Everyone from your mom to your school teachers to your doctors insists that you need to get a good night’s sleep. Lots of money is spent on sleeping, even though the activity itself is free. People take medications to help them fall asleep, they take medications to help them stay asleep, they buy special pillows and mattresses to make sleeping more comfortable.
But why do we go to all this trouble for sleep? Isn’t it more effective to sleep less and then make up for the lack of sleep with energy drinks and coffee? Can we train ourselves to survive on less sleep in order to get more productive hours in the day?
Unfortunately for the workaholics among us, the answer to both of those questions is no. You cannot replace sleep with stimulants, no matter how much you try. And while there are people who go for years on less sleep than is recommended, this comes with consequences for their health.
Failing to get enough sleep makes you sluggish. Your mind works more slowly and your higher reasoning skills will be affected. You won’t be able to drive as well; your chances of being in a car crash are much higher. Physically, you will slow down as well. Your fine motor control will be lessened, and you will become slow and clumsy.
You can’t replace hours of sleep with coffee or caffeine pills. Those people who try will soon notice the side effects of those drugs. Your hands will shake and you will become unable to focus on a single task for long periods of time. Your heart will race. You may suffer from dry mouth and irritability.
Worst of all, when the stimulants wear off, you will experience a “crash.” You will be more tired at that point than if you hadn’t used the stimulants at all. Many of the negative symptoms you experienced earlier will become exponentially worse, like mood affects. There is no chemical substitute for adequate rest.
Trying to manage for the long term on less sleep than is medically recommended is also not a good idea. While you may eventually acclimate to the point where you won’t feel exhausted during the day, the effects of the lack of sleep are still felt on your body.
For example, people who fail to get enough sleep in the long term are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. This is because going without sleep in the long term affects your body’s stress response, which then affects your cardiovascular system.
In other words, there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. It protects your health, your physical well-being, and your mental faculties. You can’t go without enough sleep for a long time without negatively affecting your health. There are no effective chemical replacements for sleep, no matter how many of us rely on that morning cup of coffee to get going. A good night’s sleep is vital to long-term health.