Sleep is “more essential to us than food”

How much sleep do you get every night? A cheeky six-hour stint? A solid eight-hours of rest?

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s wife once famously claimed that her husband survived on three hours’ sleep a night.

“Kevin starts at around six in the morning he might get to bed around one or two, or maybe three. He doesn’t need a lot of sleep,” Therese told reporters back in 2009.


The clear underlying message was that he was so ridiculously important and busy, he couldn’t possibly afford to waste eight hours per night sleeping like the rest of us mere mortals. No, he didn’t have time for that – he was part of the “sleep elite”, that rare breed of people who can function perfectly well on a tiny amount of sleep.

He may have been functioning okay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was thriving.

And according to a report from National Geographic, he could actually be doing himself some serious harm with those carved-back sleeping habits.

Steven Lockley of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told NG that “sleep may be more essential to us than food; animals will die of sleep deprivation before starvation”.

And this is saying something, when you consider that some animals don’t sleep for very long in the first place. Giraffes need less than five hours of shut-eye per day, and incredibly, dolphins never actually switch off; half of their brain sleeps while the other half is awake, allowing them to swim continuously.

Poor sleep in children has been linked to diabetes, obesity and learning disabilities. In adults, sleep deprivation increases your risk of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

And let’s not forget that while we’re sleeping, we’re having possibly the most interesting time of our lives. We’re in a wild state of psychosis, where we’re dreaming, flying, imagining, creating, hallucinating, experiencing and feeling – whether we remember it or not!

Importantly, during our sleep we’re also regulating our mood and consolidating our memories.

So it seems that a goal of sleeping less may not be the goal at all. It may make us more productive, but at what health cost?