Let go of unrealistic fears: how the mind and body compensate for sleep loss

Many insomniacs fear loss of sleep.  These fears are powerful and tend to feed insomnia.  They often take the form of believing a lack of sleep will inevitably cause terrible physical or mental health problems, or automatically result in being unable to effectively function the following day.  But a number of studies have proven these fears are overblown and unrealistic.

These studies show the mind and body have a remarkable ability to compensate for a night of bad sleep, or even for a lack of sleep over extended periods of time.

One of the best examples to demonstrate the effects of sleep loss is the experience of Randy Gardner, the documented record holder for time staying awake – 11 days.  When he finally went to bed, he slept for less than 15 hours and made a complete recovery to normal with no residual effects.

There have been no consistent studies showing insomnia causes short term health problems, like catching a cold or the flu.  Lack of sleep may potentially be a contributing factor for illness, but diet, exercise, stress, time of year, exposure to contagious viruses, and a whole host of environmental factors no doubt have far more influence.

Consider also that no one has ever died of insomnia, and this includes the extremely rare genetic condition known as fatal familial insomnia.  Although FFI is always fatal, it is not sleep deprivation per se that causes death but rather multiple organ failure.  (FFI is one condition you most certainly can safely disregard.  This disorder is strictly inherited and found in only about 40 families worldwide, affecting about 100 people out of several billion.  Unless you have an ancestor that had FFI, your chances of having this condition are virtually nil).

When deprived of sleep we in fact compensate in remarkable ways.  The experience of those afflicted with severe obstructive sleep apnea demonstrates this.

Individuals with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time without awakening to catch their breath.  They may awaken hundreds of times per night.  Yet some of these people are known to carry on like this for months or even years.

The minds and bodies of these individuals often compensate for severe sleep deprivation by catching dozens of very short term microsleeps throughout the day and night.  Microsleeps are to be avoided no doubt, but this evidence demonstrates how one way or another the mind and body will not be denied sleep no matter what we do or don’t do.

None of this should minimize the value and importance of good sleep, but rather put insomnia in a more accurate and realistic perspective.  Keep this powerful fact in mind as you work the STS:  Your physiologic requirement for sleep is stronger than your insomnia, stronger than even your most powerful fears.  At some point, sleep invariably becomes irresistible.

Regardless of how severe your insomnia may be, rest assured your mind and body are powerfully conditioned to get at least the minimum sleep needed to function.  Knowing this makes it easier to let the fear go, which tends to improve sleep.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fear, Insomnia, sleep

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