AND get more sleep, the cognitive dissonance would be devastating.

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