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Bedtime Blues

I haven't been home for the past ten days. I've been off at an NCC camp, sleeping on a piece of wood propped up on four steel legs with no mattress and ridden with bedbugs. On top of that, I've been having to remedy my poor general knowledge, and the only time I get to do that is after 10pm. Needless to say, none of this contributes to a comfortable night's respite.

The fact of the matter is, for the past week or so, I've only been getting about four hours of sleep - on average - per night. Now, I'll be honest, for most of my life, the only thing interrupting my sleep cycle has been my mobile phone usage before bedtime. I'm accustomed to a good, solid 8 hours of sleep, and consider it essential to my day-to-day functioning.

Recently, though, I've had to work harder than ever during the day with less sleep than I've ever had. The weird thing is, I've been doing just fine! I still wake up every morning, I'm only marginally grumpier than usual, I'm still able to undergo strenuous physical exertion... Life doesn't seem to be so bad without sleep. It still struck me as odd, though, that for so long, most of us have believed that we need 8 hours of sleep, so I went ahead and Googled it.

It turns out that our bodies need sleep in order to repair tissue and muscle. This is why your injuries seem to reduce so drastically in intensity overnight. Sleep is also critical to memory formation - when you sleep, some of the memories you create during the day are moved from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. This is probably why babies sleep for 11-14 hours a day - they're forming memories (apparently, my youngest cousin isn't just lazy).

There's a lot of information out there about people who manage without much sleep, too. A few weeks ago, I read an article about a guy who spent a full year sleeping only 4.5 hours a night and still managed to acquire, during the course of said year, a PhD from Oxford. Which begs the question: is sleep really that important? Well... From what I've read, on a day-to-day basis? Not really. Unless you're completely avoiding going to sleep for days on end, which can cause hallucinations, anxiety, fatigue and a whole host of other issues, you should be able to function just fine. On a long-term basis, though, lack of sleep can cause lots of problems - increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression and all kinds of other issues.

A large part of my sleep loss was because I had to stay up late studying. We were either firing rifles or practising drill all day, so there wasn't much other time to focus on the theoretical stuff. The trouble was that I couldn't remember any of the stuff I studied at night, while none of my co-cadets had any problems at all. I guess sleep loss affects separate people differently.

On the whole, if you absolutely have to sleep for less than 7 hours a night, you can probably get away with it, but it's definitely not a good idea. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go take a nap.


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