ST Scroll Back: Decent night’s sleep ‘better than sex, chats, pay rise’ - survey

As another World Sleep Day turns to night, we look at how sleep-deprived we are, and how humans didn’t sleep in one long chunk of time in the past.

A survey says a healthy amount of rest is equivalent to having four times as much disposable income.
A survey says a healthy amount of rest is equivalent to having four times as much disposable income.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Sleeping is better than sleeping with someone. 

So says a survey of thousands in Britain by Oxford Economics - a decent night’s sleep “outweighs sex, chatting, going for a walk, eating with family” when it comes to measuring personal well-being, according to The Guardian.

It also says a healthy amount of rest is equivalent to having four times as much disposable income.

Yet, you might be labelled as being “lazy”, as if there’s shame to admitting you zzz for nine hours or more.

“We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honour.” - Leading neuroscientist Matthew Walker, who told The Guardian he believes that in the developed world, sleep is associated with weakness, even shame.

You might have the last drowsy laugh, though, as some experts are warning diseases will be a nightmare-come-true for those who don’t get enough rest.

Read on for the D grades, dreams, drama, diseases and death that are in bed with how little we sleep.

Dreams of having more sleep

At least half of the teens here don’t get the eight to 10 hours of sleep they need. ST FILE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

Singaporeans are among those with the latest bedtime of 11.45pm, even while most of us wake up at 7.10am, says a 2016 study on sleep schedules.

Grown-ups can try to do something about how we live, like putting mobile devices away, and dealing with stress, and uncomfortable room temperature. But what about schoolchildren who are sleep-deprived?

Some parents said Singapore’s primary kids don’t get enough sleep, but it is a necessary trade-off. Given the competitive environment here, it is important their kids spend time on extra classes and enrichment activities, they said.

As for the older students, at least half of the teenagers here don’t get the eight to 10 hours of sleep they need, with one in three getting less than 5.5 hours a night.

“Insufficient and poor quality of sleep appear to be pervasive during adolescence. These can have various consequences, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, poor diet and, in turn, impairments in cognitive control, risk-taking behaviour, diminished control of attention and behaviour, as well as poor emotional control… It could have long-term impact on their health and on their grades.” - Director of Lifespan Learning and Sleep Laboratory Dagmara Dimitriou, of UCL Institute of Education. 

According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, sleep deprivation was increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s disease

In The Guardian article featuring his book, Why We Sleep, it was reported that more than 20 large-scale epidemiological studies all report the same clear relationship: The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. 

Dreams and ambition

All is not lost for those who don’t sleep very much as you could still fulfil dreams of becoming a leader of a huge company or country. 

The late former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill survived on just four hours a night during World War II. 

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, another late prime minister, also famously slept for only four hours, although scientists said a “Thatcher gene” is key to her needing less rest.

CEO of Tesla and SpaceX Elon Musk reportedly sleeps for six hours a night. PHOTO: REUTERS

According to HuffPost, this is how long various successful people sleep per night:  

3 hours (1am - 4am)
US President Donald Trump (who said he sometimes tweets from bed.)

5 or 6 hours (12am - 5 or 6am)
Founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson

6 hours (1am - 7am)
Former US President Barack Obama

6 hours (1am - 7am)
CEO of Tesla and SpaceX Elon Musk

7 hours (9.30pm - 4.30am)
CEO of Apple Tim Cook

7 hours (12am - 7am)
Co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates

7 hours (10:30pm - 5:30am)
Co-founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey

7 hours (10pm - 5am)
Founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos

8 hours (11pm - 7am)
TV host Ellen DeGeneres

While it seems natural to humans today to sleep in one chunk of time, our historical sleep patterns challenge that idea. 

For much of recorded history, humans have slept eight hours in two distinct phases, according to 

4+4 hours
Scholar Roger Ekirch uncovered through his exhaustive historical study of literature, art, and diaries that people would head to bed when it got dark, sleep for four hours, wake for a while, and slide into a “second sleep”. reported that “it was industrialisation that solidified the single sleep as a social norm. Especially in the cities that increasingly revolved around factory production, a newly formalised workday structured daily life...

“School schedules also became increasingly standardised, and as early as the 1820s, parenting books advised promptly weaning children from the two-sleep pattern.”

“Many people wake up at night and panic. I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.” - Oxford professor of circadian neuroscience Russell Foster.

Dreams and deep sleep

Here are the stages you have to undergo before you start dreaming. According to BBC, every 60 to 100 minutes, we go through a cycle of four stages of sleep:

Stage 1
A drowsy state between being awake and sleeping - breathing slows, muscles relax and heart rate drops.

Stage 2
A slightly deeper sleep - you may feel awake and this means that, on many nights, you may be asleep and not know it.

Stage 3 and Stage 4, or deep sleep 
It is hard to wake up from deep sleep because this is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body.

Dream sleep
After deep sleep, we go back to stage two for a few minutes, and then enter dream sleep - also called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep - which, as the name suggests, is when you dream.

In a full sleep cycle, a person goes through all the stages of sleep from one to four, then back down through stages three and two, before entering dream sleep.

Dreams and drama

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character standing among others who are asleep within this dream. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

In filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s Inception, characters don’t go through stages of sleep before plunging into a dream (within a dream within a dream).

If you’re familiar with the familiar yet unfamiliar feel of a weird dream, you’ll find it echoed in the twists and turns of the plot.

The director, whose Dunkirk won Oscars recently, also helmed Insomnia, in which Al Pacino played a detective in a remake of a Norwegian thriller.

If you’re familiar with the irritability and exhaustion of not getting enough sleep, you’ll grumpily find it in Pacino’s performance.

Dreams of sleeping like a cat

If you’re more interested in the sleeping habits of furry cats than of fat cats, CEOs and politicians, here are animals that get a lot more or a lot less zzz per day than you do:

Sleep with half a brain at a time (each half gets 4 hours of sleep)
Dolphins can stay alert for 15 days or more this way

30 minutes

2 hours
Wild elephants

12 to 16 hours

15+ hours
Sloths in captivity

18 hours

An indoor cat tends to sleep more than one that roams outdoors. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

How would you like to sleep?