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Home » Science of Sleep: Dr. Michelle Olaithe (Transcript)

Science of Sleep: Dr. Michelle Olaithe (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Dr. Michelle Olaithe’s talk titled “Science of Sleep” at TEDxMandurah 2021 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The World Record for Sleep Deprivation

In 1964, Randy Gardner, some college friends and a university professor, Professor William Dement, decided to go for the world record of days without sleep. After day two, Randy could barely hold his eyes open, and he couldn’t repeat simple tongue twisters. His friends were falling asleep leaned up against the wall. By day three, he was uncoordinated and moody.

By day five, he was hallucinating. He managed to make it to 11 days and 25 minutes before he was rushed to the local naval hospital, where he spent, for the first night, 14 hours asleep, and spent the majority of that time in deep and dreaming sleep – these are your restorative sleep states.

Moving on to other research, Williamson and Feyer show us that if you spend around 15 to 19 hours deprived of sleep, you will behave as if your blood alcohol level is 0.05. That’s drunk.

Your reaction times will be 50 percent slower, and your accuracy will be abysmal. If I got you drunk and I gave you your keys, would you drive home? At the end of a long shift at work, if I gave you your keys, would you drive home? Now, in one of these situations, you’re going to be arrested, and in the other situation, you’ll be thanked for your time and paid.

The Importance of Sleep for Health and Well-being

The answers to these questions tell us a lot about how we as a society value sleep, and as individuals, how we value sleep. We know from the research that if you don’t get around 7 to 9 hours on average of sleep per night as an adult, it’s going to impact your mood, your health, increase your accident rate, and it’s less likely that your marriage will work out. The relationship between sleep and mental health is intimately and bidirectionally intertwined.

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Traditionally, we thought that if you had sleep symptoms, it was a symptom of your mental health problem. However, we now know that poor sleep wreaks absolute havoc on your neurotransmitters and your stress hormones, making it really hard for you to think straight and for you to maintain a good mood. The stats on sleep and health tell us exactly the same story.

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