Experiments on rats have shown that depriving them of sleep kills then within about two weeks. No one knows exactly why, but before they died the rats went into a 'complete collapse', consuming more food than normal, losing weight, developing lesions and ulcers on their tails and paws and becoming unable to regulate their body temperature.
A human example of extreme sleep deprivation was Jure Robic (1965-2010), a Slovenian soldier-turned-cyclist who won the 3,000 miles Race Across America five times. There are no scheduled breaks, so competitors who can go without sleep are significantly likelier to win. Robic completed the 2004 race in eight days, getting eight hours' sleep, and pedalling into the record books by covering 518 miles every 24 hours. As a result of sleep deprivation, Robic suffered violent outbursts of paranoia and hallucinations. Towards the end of the race he wept uncontrollably and was seen hopping off his bike to fight imaginary assailants - bears, wolves or aliens. He imagined that cracks in the road were coded messages, and on one occasion became convinced the Mujahedeen were pursuing him on horseback; his support team encouraged him to ride faster, pretending that they could see them too.
If you stay awake for 17 hours, it has the same effect on your performance as drinking two glasses of wine. That’s a blood alcohol level of 0.05% - the UK legal drink driving limit.
Insomnia can make you short and fat. The delivery of Human Growth Hormone is regulated by our sleep patterns – so sleep disorders reduce growth. Also, sleep is also key to the regulation of neuroendocrine, which controls appetite amongst other things – so lack of sleep can make you fat, too. The risks of high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease rise sharply if you routinely don't sleep enough, while diabetes and obesity are being increasingly linked with sleep problems, too. The USA's National Center on Sleep Disorders estimates that 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems, and that lost productivity due to sleepiness costs the US economy about $100 billion a year.
The Epworth Sleepiness Scale was devised at Epworth Hospital in Melbourne in 1991 to help doctors diagnose sleep disorders. The subjects state their probability of falling asleep (on a scale of 0 to 3) in eight situations, then add up the scores. 0-6 indicates that you get 'sufficient sleep', 7-8 is 'average', while anything above 9 indicates that you should 'seek the advice of a sleep specialist without delay'. QI's producer scored 11.
Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
Paradoxical Insomnia is a rare condition in which your brain stays alert while your body sleeps. Sufferers remain aware of their surroundings throughout the night, as if they were awake, and sometimes think they've gone without sleep for days on end – even though they don’t feel particularly tired, and appear to observers with brain scanners to have slept normally. The condition is formally described as ‘sleep state misperception’; there’s also the opposite condition, ‘negative sleep state misperception’, in which you think you’ve been sleeping for much longer than you actually have.
Your alertness can suffer from an absence of sleep even if that absence is imaginary.
Psychologists at Colorado College hooked people up to machines that dishonestly claimed to work out whether they'd had a good or a bad night's sleep. All participants then completed a mathematical test; those who believed they had slept poorly scored 44% on the test, while those who believed they slept well scored 70%.
Nobody really knows why we sleep. There’s a train of thought that ending the day unconscious and paralysed left our ancestors at risk of attack so must have brought evolutionary benefits that outweighed the risk. Theories include:
· Restoration – our bodies replace and rebuild what our bodies used up during the day
· Memory consolidation – that while we sleep we store things to our memory, recall it and ponder problems – you come up with new ideas after ‘sleeping on it’
· Energy conservation – this sounds logical but you don’t actually save much energy by being asleep. It’s about 110 calories each night. (A two-finger Kit Kat has 107 calories).
Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York propose that sleep is when our brains are cleaned. They found that mice have a network of tiny channels of fluid which clears waste chemicals from the brain and this mostly happens when the mice are asleep. Professor Maiken Nedergaard said, You can think of it like having a house party. 'You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time'.
Carnivores sleep more than omnivores, which in turn sleep more than herbivores.
Sleep is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day.
Fruit flies go to sleep every night.
The summer equivalent of hibernation is 'aestivation'.
Champion angler Phil Hunt has narcolepsy and has to hire a minder to stop him from falling asleep and drowning.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 100,000 crashes a year.
Humour columnist ‘Beachcomber’ – pen name of writers D. B. Wyndham-Lewis and J. B. Morton – conceived a device to stop judges falling asleep in court. The ‘Judge-Nudger’ would wake the judge by means of an electric shock when a button was pressed by an usher. Beachcomber reported that it was only used twice; the first time it set fire to Judge Denning’s robes, and the second it didn’t work at all because the usher had also fallen asleep. The story is almost certainly a humorous fiction.
Francis Galton - polymath, half-cousin of Darwin, father of the theory of eugenics and the first person ever to publish a weather map – invented a ‘gumption reviver’. This was a bucket-like contraption that periodically dripped water on his head to keep him awake while working.
In 2011, the Irish Road Safety Authority warned that the technique of some drivers who trap their hair in the car’s sunroof to keep them awake on long journeys, does not work.
In 1978, an American inventor called Hrand Muncheryan invented a cap that could detect when the wearer’s head was tilting and would set off an alarm; the device was intended to keep drivers awake.
When Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis had some stability problems. Lindbergh encouraged them not to change things, though, as having to continually adjust helped him to keep awake for the 33 hour flight.
Ants sleep for about a minute at a time, in roughly 250 power-naps per day.
Sperm whales sleep upright.
Normal healthy sleepers wake up between 15 and 35 times every night.
Adults who sleep eight hours a night or more die younger than those who sleep only 4-7 hours a night.
Charles Dickens wrote and slept facing north, aligning himself with the poles of the earth.
A myoclonic jerk is that sudden twitch you get while falling alseep. Nobody knows what causes it.
A Hungarian soldier named Paul Kern is said not to have slept at all for 40 years after being shot in the head during WW1.
Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.
Hamsters and squirrels have to wake up from hibernation in order to sleep.