Red Eye Chicago
UP ALL NIGHT
These days, there’s something to do at almost any hour, but experts say a sleepless lifestyle might cause more harm than good
Shylo Bisnett considers getting three to four hours of shut-eye more than enough.
The 28-year-old marketing professional from Albany Park said she spends most nights—while others are snoozing—chatting online, making midnight grocery runs, or dining at all-night spots around her neighborhood.
Though Bisnett said she spent the first 20 years of her life fighting to get the recommended eight hours of sleep, she’s since given up the bedtime battle.
“I have lots of other friends who are odd sleepers and we have a good time,” Bisnett told RedEye as she sipped an iced coffee from Intelligentsia for a “slight boost” of energy. “We go take walks, we grab a bite, and sometimes, early in the morning when you go past the bakeries, you get to smell the fresh bread. It’s actually kind of awesome.”
Actually, it’s the opposite of awesome. Local sleep experts say adults need eight hours of sleep, adding that inadequate amounts—seven hours or fewer of consecutive Z’s—has been linked to weight gain and could result in anything from constant irritability and poor decisionmaking to car accidents.
The Internet, longer work hours, the rise in 24-hour businesses and energy drinks all are contributing to a restless society where sleep falls further and further down the priority list, said researcher James Wyatt, who directs Rush University Medical Center’s sleep disorder clinic.
Young male subjects who slept only 4 hours a night for two consecutive nights experienced an 18 percent drop in lepitin, the hormone that tells the brain it doesn’t need additional food, according to the results of a University of Chicago study published in 2004. The subjects experienced a 28 percent increase in release of ghrelin, a hunger-triggering hormone and reported a 24 percent increase in desire for food, with a spike in desire for sweet, salty and starchy foods, the results revealed.
Despite those and other health risks, inadequate sleep is the norm, not the exception in America, according to Wyatt. Getting the full amount of sleep—whether 16 hours for infants or eight hours for adults—is critical because if sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t get enough time to complete the phases of sleep necessary for muscle repair, memory consolidation and the release of hormones that regulate growth and appetite, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
People are cheating their biology with regularity, Wyatt said.
“Six to seven hours a night is pretty common for adults on weeknights,” said Wyatt. “What we American adults and teens end up doing is running on one to two hours less than what we need each night and then trying to crash and make it up on the weekends.”
But playing catch-up on weekends doesn’t work over the long term, Wyatt said, since the inadequate sleep cycle often begins anew every Sunday night.
It hasn’t worked for Blair Thomas, 28, of Roscoe Village, who said he tries to sleep in on the weekends but can’t remember the last time he has gotten a full eight hours of sleep on any night. It’s gotten to the point, Thomas said, where he no longer needs it.
“If I can go anything over six [hours], I’m feeling pretty good,” said Thomas, who juggles his job at a logistics company with evening MBA classes at DePaul University. “I feel great if I can stretch it to seven, but what do I know? Maybe I’m running myself into the ground because I’m feeling young and invincible.”
Bisnett said her vegan diet gives her enough energy to allow her to skip sleep.
“I know it’s not scientific,” Bisnett said. “But this is the way I feel. I think my body is freed up from not having to digest meat and dairy [so] that it doesn’t need as much rest. And what’s so bad about not sleeping all night? Think about how much more productive I am when I’m not in bed.”
Rush University’s Wyatt said he was not aware of any scientific data supporting that veganism could reduce the amount of sleep need in humans. Age determines how much a person needs, he said.
Between birth and 1 year, babies need 16 hours of sleep. It drops to 12 to 14 hours by the first year, and teens require nine hours of sleep, Wyatt said, explaining that there is nothing people can do that would lessen the need for sleep.
“There are major changes in sleep need across early development, but post-adolescence this stabilizes for the long run,” said Wyatt, who added: “I can’t understand how Americans think we can get away with an estimated hour to almost two hours less than we did 100 years ago,” Wyatt said.
Bisnett said she would seek help for sleeplessness only if she went two or three consecutive days without any sleep.
“I just wish there were more 24-hour places,” Bisnett said. “There needs to be more to do overnight.”
Wyatt warns that a 24-hour society will only increase problems related to sleeplessness and insists that the best and most effective sleep takes place overnight.
“There’s a trade off,” Wyatt said. “I don’t want to be a sleep Nazi, and there are certainly wonderful things about our society and culture, and how vibrant and productive we are. ... But we are cheating ourselves and our biology when we get less sleep than we need.”