Can anything compare to the feeling of laying your head down on a soft square of cotton, closing your eyes, molding your body into the depths of a mattress and letting the sweet flow of semi-consciousness set in? My answer is no. In an age where we work past dinner, chill in bars till 4 am and hit the gym at midnight – yet still rise and shine for work the next day – how is this lack of sleep affecting us?
Well, let’s start off simple. We know sleep is a good thing. And, when we are deprived of it, we feel lousy. This occurs for 2 simple reasons:
Physically sleep repairs your body, working the immune system at full capacity. Mentally though, it does a whole lot more. Without adequate sleep, your judgment, mood, and ability to learn and retain information are weakened. You can become an incoherent, irritable monster. In fact, 72 hours of no-sleep can make a man go temporarily insane.
So I guess the more sleep you get, the more intelligent and healthy you are… Let’s examine this theory across species in the animal kingdom. Below is a list of some typical animal sleep cycles, in order of longest to shortest sleep times per day:
- Brown Bat (19.9 hours)
- Giant Armadillo (18.1 hours)
- Python (18 hours)
- Owl Monkey (17 hours)
- Tiger (15.8 hours)
- Squirrel (14.9 hours)
- Lion (13.5 hours)
- Rat (12.6 hours)
- Cat (12.1 hours)
- Cheetah (12.1 hours)
- Dolphin (10.4)
- Chimpanzee (9.7 hours)
- Human adult (8 hours)
- Pig (7.8 hours)
- Guppy Fish (7 hours)
- Sheep (3.8 hours)
- African Elephant (3.3 hours)
- Horse (2.9 hours)
Pythons sleep for 18 hours, yet elephants (those memory-rich, emotional vertebrates) sleep for only 3.3 hrs. The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal (between 10 mins-2 hrs in a 24 hr period, averaging 1.9 hours per day) yet giraffes sleep 5 hours less than your household goldfish. Based on these numbers, sleep and intelligence don’t appear to be dependent on one another.
So, why do some animals require more sleep than others? Perhaps it’s not intelligence, just evolution.
When it comes down to sleep and survivability, a predator-prey relationship exists: Animals at the top of the food chain, such as the King of the Jungle, tend to get longer and deeper shut eye than, say, your average vigilant squirrel. Humans fall somewhere in between, but this doesn’t explain how we have sleep patterns most closely related to pigs, or why armadillos sleep a whole lot more than cows.
Hibernation draws the same complexities. Certain species of moth hibernate just as long as polar bears. Some toads can even hibernate for up to four years. So this evolution thing, with animal size and the potential of being eaten, doesn’t seem to hold up either.
Perhaps it’s not who is sleeping, or how often you sleep… but where you sleep that matters?
Sloths have long been known to be the ‘nappers of the wild.’ Even their name is a synonym for lazy. A 2008 study, reported by BBC news, involving brown-throated, three-toed sloths, found that when in captivity (where they are safe and fed well) sloths sleep for more than 16 hours per day and live quite long lives. But the same study noted that sloths only slept for 9.6 hours in the wild. So where you sleep, and how happy you are while getting that shut-eye, has a huge impact on the success of your sleep session.
Where can we find happy sleepers?
- Overcrowded US high schools, where shifts are required, report that those students who slept in and start two hours later, consistently scored higher on exams and report cards than those poor teens who had to wake up at the crack of dawn.
- Google has nap rooms for its employees, and based on the company’s success and productivity, it seems to be working for them.
- Einstein slept for 10 hours a day and he came up with the Theory of Relativity.
- Winston Churchill and George Washington napped regularly, and accomplished some pretty cool things.
Unfortunately, humans have been getting 1.5 hours less sleep on average throughout the last 50 years… So I’m here to tell you one thing: SLEEP. Sleep hard and sleep often; that 6-8 hourrs of recommended sleep is for the birds (literally). If you need more sleep – do it! If you need to nap – do it! If you need to make a pit stop in your car – do it!
Next time you find yourself drowsy and incoherent, don’t reach for a Starbucks, reach for an REM frappucino! Lay your head down on your pillow and smile. Because great things are not accomplished by stressed-out overworked sloths – they are accomplished by people who get their sleep.