DRHOOK- Nighty night: Getting enough sleep crucial for health

the handsome doctor John Hong

Sleepy? My best friend in medical school and I used to study in the basement of the medical school library. The desks were like little cubicles to ensure privacy, although they made me feel like a horse with blinders on.

A library being a library, it was very quiet – with one exception. Snoooooooore!!!! One dude fell asleep on his books everyday. It was like clockwork, but instead of "cock-a-doodle-doo," it was, "zzzzzzzzz!"

I'd grind my teeth when he snored because it distracted me from my studies. My best friend said to me, "Oh, he must be working so hard to prove himself, staying late to demonstrate he's a hard worker. Then he crashes in the library because he's in survival mode." I smirked and said, "Just admit it. He bothers you too." She nodded.

Is sleep deprivation bad for you?

Eight hours of sleep is the amount generally considered adequate. I know very few people who can feel normal after only four hours of sleep a night. (I wish I were one of them. I'd be the most prolific writer in history. Eat your heart out, Rita Mae Brown!) However, if I wrote on four hours of sleep, my books would be only one or two pages long. I'd fall asleep and drool on the keyboard. 

I don't know if I believe this, but a recent study showed that reducing sleep to six hours 14 nights in a row produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to 48 hours of continuous sleep deprivation. (How in the world do you keep someone up for 48 hours? Playing bingo?)

Quality of sleep is important. With rising obesity, more people are getting obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). So eight hours of sleep might not really be enough because it's interrupted. Sleeping with restless leg syndrome can keep you and your sleeping partner up all night. (Can you imagine sleeping on stage with a Rockette?) 

Folks who have shift work or travel into different time zones have their circadian rhythms (aka biorhythms) thrown off. The body has set sleep times, and human situations that throw them off can lead to poor sleep.

Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy– sleepy folks often have poor short-term memory. I said, poor short term—

In fact I knew someone who was diagnosed and treated for attention deficit disorder (ADD), but his real problem was OSA. Once he woke up, he went off the ADD medicine. And speaking of mood disorders, sleep deprivation can also cause depression, irritability, and fatigue. I've heard a million times from patients, "Sex? I'm too tired for sex!" It's true that not enough sleep is a real downer.

Excessive sleepiness is thought to be the number-two cause of car accidents and a major cause of truck crashes as well. How many mistakes are made at work due to sleepiness? (Ask Homer Simpson.) 

In Sex & the City, Charlotte's lover was a doctor who fell asleep in the middle of making whoopee. It's amazing that doctors– who rely on their smarts– are forced to be deprived of sleep. When I worked a year in DC, my pager actually went off about 50-60 times a night. In weeks when I took call every night, I averaged 14 hours of sleep. Forget tort reform. Stop making doctors take calls all night. 

"The sun has gone to bed, and so must I–" 

Could you imagine Maria von Trapp without enough sleep? She'd snap on Mother Superior. "Seven children! Are you mad? You can take those seven children and–" 

Get some rest, everybody! 


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.


1 comment

I work second shift and I get a glorious 8 to 9 hours a night.
I did a study of my own several years ago on myself on sleep deprivation, I worked 3rd shift then. I found that after the first two days of the week had passed with "split" sleep of about 6 hours each night, I was a real A-hole for the rest of the week. I also gained weight and became something of an alchoholic.
My wife came up with the solution because she was sick of me. She bought room darkening shades and made sure I had a quiet house. I also found that trying to stay up after work and sleeping the six hours right before my shift helped very much. Another helpful thing was reading good books. The James Herriot books about the british animal doctor were my favorite.