Friday, August 5, 2011

Early to bed?

By Richard P. Holm M.D.

I must admit I am not one for getting enough sleep. Like many others, I have an internal drive and clock, which I presume comes from the combination of disparate genetic threads of many and varied ancient ancestor. Somewhere from back in the recesses of my heredity appears the desire to stay up late, revel, and dance around a campfire. Yet within this same combination of chromosomes appears also a separate and compelling force to get up early and get work done.

The result of the coming together of just such ancestral drives is a guy who cuts short his daily requirement of sleep. I’m always pushing it, and short naps are my only saving grace.

Having watched the scientific literature about sleep through the years, until now I have noted that the data has been relatively inconclusive about the value of getting more sleep. Of course grandmothers have always scolded those who wanted to stay up late, and Ben Franklin joined in with, “Early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy wealthy and wise.” But where is the proof that people would benefit from getting more sleep?

A recent small study seems to clarify that question. It followed 11 male basketball players and monitored their sleep, finding the actual sleep obtained in this group was between six to nine hours. The researchers then required players to get at least 10 hours of sleep per night, including naps, for about seven weeks.

Measurement of player abilities before and after the sleep intervention found that with increased sleep the players ran faster sprints by five percent, free throw percentages increased by nine percent, three-point field goal percentages increased by 9.2 percent, and the players reported feeling and doing better during games.

Of course there is also scientific data to say that individual needs vary, and as a person ages sleep needs lessen. We also know that too much sleep can result from depression, and we don’t exactly know what the ideal hours of sleep would be for what age and what individual.

That said, perhaps it is time to heed what Grandmothers have told us for years, we would do better if we got more sleep.

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