Sleep is essential. It is not an option. Extreme sleep deprivation is psychological torture. Take the case of Patty Hearst. In 1974, the newspaper heiress was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). They put her in a closet, blind folded her, and prevented her from sleeping. She became so confused and disoriented that she began to identify with her captors and robbed a bank.
Sleep deprivation is also commonly used as an interrogation technique. According to Menachem Begin, previous Isreali Prime Minister and sleep deprived P.O.W., "in the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form, his spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep. Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it, " (Begin, 1979).
Even moderate sleep loss causes problems. After only one night of poor sleep, people feel lousy. It is no surprise that "malaise" is a symptom of insomnia. But, accumulated sleep loss - that means losing sleep on a daily basis, adds up. Sleeping 5 hours daily, instead of 7, over a work week can result in 10 hours of cumulative sleep debt. This can result in poorer concentration, poorer memory, and slowed reaction times. For teens, this means low motivation, poorer school performance, and possibly even reduced SAT scores (Carskdon, 2011).
Sleepy, fatigued people make mistakes. Accidents increase. For example, 100,000 traffic crashes are attributed to drowsiness or fatigue each year resulting in 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries ( http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/). Several studies have been conducted on medical students who skip sleep. On a large scale study of 3,604 residents, 66% reported sleeping less than 6 hours per night. Residents sleeping 5 or less hours nightly reported more serious accidents, injuries, hostility, conflict with staff, use of alcohol, use of medication to stay awake, weight problems, poor decision making, and significant medical errors (Baldwin, Daughtery, 2004).
Regular sleep is important. Sleep has restorative power and evidence shows that sleep enhances memory and improves attention. Sleep is not an option. It is essential. Lab rats chronically deprived of sleep eventually die. And, humans are not much different. We need our sleep. "That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep," Aldous Huxley.
For an exellent video on why sleep matters, watch the attached video from the Harvard Sleep Medicine Clinic http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/video/sleep07_matters.
Baldwin, DC, Daugherty,SR. "Sleep deprivation and fatigue in residency training: results of a national survey of first- and second-year residents." Sleep [2004, 27(2):217-23].
Begin, M. (1979). White nights: the story of a prisoner in Russia. San Francisco; Harper & Row.
Carskdon, M.A." Sleep's effects on cognition and learning in adolescence. " Prog Brain Res. 2011;190:137-43.