While a complete understanding of how sleep affects our health is lacking, we know enough to dismiss the myth that sleep is an inconvenience that interferes with life productivity.
How many times have you heard the axiom, "I'll sleep when I'm dead"? Usually this boisterously pronounced phrase is used to convey that we're so important, and so bent on being productive 24/7 that we treat sleep like cheap date by only giving it the minimal attention needed to fulfill a rudimentary need.
Research tells us that if we don't enough sleep we'll die earlier, be sick more often, reduce cognitive function, reduce coordination, reduce athletic performance, and gain fat.
Sleeping in isn't the greatest thing either. Getting too much sleep on a regular basis causes many of the problems getting too little sleep is known for.
A study from Finland (1) concluded that all-cause mortality (dyeing from any cause) increased for men and woman who slept less than 5 hours or greater than 10 hours, and that risk of cardiovascular disease was greater for men, but not for woman.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US estimates that 50-70 million US adults have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders, and that sleep difficulties are associated with chronic diseases, limitations of daily functioning, and mortality. The report (2) cited 38% of those reporting less than 7 hours sleep (37% of adults) fell asleep unintentionally at least once in the past 30 days.
So around a third of people don't get enough sleep and one third of those fall asleep unintentionally at least once per month. Doesn't sound like too many people are nodding off uncontrollably, but I suppose if you fall asleep at the wheel or during operating on a brain it might not be a good thing.
Recently the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a German study (3) that found one night of sleep depravation reduces energy expenditure in men by up to 20%. It wasn't that the study subjects moved around less, rather metabolism was slowed as an acute response to sleep depravation.
An earlier modest study (4) found that men who experienced one night of sleep deprivation consumed an extra 550 calories the next day, presumably due to alterations in hormones regulate hunger and satiety.
There's a certain amount of alarmism that accompanies reports of dying or developing disease from sleeping too much or too little, but in contrast I believe that most of us are too dismissive when it comes to making healthy sleep a priority.
It isn't all about death and dying though, cognitive function and daily productivity is reduced from not getting enough shut-eye. The odd all-nighter might be needed to get the job done but overall regular healthy sleep will make our awake hours far more productive so we're more likely to get more done in less time, making the last minute all-nighter crunch unnecessary. When tired it takes longer resolve cognitive challenges and the error rate increases. Working too late will decrease total productivity due to poor decisions and creating more work to correct errors.
If you're falling behind on a project you're more likely to become more productive by getting consistent quality sleep rather than extending work hours so long that sleep is sacrificed.
Take home? Work longer if you need to, but not at the expense of quality sleep, or exercise for that matter. A good nights sleep and 45 minutes of exercise is like pressing the turbo-boost on your brain.
A Korean survey (5) on sleep deprivation effects on cognitive function of residents and interns concluded that 41% of those studied were sleep deprived, sleeping around 5 hours each night. These medical professionals were more stressed and experienced attention deficits as well as difficulty in learning.
So really the best way to get more done in a day is to get a good nights sleep as often as possible, making an effort to maintain our sleep cycle on weekends as well.
To get a good nights sleep:
Go to bed and wake at the same time every night as much as possible
Avoid eating a heavy meal 2-4 hours prior to going to bed
Make the room you sleep in dark, cool, and quite
Avoid using an alarm to wake you, and never use the snooze button
Use your bedroom for sleeping, not working or TV watching
(1) Self-reported sleep duration, all-cause mortality,... [Sleep Med. 2011] - PubMed result
(2) Unhealthy sleep-related behaviors--12 States, 2009. [MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011] - PubMed result
(3) Acute sleep deprivation reduces energy expenditure... [Am J Clin Nutr. 2011] - PubMed result
(4) Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men
(5) A survey of sleep deprivation patterns and their e... [Sleep Med. 2011] - PubMed result
Sleep and Obesity in Children and Adolescents. [Pediatr Clin North Am. 2011] - PubMed result
Sleep's effects on cognition and learning in adole... [Prog Brain Res. 2011] - PubMed result
Neuropsychological Effects of Sleep Loss: Implicat... [J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2011] - PubMed result