Why “You Can Sleep When You’re Dead” Is Terrible Advice

Ever heard the phrase “you can sleep when you’re dead?” Well, it turns out that’s some pretty cruddy advice. Obviously, there are times when you won’t be able to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night that the National Sleep Foundation prescribes for adults (as anyone with a new baby can attest to). But when you do have a choice in the matter, you should make sleep a priority.

Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, explained during an interview with Blue Ridge Public Radio why chronic sleep deprivation is bad for us.

“Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” he said. “So that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you’re dead, it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.”

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

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It can be tempting to forego sufficient sleep for other things — like watching just one more episode of that Netflix show. Or, you may have an incredibly hectic schedule that doesn’t allow for sufficient sleep on a regular basis.

“We over program our days, and when push comes to shove, we trim our sleep time in order to fit everything in,” journalist Miles O’Brien wrote in a piece for PBS News Hour. “I can, and should, log eight hours of sleep every night. I know this is true, and yet I find it hard to do given the nature of my itinerant work style. The counterintuitive message from the experts is clear: the more we sleep, the more productive our conscious hours will be.”

People living by the motto “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” may feel that minimizing their sleep is helpful or productive, especially when it comes to their job. It’s not. One study found that sleep deprivation among members of the U.S. workforce costs around $411 billion a year — and people are losing 1.2 million working days annually.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, getting enough sleep is crucial for productivity — people who get enough sleep make better decisions, recover from distractions faster, make fewer mistakes, and have better memories.

In short: don’t skimp on sleep believing it doesn’t matter. Pay attention to how much rest you are getting, and try to prioritize sleep.

“Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain,” said Walker, the sleep scientist. “Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it.”

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

Featured image: fizkes/Shutterstock

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Joe Auer

Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.

He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.

Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.

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