Vietnamese man, Thái Ngoc, got a fever in 1973 and hasn’t slept since. You would expect his life to be a train wreck, but he claims to be going strong. He is a farmer and has no problem doing manual labor to support his family. He even spends some nights doing extra farm work.
Ngoc hasn’t been studied by scientists, so his story should be taken with a grain of salt. Some think that people with severe insomnia might mistake very short naps for just resting.
While Ngoc says he is in perfect health, most of us are suffering from a lack of Z’s. In 1942, over 92% of people got more than six hours of sleep every night. Now, only about 50% of people get this much sleep, and it’s wreaking havoc on our health.
Sleep strongly affects our immune system and that’s why when humans get sick, our first instinct is often to sleep. Sleep helps us to heal, as well as to prevent disease.
Even a single night of 5 to 6 hours of sleep causes the number of cancer-fighting cells in the body to drop by an astonishing 70 percent. In fact, more than 20 large-scale studies report that people who sleep less will live a shorter life. Adults over 45 who sleep less than 6 hours a night are 200 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who get 8 or more hours of shut-eye.
Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist, says there’s a connection between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and poor mental health, among other things.
So why the dramatic decrease in sleep? We work longer hours and commute further. We consume too much alcohol and caffeine. Our society is more anxious, lonely and depressed than ever. And we spend too much time under artificial lights and in front of our computers and phones. All of these things are hurting our ability to get a restful night’s sleep.
So, what can we do to improve our health through sleep? Walker suggests going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, no matter what. He also says to avoid pulling all-nighters and make sure to leave your phone and laptop outside of your bedroom. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try taking a hot bath.
The amount of sleep a person needs will vary according to age, but 8 hours is a good rule of thumb. It may not always be possible, but do your best to get a good night’s sleep – your body will thank you for it!