General discussion of "Why We Sleep" and the essay

Lmk if you have any thoughts / additions / corrections!

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One thing I didn’t mention in the essay (at least so far) is just how personal all of this is for me.

Before starting to research sleep deeply in September/October I was under the spell of “you need 8 hours of sleep a night” myth and in fact was priding myself on almost never compromising on sleep and on forcing myself to sleep for 8 hours even when I woke up naturally after 6 or 7 hours of sleep. I felt very good about myself and when my classmates told me that they slept for 5 or 6 hours during the exam period was legitimately extremely bothered about their health.

And then I started digging into the literature, saw that we have literally no idea about the influence of sleep on long-term health, that the 8 hours figure is completely fictitious, saw a couple of reports by people I trust who were like “oh yeah I now sleep 6.3 hours / day instead of 8 and feel great”, remembered how every once in a while I myself slept very little and felt great (and how I got almost perfect SAT scores many years ago despite sleeping for 4 hours the night before)… so I’ve been experimenting with sleep for the past ~2 months and it seems that I feel better when I don’t force myself to sleep 8 hours and I also feel great when I sleep for 5-6 hours a night and then take 1-2 naps during the day. This legit saves me >1 hour every day. 1/16*365=22 more waking days per year. every year. This is completely ridiculous. Here’s a google sheet of my sleep for the last month. Where else do we needlessly lose time?

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I didn’t read the book (never got actually interested in the topic), but I did read the article. And I’m among those who had this general knowledge of “the more sleep, the better”. So the article is an eye-opener. Thank you for it, Alexey.

Has anyone explored why the 8-hour sleep mark is universally considered the time one needs to sleep? Now with self-reported-data-based epidemiology it seems likely that average person with healthy habits would report 7-8 of sleep (healthy user bias).

I wonder though if this 8 hour thing originated the same way universally accepted 8-hour workday did: “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”.

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It seems like a lot of these “approved numbers” like 8 hours of sleep are just hugely averaged guesses based on random ass distributions. Another example: 8 glasses of water is “generally true” but also probably wrong for everyone specifically. Amusing to think that these generally approved numbers are basically wrong for everyone, but right enough.

@aaron

You’re right in that generalizations and averages can tend to be wrong most of the time on individual cases - very often actually. e.g. average testicles per human is wrong ~100% of the time in individual cases.

That being said, I’m also skeptical about the notion of the “right” amount of daily X for a person. Who said you need the same amount of sleep every night? Who said you need the same amount of water every day? These seem like attempts to simplify something which is not necessarily so simple.

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i began learning to code in 2015. since i was working full-time i needed to maximize after-hours to learn quickly. i experimented for 10 days straight… go to sleep at 4am, wake up at 8am for work. felt fine.

actually, the first 5-10 minutes of “getting up” after 3-4 hours of sleep sucks more than if i sleep ~8 hours. but after 15 mins of moving around, a shower, etc, i feel as if i slept 8 hours.

since then i’ve routinely slept 4-6 hours /day and definitely been more productive. i think if more people experimented for themselves and had the same “aha” moment i did (that you feel fine after the initial gut-wrenching “i slept too little” reaction), they’d get more done too.

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You might not have mentioned it ipsis litteris, but it definitely came through in your writing. It is clear that you take much pride in being factual, precise, direct, etc (all those rationalistic, science-y virtues), but your writing feels very humane to me as well, even when you’re being absolutely anal about details and whatnot. I specially appreciated the testimonials you quoted on people and healthcare providers that had been negatively affected by Walker’s book and thesis, and it was hard not to imagine that you’d been personally affected by the issue as well.

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I think this is a very good point. There’s (1) how sleepy we feel when waking up and (2) how sleepy we feel during the day. (2) is probably more important but most people are focused on (1) and the implicit assumption is that poor (1) leads to (2) – which is unwarranted.

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A post was split to a new topic: More sensationalism, playing fast and loose with numbers, incorrect interpretations, etc. in “Why We Sleep”

sleep anecdote-
In undergrad I had zero sleep before several major tests; also before quals in grad school. Basically wouldn’t sleep before things I really considered important (this included morning meetings I didn’t want to miss!). On such occasions I would feel:

  • miserable, then
  • absurd and in a good humor, weirdly elated, then
  • Super PumpedTM, and

really sharp when the test (or whatever) actually started.

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Yeah! I get post-all-nighter euphoria very consistently around 6-9am. I wrote more about it here

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I agree that people should experiment, but it probably does vary from person to person. I expect that not everyone can sleep that little. I have found that if I get less than 7h or so, I feel like crap all day (not just when I wake up). I can do it (babies sort of force you to do so for a few years), but don’t enjoy it. How much I want to sleep also seems to vary a bit based on how much exercise I’m doing.

I’d love to get 2h extra each day, but if it makes the other 18 significantly worse then it isn’t worth it.

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Does anyone know if Peter Attia responded to this article in some way? He’s a) friends with Walker/has spread his ideas far and wide and b) pays a lot of lip service to appropriately interpreting bodies of evidence. The closest I saw was him saying how disheartened he was to write his own book now (lol)

He has not made any comments about my essay, as far as I know.