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Elvia Wilk
Writer, editor
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piqer: Elvia Wilk
Wednesday, 05 December 2018

Sleep Loss Is No Small Loss

I know, you know, we all know: there couldn’t be a better podcaster than Shankar Vedantam. As NPR’s longtime science correspondent, he’s become the friendly, inquisitive voice of so many reports on scientific breakthroughs and oddities. In his Hidden Brain podcast, he spends an hour diving deep on one topic, which always seems to be prescient—either scientifically fresh or relevant to the current political moment.

But of all Vedantam's hidden stories, this episode all about sleep has stuck with me. Vedantam begins with the story of Randy Gardner, who, at 17 years old, set a world record for going eleven days without sleep in 1963. Gardner’s feat, explains Vedantam, was impressive but turns out to be extremely dangerous: losing sleep is a vast health risk beyond what most people realize. Just the one-hour loss of sleep that comes with the spring daylight savings time change in the US seems to have serious effects: each year the time change coincides with an increase in the rate of heart attacks of over 20 percent. These numbers are shocking, and I think about them every time I'm tempted to stay up an extra hour at night.

The neuroscientist Matthew Walker is brought in to discuss the evolutionary basis for sleep and why the body is so dependent on a regular sleep/wake rhythm. Gardner seemed fine in the moment, but he didn’t get away unscathed—decades later, he’s developed terrible insomnia. Historical irony? 

Sleep Loss Is No Small Loss
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