Thursday, 25 February 2010


“There will be sleeping enough in the grave.” - Benjamin Franklin

A Dutch study published recently suggests that lack of sleep is associated with shrinkage of some areas of our brain, with less gray matter in insomniacs, than in people who sleep normally. An imaging study on the brain of people with chronic sleep problems found there was a decreased area in the region of gray matter, which is used to make decisions. The worst loss was demonstrated in severe insomniacs, regardless of how long they had suffered from the disorder. It was not determined whether the insomnia preceded the gray matter loss or whether it followed it.

It has long been reported by sleep researchers that insomnia disrupts brain function and behaviour, but this study begins to answer why that malfunctioning happens. This may also shed some light on how to more effectively treat it. It could cause a shift in paradigm in the way that we deal with insomnia. That is, treating insomnia specifically, relying on recognising a problem, diagnosing it using a test, and developing a specific treatment plan.

An older Swiss study has linked insomnia with addiction to drugs. This is in support of a previous US study that found similar results in teenagers with insomnia. One in four teens showed significant symptoms of insomnia every day for a month. What is even more worrying is that the effect seems to be “transmissible” to other teens. That is, in a study of 8,000 adolescents in the US, a teen with a friend who sleeps under seven hours a night is 11% more likely to do the same and 19% more likely to try marijuana.

Furthermore, a Boston University School of Medicine study supports the fact that we need sleep for normal, organic functioning of our body. It was found that study participants that reported sleeping less than 6 hours, or more than 9 hours a day had an increased incidence of diabetes, compared to those study participants who slept the “average” 7-8 hours.

I sleep about five hours per night and have done so for several decades now. I seem to suffer no ill effects and have no addictions and no loss of brain substance (that I can tell, based on my activities!). There are many different patterns of sleep and the number of hours of sleep that people require seem to vary quite dramatically. I have friends and colleagues who need anything between 7-11 hours of sleep a night. The average adult generally requires 7-8 hours of sleep a night for optimal functioning. The number of hours of sleep each individual needs to sleep, however, is a matter of ‘circadian rhythm” or the biological clock that regulates our sleep-wakefulness cycle.

Some research suggests that intellectually active people require less sleep. For example, Leonardo da Vinci regularly slept only 2 hours per night! Isaac Newton slept 3-4 hours, Benjamin Franklin 2-4 hours, Napoleon 4 hours.

I think the general consensus is to sleep for as long as you need to and to not force yourself to stay awake nor force yourself to sleep if you don’t want to. In terms of insomnia, if you suffer from it, seek treatment, keeping in mind that there are some natural, effective non-drug treatments. Some people, of course will need medication, but your practitioner can advise you as to the best course of action.

insomnia |inˈsämnēə| noun
Habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.
insomniac |-nēˌak| noun & adjective
ORIGIN early 17th century: From Latin, from insomnis ‘sleepless,’ from in- (expressing negation) + somnus ‘sleep.’


  1. I need 10-11 hours sleep a night and if I get less than 8 I'm usually cranky.

  2. I usually sleep about 6-7 hours, getting any 'more' than that leaves me not feeling my best. I always wake between 6 & 6:30 it matter what time I go to bed. Interesting Study!

  3. i sleep about 5 or 6 hours night and have a nap for an hour or two during the day