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To sleep, perchance to dream up studies

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

With the arrival of daylight-saving time, I've heard more people complain this week that their sleep patterns were disrupted. When the alarm clock sounds and it's still dark outside, it's disturbing for a week or so.

But since I'm talking about sleep, I've come across two fascinating articles that address the subject. And since we sleep almost one-third of our life, the subject is an important one. But confusing.

First comes this major six-year study of more than one million adults. It shows with clear conclusions that people who get only six hours of sleep at night live longer than those who get a full eight hours sleep. But wait, it gets even better.

The study says that we are clearly getting too much sleep. It says we've been patterned to believe that eight or nine hours of sleep are better for us than a shorter sleep period. But the study results prove otherwise.

In fact, they charge that makers of sleeping aids - to the tune of $5 billion annually - mislead us on the amount of sleep we really need. The study tested the functions of six-hour sleepers versus eight-hour sleepers and found both identical.

Here's a striking number as well. Serious insomniacs who get just over three hours of sleep per night actually live longer than those individuals who get eight hours of sleep.

So I read this study and concluded that my limited sleeping schedule was actually healthy for me. Or at least until I read yet another study.

While we're told it's healthier to limit your sleep, the National Sleep Foundation says that students need a full nine hours of sleep at night. Their study - in sharp contrast to the earlier study - says that functions do decrease with less sleep. The student study was a much smaller group than the first study, for what that's worth.

If I'm reading this right it says teenagers should sleep nine hours and adults somewhere around six hours or less. In my extensive experience as a father, that's pretty much how it works anyway.

The point of this discussion is not about sleep. It's about scientific studies. You see, if you look hard enough you can find some lengthy study that will prove whatever point you want to prove. And ironically, neither is all right or all wrong.

So take all of the studies you read about with a giant grain of salt. Whether it's global warming or economic policy, experts will rarely agree. But they're not shy about providing a study to prove their point.

In the meantime, I'm going to take a nap. All of these studies have made me sleepy. Kinda like this column probably!



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen