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MUST BE READ, INCLUDING BY POLITICAL LEADERS
on 5 January 2014
Sleep takes up about one third of our lives. Therefore it is important to understand sleep and its pathologies. This book fully meets this requirement and is therefore recommended to all who want to gain some insight into a hidden but crucial part of being a human.
As frankly stated in the book, many features of sleep and the factors shaping it are not really understood. A definition of sleep fitting comparable phenomena in all forms of life is lacking. And, most important of all, "The reasons why we sleep remain frustratingly unresolved" (p. 40). But some of the essential functions of human sleep are known. These include many biological ones. On the mental level, "In humans, procedurial learning, declarative learning, and even higher-level "insights" - the process of mental restructing in the brain, that leads to a sudden gain of understandilgn or explicit knowledge - have been shown to depend on sleep" (p. 52). Also, "sleep helps our brains find creative solutions" (p.1).
All the more serious are the consequences of sleep deprivation and disturbances, as caused by a variety of pathologies; shift work; disruption of the natural day-night cycle which is hardwired into humans by its evolutionary history, caused by modern 24 hour active, noisy and brightly lightened modern societies; and personal neglect of sleep requirements.
This leads to a very important issue, not discussed in the book, namely the potentially serious consequences of sleep deprivation and disturbances by high level decision makers. The work schedule of political leaders increases the dangers of serious and sometimes catastrophic errors, especially in crisis situations. This is also the case when traveling through time zones, rushing from continent to continent for important meetings.
Matters are made even worse because of unawareness of lack of sleep consequences."While there are individual differences in how sleep deficiency affects alertness and performance, no-one is immune....Unfortunately, our sleepy brain cannot judge our own abilities, and as a result we are sometimes blissfully, and dangerously, unaware of our impaired performance" (p. 91). And, again, "the sleepy brain cannot evaluate itself and often underestimates how sleepy we are" (p. 105).
Fatigue-reducing drugs are only helpful for short periods and then produce aggravated mental capacity degradations. Therefore, essential is strict time management making sure that high level decision makers have enough time and suitable conditions for sleeping about six to seven hours daily, with few exceptions; and that they follow special regimes to reduce jet-lag problems and in crisis situations. But, my studies of quite a number of heads of governments around the world show that when critical issues are faced sleep deprivation is the rule, with more than a few dismal consequences. It would be very interesting to learn if this played a role in "sleepwalking" into the catastrophe of World War One 100 years ago, but in the various books being published on this episode contain no information on the sleep rationing of the critical decision makers, such data being usually unavailable..
I wish the authors had taken up the problem of sleep deprivation by senior decision makers, which can easily cause much more damage than drowsy driving as discussed by them (pp. 103-107), however tragic.
All the more so this book is strongly recommended to all, including top level decision makers. I will include it in the recommended reading list of my next book on required qualities of political leadership.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem