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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 24 2007

The Evidence Mounts: Our Modern Lifestyle Is Unhealthy

By Mark Sisson
29 Comments

A major study (17 years, 10,000 participants) finds that a busy lifestyle in which sleep is sacrificed is directly linked to increased disease risk across the board but especially heart disease, even when accounting for other risk factors such as smoking and obesity. Perhaps most astounding – to me, anyway – is that fully 40% of Americans get less than five hours of sleep, on average, per night. Between work and the kids, my wife and I don’t always get the luxury of 7 or 8 hours, and I know it’s the same for many of you.

For decades, 8 hours was the standard recommendation from health experts, but it now appears that 7 is a healthy amount of sleep provided that the sleep is quality and this is a consistent pattern. A lot of us get by with 6, but the fact that a significant portion of Americans make due with fewer than 5 hours is incredible. In economic terms we have a multitude of considerations: soaring health care costs, reduced labor productivity, increased numbers of auto collisions. In social terms, this surely can’t be good for relationships and quality of life, though understandably that’s a tough one to quantify. In public health terms, however, the costs are shockingly severe. Heart disease is our number one killer. We tend to focus on diet and obesity as the major factors in CHD, but this study confirms that lack of adequate sleep – and I think we can reasonably include stress in this issue – has an enormous effect on your cardiovascular health by doubling the risk of heart disease.

Let me know your thoughts. How much sleep do you get on average? What are possible solutions? Do we need a shorter work day?

Further reading:

Simple Stretches to Do at the End of the Workday (Relieve Stress Fast!)

10 Forgotten (Instant!) Stress Relief Tips

10 Smart Ways to Reduce Stress Permanently

HT: Mike via Sara

Flickr Photo (CC)

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29 thoughts on “The Evidence Mounts: Our Modern Lifestyle Is Unhealthy”

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  1. If I don’t get 7 hours a night, I feel the effects almost immediately. The worst thing that happens is that I start to get depressed – which disappears instantly as soon as I get a good quality 7 hour snooze. Makes you wonder about the percentage of Americans on anti-depressants…

  2. I’ve been doing around 6 hours per night for a long time now. But it happens naturally. I use an alarm clock during the week, but even on the weekends I’ll get up around 6 hours after I go to bed. Is it possible my bio clock’s a little different, or do I need to start trying to squish that extra hour in?

  3. First, I’m new reader here – I just came across your site and subscribed to your feed – great site! 🙂

    Now to answer your question, I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and boy does it make a difference! When I was a college student, I was lucky if I got 4-5 hours and it took a toll on my body. During that time I was also gainging a lot of weight. Finally I decided I needed to get my butt in gear and change my unhealthy habits. I did just that which included getting more sleep, changing my diet, getting exercise, etc., and I lost over 40 pounds have have kept it off for over a year.

  4. I’m A Big Believer In Getting My Sleep, I Guess It’s Easy For Me Because My Girls Are Grown Up And At The End Of The Day, I Just Chill Out And Call It Quits For The Day.. Starts After Dinner. Tonight Is Monday Night Football,In The Louisiana SuperDome And I’m Excited And Can’t Wait To Just Sit And Watch The Game, As I Do All Day Sunday.
    I Just Do What I Can In The Day And Save The REST IN THE EVENING,Taking A Walk In The Evening Is Relaxing, I Enjoy That! It Works For Me!

  5. I am working on getting better quality sleep. I usually get 7 or 8 hours but it’s not always deep sleep. I find that if I remember to give myself “wind down” time I sleep much better. 🙂

  6. Like Wilson my pattern is 6 hours, and most days I wake up about 5 minutes prior to the alarm clock, and on those rare days when I say to myself ‘Roll over and go back to sleep’. I get up a hour later, and the whole rest of the day I feel slow and lethargic. So hopefully it’s genetics, and I’m not sending myself to an early grave, but I know my Grandfather was a 6 hour sleeper and he almost made it to 100. Which if get even close to that I will count myself lucky. 😉

  7. I don’t know if I’m a freak or something… I know I tend to be a sleepy person… but 7-8 during the week is standard for me, and I often get 9 or 10 at least one weekend night. And I’ve got a pretty demanding work schedule, working many nights in addition to regular hours. I mean, yes, I’m not working two jobs or 80 hours a week. But I guess I just need a lot of sleep, and prioritize accordingly. I slept less when I lived with roommates (and a TV), but now it’s like, I’m tired, so I’m gonna go to bed, whether it’s 11pm or 1am.

  8. Sara wrote my comment. 🙂 If I don’t get 7 hours, I feel it very quickly, and the first thing to go is my mood. I’ve noticed it in recent weeks when I’ve gone with 5 hours a night maybe twice or three times during the working week, and it’s simply floored my optimism. Yes – it would be interesting to tally up incidents of depression and incidents of sleep deprivation and see if there’s a correlation….

    Exercise is the key to a good night’s sleep, for me. When my workout falters, my sleep becomes disturbed….

  9. 7.5-9 hours per night for me, including most Fridays and Saturdays. I’m not a big-time partier, so I have no problem going to hang out and still making it to bed by midnight. When I have to get up for work the next day, I’m in bed around 9:30 most of the time and rarely am I up past 10. I get up at 6am to start my day. I used to burn the candle at both ends (last year of college and first job) and paid the price in terms of always being tired, having difficulty concentrating and staying awake, and craving all kinds of bad foods. Now, with 8/night on avg I recover from intense workouts quickly, have tons of energy, and don’t get the serious cravings for carbs.

    For those that haven’t read it, Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival is a top-notch book by Wiley and Formby. Ignore the bits about aliens and conspiracies.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  10. The demands that we have set and are setting on ourselves as far as what is expected from us in the workplace is insane, truly! We seem to be a culture that prides ourselves on staying late and getting up early. We have sacrificed a healthy, fulfilling, meaningful life for anxiety, quota and deadlines. I wish America was more European in this way, placing the premium on peoples well being rather than what’s best for the company. If we could be more like Europe, and learn that we are more important than things, we would simply live longer happier lives. Take lessons from Europe on how they treat religion and work and reap the true personal benefits, not what some company or priest tells you is important!

  11. Oh, and…on the subject of an answer….

    Something I feel very strongly about.

    *Siestas*.

    Or powernaps. Call them what you will.

    I don’t believe human beings are designed to work for 8 hours without a total power-down. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. My feeling (nothing more – but it would make an interesting anthropological study) is that we’re natural square pegs, trying to fit into the round holes that are standardised Western business hours. The system is what needs to change, not us.

  12. Doing the math reveals that I awake at 4:13AM weekdays, which means I should be asleep by 10:13PM for six hours or 9:13PM for seven hours….

    This translates to about five hours thirteen minutes-28 minutes a night, as I usually have the opportunity to go to bed between 10:45PM & 11:00PM.

  13. Sleep is something that has interested me for years. I help people sleep better as a part of my profession. Personally, I feel best when I sleep 8 1/2 – 9 hours per night. A few nights in a row of only 7 hours usually results in me getting sick.

    There is about 15% of the population that does very well on 6 hours of sleep per night. On the other end, there is about 15% of the population that needs 9-10 hours per night for optimal functioning.

    Americans now average about 6 1/2 hours per night. 25 years ago we were averaging 8 hours per night. 40 years ago we were averaging about 9 hours per night. In addition to getting enough sleep, humans also need to spend about 60 minutes in a relaxed drowsy state that is free of stress and problem solving. I doubt that many Americans do this.

    Mark, I am going to single you out here. Sleeping enough each night is not a “luxury.” You sound like a modern day American talking. Sleeping enough each night is a necessity. Cutting corners on sleep is cutting corners on health. Getting exercise and taking time to eat right are also not “luxuries,” they are necessities.

    I do not mean to pick on you or anything :). It is an issue that rubbed me for years. There is a general feeling among much of the population (not meaning Mark) that people who sleep more are less motivated and perhaps even lazy, while those who sleep less in the name of working more are motivated and driven.

    It is a mindset that I really hope changes as the necessity of plentiful sleep becomes more apparent.

    (getting of my soap box now).

  14. I’m in bed from 7 to 8 hours a night usually and maybe once every two weeks I’ll hit 9 hours if I’ve been training really hard. I have found that the quality of my sleep has gotten worse as I age though and I’m starting to look into ways (beyond keeping the room cool, quiet, and dark) to make it better – any ideas would be appreciated.

  15. 7-8 hours of quality sleep is just a guide, everyone is different and everyone should know what they need to feel good. I am amazed that Americans get so little sleep. Is this by choice? I know people are busy, but how does anyone function on 5 hours of sleep? If people can not sleep, then there is a problem and it is not an anti-depressant defiency.

  16. I love naps but I just can’t do them too often. It takes me 20 minutes to fall asleep and then I can’t wake up for more than two hours, which isn’t healthy for a nap. If I set an alarm so the nap stays under an hour, then I’m groggy the rest of the day. So I save naps for the weekends 🙂

  17. When I was younger getting enough sleep was no problem. Now though, I have many nights that I find myself looking at the ceiling after two or three hours of sleep. Falling asleep is no problem,it’s staying asleep. My mind likes to work overtime, hashing and rehashing the problems of the day. The doc says I need to find a way to release some of the stress I have these days. Concern over aging parents in poor health, grown children 20hours away, or just anything! I know it isn’t healthy, that stress can really do our bodies harm, but I’m one of those people who has to solve the problems of the world. My doctor gave me compounded melatonin, not “the japanese junk you buy over the counter” as he says:) and it really helps. I don’t want to depend on it tho, and I know that I need to get into more exercise, maybe yoga as a stress releaver. You who can, even if you don’t… be thankful for sleep. Sue

  18. As a college student, I’m an anomaly. I’m in bed by 10:30 most nights, and up at 6 or 6:30 so I can exercise before class. I try sleeping in sometimes, but I end up waking up at the same time. Earplugs and a sleep mask help make this possible. The fact that my roommate isn’t in the room 90 percent of the time is also conducive to good sleep.

    On occasion, I get insomnia, which either results from heightened stress (i.e. before a huge test) or consumption of bad carbs (candy, cookies) close to bed I usually avoid keeping junk in my room and eating after 6 or 7, but it is college; every gathering has chocolate in some form, which I love (luckily, I don’t care about chips/fried anything). Diet, I think, will always be the most difficult thing for me to keep under control while I’m here, even though I’m well aware that poorly-timed oreo indulgences could mean the difference between sailing through classes or feeling like I was hit by a truck.

  19. Primalman08,

    “Luxury” was just a figure of speech. No one has railed on the importance of sleep as much as I have. I do try to average 8/night for the week. I have never in my life (even in college) pulled an “all-nighter.” Maybe it’s time for a dedicated Primal Health piece just on sleep. Thanks for driving the point home, though. 🙂

  20. I Really “Enjoy” My Good Nights Rest, I Always Sleep So Well! I Exercise And I Believe That Helps Me Sleep Like A Log.

  21. Hi, I’m new to posting here, but have been reading this blog for a couple months now. Just wanted to chime in to say I’m one of those people who needs 9-10 hours of sleep to function. If I get less than 8 hours I need to take something to stay awake and still have trouble focusing, sometimes it’s all I can do to stay awake at my desk.

    Other bad effects include being really cranky, my muscles ache (especially my legs), and my skin looks cruddy. When I get enough sleep I wake up with clear, glowing skin and don’t feel like I’ve got a hangover.

    I love nothing more than spending 30-60 minutes slowly waking up. I’ll wake up, change position, stretch a bit, then fall back into blissland. Rinse & repeat until I’m really awake and I am WAY more refreshed than when I have to get up with an alarm clock. I also have the best dreams during those last few bits of sleep. My husband says I love sleeping so much I like being woken up just so I know I’m sleeping, and it’s true.

    I used to feel so guilty for sleeping as much as I do. My family would get on my case about it and make me feel like I was lazy. After a few years of apologizing to my husband for sleeping until noon (we’re up ’til 2AM types, so it’s not that unreasonable), he finally convinced me that it’s ok to sleep as much as I want, and he won’t judge me badly for it. He’d rather I do what makes me happy and keeps me in a good mood than put up with my cranky butt.

    Now I openly take pure joy in sleeping, to the point of telling people it’s a hobby. I don’t care if they think I’m lazy, at least I’m well rested and happy like clams all the time. 🙂

  22. Like Lemur, I feel a lot better with 9-10 hrs sleep than with 8.

    Primalman08: You made an interesting comment that “humans also need to spend about 60 minutes in a relaxed drowsy state that is free of stress and problem solving”. Where did you come by this fact? Certainly I feel happier and more relaxed on days when I have some time like this, but I’d never really considered it a “need”. About every second day I go on a relaxed 1hr walk/run through the countryside in my lunch break, and I feel noticeably calmer for it.

