“Mirror, mirror on the wall, why do some otherwise high-achieving meeting professionals feel that they can miss sleep without penalty? Or, if they acknowledge the penalties, why do they nevertheless proceed?”
When several high achievers were asked this, the response that occurred most frequently went something like this: “By working longer or harder now and perhaps getting less sleep, the potential payoffs can be greater.”
In other words, some professionals knowingly sleep less as part of a calculated plot to become prosperous younger or sooner. Paradoxically, the most successful people I know tend to have regular, sufficient sleep patterns. Whether they retire early or late, they get ample sleep daily and weekly to keep themselves vibrant and moving forward.
Now and then, you read about some ultra-high achiever who only sleeps an average of four or five hours a night. As such, you have to remember that:
- Most articles about people contain considerable fabrication.
- Even if it’s true that these people can sleep four or five hours per night on average, that does not necessarily apply to you.
- Unless a longitudinal study of their sleep patterns is undertaken, no one knows the long-term effects. Maybe this person will develop some acute disorder. Who can say?
- Your need for sleep differs from others. There is no value in comparing yourself to those who sleep more or less than you.
Your quest is to get the amount of sleep you need to feel and be at your best.
Driving and dozing
You’re a danger to yourself when you try to function with consistently too little sleep. You’re a danger to society when you operate a vehicle with too little sleep. There are simply too many transportation mishaps today that are a direct result of someone being tired at the wheel. Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, in his now-hard-to-find book, The 24-Hour Society, points to numerous transportation mishaps that can be traced directly back to insufficient sleep.
What’s worse, Moore-Ede found that vast numbers of people in society engage in micro-sleep, which is a form of trying to compensate for under-sleeping. Micro-sleep is a five-to-10-second episode where your brain is effectively asleep while you are otherwise up and about.
As hard as it is to fathom, parents transporting their children might engage in micro-sleep. School bus drivers with forty children in tow may be engaging in micro-sleep. Train conductors responsible for hundreds of passengers and millions of dollars of equipment engage in micro-sleep. Truck drivers traversing hundreds of miles carrying hazardous waste materials engage in micro-sleep.
Some people mistakenly believe that the act of driving is sleep inducing, but studies show that is an erroneous belief. Dr. Allen Pack, director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, says, “You’re sleepy to begin with and the task unmasks the tendency to sleepiness.” So, if you’re in a nice big car with cruise control on an open road, you might think that’s conducive to sleep. However, if you weren’t sleepy to begin with, you wouldn’t nod off.
Generally speaking, the two major factors contributing to drowsiness include the following.
- How long you’ve been awake. – If you got up at 5 a.m., then by 7 p.m., your 14th hour of wakefulness, you could be a candidate for drowsy sleep. Also, if you consistently get too little sleep, and have been driving a long time during a day, you’re more susceptible to nodding off at the wheel.
- Driving at night. – More than half of the crashes on the part of drowsy drivers occurred between midnight and 7:00 a.m. Thus, independent of how long you’ve been awake, driving during the wee hours is inherently treacherous.
Add in chronic under-sleeping on a consistent basis, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The numbers could be far worse
The incidence of drowsy driver crashes, whether attributable to the factors discussed above or not, could be highly understated. Since many drowsy-driver crashes only involve the driver, most go unreported. Or, in the case of fatal accidents, many accidents are misdiagnosed. Legions of over-stressed, highly fatigued people could by dying at the wheel.
While auto manufacturers hunt for driver warning systems that will reduce the number of such accidents, and even if your car is so equipped or equipped in the future, it’s no excuse for you to ever get behind the wheel if you even suspect your level of fatigue will impair your driving ability.
If you need to get around and about, and can’t do much about completely overcoming your fatigue right now, then please consider the following:
- Use public transportation as often as possible.
- Become part of a ride-share system, and at least be well rested when it’s your turn to drive.
- Avoid taking any long trips, where the probability of a mishap increases markedly.
- For short trips, consider a taxi, bike or walking.
Your life and the life of others is important. Planning meetings is challenging. Don’t let your fatigue put you in a situation where you are a danger to yourself and others.