Standing Up for Sleep
There I was, standing before my colleagues, ashamed. Who would have thought that admitting I get the right amount of sleep would be so hard—especially in a room full of mattress industry experts?
Let me back up a bit.
Every year leaders from the mattress industry gather for an event called the Bedding Conference (surprisingly, it’s not a snooze-fest). This year more than 300 attendees met in Orlando, Florida to hear from Dr. James Maas, a world-renowned sleep expert and author of the book Power Sleep.
Early in his presentation Dr. Maas asked the entire crowd to stand up. He then instructed us to sit back down if we average fewer than six hours of sleep each night. About half the audience relaxed back into their chairs. When Maas asked how many people get less than seven hours, almost everyone else took a seat. Only a few stragglers, myself included, remained afoot. I stood there jelly-legged, hunched over slightly, hoping no one would notice me. I average eight hours or more every night, and I was clearly an outlier here.
Why was I ashamed of sleeping the proper amount? After all, I never feel guilty about exercising four days a week, or eating the recommended 2,000 calories.
In a room full of people who sell sleep products, I should have been proud of my healthy sleep habits. But there I was—nearly alone—realizing how much pressure there is in this world not to sleep. In our culture if you admit to needing sleep, you’re perceived as weak. Our friends make sure to let us know we’re missing out on waking life, causing many of us to develop a common form of social apprehension referred to as “FoMO” (Fear of Missing Out). Television networks entice us with late-night programming and beverage companies caffeinate us with effervescent elixirs impacting would-be-sleepers the world over. Everyone wants our attention and sleep is the enemy.
If sleep professionals can’t shake the cultural pressure to stay awake, who can?
As I took my seat, Dr. Maas continued his presentation. I was soon vindicated as Dr. Maas began sharing some insights on the importance of sleep, peppering the audience with compelling facts that made me proud of my healthy sleep habits. For example, neglecting to get quality rest is akin to being drunk during the day: sleeping for six hours a night for two weeks causes your brain to operate as though your blood alcohol level is 0.1%—that’s over the legal driving limit in most states.
I also learned about a young lady who changed her sleep habits and became an Olympic gold medalist. In fact, several of today’s athletes are harnessing the power of sleep to improve their performances. For those trying to lose weight, research has shown that one extra hour of sleep each night can contribute to losing one pound of body fat per week.
Adequate sleep improves not only your physical state but your mental aptitude as well. As Dr. Maas wrote in his book, Albert Einstein aimed for 10-hours of sleep each night, which I’m convinced either contributed to his genius or was further proof of it. Sleep studies have shown that all of your mental events enter the brain through the hippocampus and sleeping helps transfer those events to the cerebral cortex where you connect ideas. Maybe that’s why in the television series Mad Men the creative director Don Draper said, “Whenever I'm really unsure about an idea, first I abuse the people whose help I need, and then I take a nap.” Draper’s sleeping brain could find creative connections his awake-brain is unable to manufacturer.
When Dr. Maas’ presentation came to an end, I looked around at my colleagues. Some stared ahead dazed, dark circles ringing their eyes. Others looked inspired, not tired. I felt like standing up proudly and shouting, “We can change lives and it starts by living the example!”
You don’t have to be a member of the mattress industry to take a stand against our sleep-deprived culture and commit to getting the proper amount of sleep. Even if your legs feel like jelly, and those around you are judging, I encourage you to take advantage of all that life has to offer by simply giving your body the rest it needs.
Don’t fear missing out. Fear being half-awake.