Edison was wrong about sleep

EdisonHere is an excerpt from an article written by Margaret Heffernan for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the website’s newsletters, please click here.

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(MoneyWatch) Thomas Edison always maintained that sleep was a criminal waste of time. So he got his own back: The invention of the light bulb was his form of crime prevention.

The problem is: He was wrong.

Talking at TEDGlobal about the neuroscience of sleep, Russell Foster made a powerful case for the critical importance of sleep. In the 1950s, most Americans slept, on average, for eight hours a day; now that number is 6.5. But it hasn’t made us any more productive. It makes us grumpy, accident-prone and fat.

We get grumpy when we’re sleep deprived because our brains are finely tuned to circadian rhythms and at night, it wants to sleep. If you’ve fed your brain caffeine all day, it will stay awake — but still feel tired. Ordinary work will get harder, you will make more mistakes and they’ll make you mad.

Thirty one percent of drivers micro-sleep, that is they nod off for a split second. This results in some 100,000 U.S. highway accidents.

When we’re tired, we crave glucose, the source of energy our brains consume. So we eat all those things that we shouldn’t hoping they’ll give us energy when what we really need is sleep.

Tired people get very stressed and that stress incurs memory loss which, of course, provokes more stress. This in turn can start to compromise your immune system which is one reason, Foster argues, shiftworkers suffer higher rates of cancer.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. To visit her website, please click here. To view all articles by Margaret Heffernan on CBS MoneyWatch, please click here.

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