  23. Like someone stated before, I also believe we need to take a more European approach to work ethic, and life in general. When you go to European countries, you don’t see as many obese people, like you do in the US. People seem happier and nicer, and it’s probably because they aren’t stuck inside a fluorescent-lit office for close to 10 hours a day! I think we need to stop placing SO much emphasis on production, work, and how much we can acheive, and focus more on quality of living. What good is working 40+ hours a week when you’re too sick and tired to enjoy the scant downtime you have?
    I find 7.5 hours is the optimal time for me, though for the last 2 weeks I’ve been unemployed, and have really enjoyed sleeping in a bit later, getting around 9 hours/night.

  24. I am definately a statistic. I average 4-5 hours a night and have since about 1981. Thats not to say on occasion I dont get a good 7 or 8 but 99% of my sleep is in the 5 hours or less range. I am a computer programmer by trade and also a sleep apnea sufferer who cant stand to be on his equipment too long but cant sleep without it. In contrast my father gets about 6 hours of sleep a night and takes a .75 hour nap at lunch time every day and has for about 20 years.

    One of the reasons I continue with the short sleep cycle is that in this day and age I dont have much time for myself. I get up at 5am, leave for work by 6am arrive at work by 7am work till 4pm, drive home till 4:45pm(average) have dinner at 5pm, bathe my kid at 6pm, spend a little time straightening up my messes and check email. Snack for rugrat from 6:35-7:00. watch tv and/or play with rugrat till 8:30. Put rugrat to bed and read to her till almost 9. From 9 to 11 spend time with wife. 11:00pm make lunch for rugrat for school, and finish cleaning kitchen and dishes from dinner and any snacks. From 12:00- 1am is my time, everyone else is asleep and I can do what I want.

  25. This essay (with great links) has been nominated for Hot Stuff Of The Week by our readers at GNMParents.com

  26. Tobias on Primalman08: You made an interesting comment that “humans also need to spend about 60 minutes in a relaxed drowsy state that is free of stress and problem solving”. Where did you come by this fact? Certainly I feel happier and more relaxed on days when I have some time like this, but I’d never really considered it a “need”. About every second day I go on a relaxed 1hr walk/run through the countryside in my lunch break, and I feel noticeably calmer for it.

    It is probably an exaggeration to say that this is “fact.” It is more of an educated opinion. Observations of native tribes have revealed that many/most spend time in such a state…an “alpha state.” I also spend time each day in such a state. It is a very productive state for problem solving and creativity.

  27. Well most nights I don’t get enough sleep. On a good night I’ll be in bed by 10, asleep by 10:30 and then up at 5:45. I have to get myself ready before my kids get up. Then in the evening it seems we are on the go to guitar lessons, hockey and/or football practice, church choir, or Cub Scouts. And by the time I cook dinner, do the dishes, bathe the kids, help with homework, read, tuck in, and then do any cleaning I feel like I don’t have that hour to “unwind”, but I take it anyway which means usually I’m up till 11. But if I don’t unwind I have so much trouble falling asleep.

    I’m a grumpy person when I don’t enough rest. I notice I’m short tempered with my kids and yell at them a lot more. I lack some serious patience when I’m tired. And I can’t nap either most days because my daughter only goes to preschool twice a week and I can’t convince HER to nap any longer! And anyway, usually the time I’d like to take a 20 minute siesta is the time I have to pick the older two up from school. I am really looking forwards to my husband coming home from his overseas remote assignment so I can nap and share some of the driving and parenting responsibilities!

    But yeah, I’m sleep deprived but not as bad as I was during the newborn nurse-all-night phase of my life, which was 5 years since all our kids are close in age lol!

  28. Thanks to all you long sleepers. If I don’t get my 10 hours a night, and sometimes a nap as well, I don’t function. Yes, I feel guilty. But only when I’m awake.

  29. I sleep 7.5 hours on average; occasionally I sleep longer than that (9-12 hours… ) but rarely less (I only sleep less than that if something abnormal disrupts my sleep; ie. lots of loud noise outside, etc.; never by choice basically).