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You’re Sleep Deprived and You May Not Even Realize It

Dr. Mark Rosekind is a preeminent voice for the importance of sleep for performance and safety. His best advice? Get the sleep you need, and if you can’t — take a nap.
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Dr. Mark Rosekind, Chief Safety Innovation Officer, Zoox

You may not realize it at this moment, but you are probably sleep deprived. Don’t take my word for it — take it from Dr. Mark Rosekind

The sleep scientist has a noted career spanning every sector, from private to public to academic. After serving as the Director of Stanford University’s Sleep Center and then NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasure Program, he became a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and in 2014 was appointed by President Obama to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). He is currently the Chief Safety Innovation Officer at Zoox, which was recently acquired by Amazon, and also serves as a sleep science advisor for Rise Science. Dr. Rosekind says that if you’re thinking, “I don’t feel sleepy right now,” it’s because we as humans just aren’t that great at measuring how sleep deprived we are. 

He joins us as the guest on today’s episode of The Rise Science Podcast. 

Sleep is fundamental to our health, so why don’t we get more?

For as important as sleep is to our overall health — Dr. Rosekind puts it up there with food, air, and water — we constantly push it off to do something that seems more urgent. Whether it’s sending one last email to try and close a deal or staying up to watch one more YouTube video, sleep continually gets pushed back. But the more we put off sleeping, the more detrimental it is to our health, our performance, and how we feel each day.  

Why do we put off something that we know will affect us in fundamental ways — from the regulation of our emotions to how well our immune system functions? Dr. Rosekind says it’s because people don’t necessarily care about their sleep, they only care about how they feel and perform during the day — even though that’s directly connected to our sleep. The disconnect is palpable. Dr. Rosekind shares his two theories on the issue: 

  1. We are “chronically and bizarrely undereducated about sleep.” 
  2. We think of sleep deprivation as a problem that affects other people — not ourselves. 

When we go without sleep, our body clocks all of that sleep debt (the total amount of sleep you’ve missed out on over the past two weeks, compared to your body’s sleep need.) As your sleep debt grows, your brain struggles to focus and perform your everyday tasks. You may not think you’re performing that badly, but the science says otherwise. 

If your sleep in any way has declined to the point where it's going to affect your waking performance, you're not going to see a little bit of decline. You're going to see possibly huge degradation. That's the other thing I point out is people think, ‘I can lose sleep and it maybe throws me off my game 1 or 2%.’ Most data show that communication goes down by 30%, and reaction time can be down 50 to 75%. Decision-making can go down 50%. And it's not that you don't make decisions, but that half of them are bad. -Dr. Rosekind

Dr. Rosekind goes on to say, "everything else you're trying to do is degraded, possibly even impaired." All because we don’t prioritize sleep. 

We can’t objectively measure how sleep deprived we are

As tools for measuring sleep, our own senses are not to be trusted, especially while we’re sleep deprived. Dr. Rosekind points out that it’s not just an individual issue, we all suffer from this lack of awareness surrounding how tired we are. 

In a study with Air New Zealand travelers that Dr. Rosekind performed at his consulting firm, Alertness Solutions, he noted a discrepancy between how the travelers reported they were feeling (subjectively) and how well they performed in a test. When asked the travelers to rate how they felt on a scale, a handful said they felt in the top 10% and were doing “great.” But when taking a timed reaction test, they reaction times were found to be degraded by 20%. Dr. Rosekind noted the disconnect between subjective feeling and actual physiological output. 

Once you’re made aware of this disconnect, it’s important to both be educated about it and have the tools to manage it. 

You may say you aren’t tired, you may drink coffee to “wake” you back up again — but it’s all just a poor substitute for the real thing. Humans simply cannot objectively measure how sleep deprived we are. 

It’s essential for all of us — especially those who want to perform at their best during the day — to have an objective measure of how well we are sleeping. Sleep management tools like RISE can track sleep debt to quantify how sleep deprived you are and tell you how to take advantage of your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s natural inclination toward a sleep time, wake time, and daily energy peaks and dips. It can serve as that objective measure we need and can help individuals and teams unlock the benefits of a better night’s sleep. 

Sleep is the most important thing you can do if you want to live better 

It sounds like obvious advice: good sleep = better wakefulness, but it is the key to better performance when you are awake. The opportunity for everything to improve, improves with more sleep. 

There are over 100 years of sleep science to draw from when it comes to trying to sleep better. Dr. Rosekind offers three objectives for society to begin to understand the importance of sleep: education, technology, and policy. 

  • Education: We all need to be taught the importance of sleep from early on, starting as early as elementary school. Education is foundational to understanding the importance of sleep.
  • Technology: With the rise of sleep technology and sleep management apps, we’re reaching a point where we can measure how well and efficiently we’re sleeping, which is, again, very important to have an objective tool for. 
  • Policy: Our policies regarding sleep in institutions, jobs, and organizations aren’t generally aligned with the sleep science that’s available. This is an area where Dr. Rosekind says we need to make a lot of progress. 

Dr. Rosekind’s final advice is two-fold. To start seeing the impact sleep has on the outcomes you care about you need to start tracking what you can. Pick a measurement, whether that’s how often you forget your keys, or how well you’re feeling. Write that measurement down and track it through the week. Get a week of good sleep, and measure it again. You’ll see a noticeable difference if you’re honest with yourself. And, if all the efforts at getting a good nights’ sleep fail — take a nap

You can hear more interviews on The Rise Science Podcast here


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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

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