Help me with a little thought experiment. In this thought experiment we rank the importance of various things by how quickly we will die without them. Based on this we might make some interesting observations. Here is how I order things:
1-Air. Death in a few minutes without it.
2-Water. Typically a few days is the outside for overt dehydration. Increased exertion and temperature can cut this to a few hours.
3-Most would put food here, but I think that is misplaced. Even lean people have about a month’s worth of fat and protein on their bod’s. Want to kill someone in about a week-10 days? Keep them awake. In 3rd position, before food, I’d put sleep.
This is a pretty general list, someone like Greg Everett might structure it as such:
You get the idea…what’s going to kill you if you go too long without it.
Back to my first list, the lack of air thing is pretty obvious. Plastic bag over the head and you are done for. This is a severe , acute exposure that our systems have no ability to adapt to. What about chronic lower level hypoxia? We have slick mechanisms for reading CO2 and O2 levels in the blood and a lack of O2 saturation stimulates the upregulation of erythropoeitin (EPO). We make more red blood cells and, up to a point, we can adapt to hypoxic situations. Another interesting mechanism for adapting to an oxygen scarce environment is…anaerobic exercise. That is a whole other blog topic, but it really makes sense when you think about it. Want to work efficiently without oxygen? Train without it.
The next thing on the list was water. Severe water restriction can kill us but we do have mechanisms which allow us to adapt to lower water intakes. This can change our relative water needs dramatically by tweaking aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone (ADH).
Skipping down to food, we have quite a capacity to survive without food. If you have ever read Good Calories, Bad Calories, you are familiar with the adaptations inherent to starvation and how wickedly efficient our bodies can become when facing a starvation situation.
Now sleep. We see NO favorable adaption to sleep deprivation. Some people tolerate it better than others…interestingly, the folks who can “get by” on less sleep die younger…so there is no free lunch here. You do not build a callous, you do not up-regulate this or that enzyme system…you get fracking sick and have a boat load of problems. What I take from this is we are REALLY wired to get a restful nights sleep all the damn time. You can get by, but at very high cost.
The first thing that jumps to my mind is the 3 year old who never slept: http://www.local6.com/news/16210114/detail.html
Due to his age it’s hard to judge how the sleep deprivation affected him mentally/emotionally; but the fact that he’s alive means that the body must have some way of adapting to a lack of sleep.
Well…I’d be super interested to see what his immune function is in addition to some other values. I wonder if an adult would make it through something like this? Not sure if this is a sign of adaptation or simply a younger, more resilient subject. Great find either way, very interesting.
…..now I am really worried seeing as it is half past midnight and I am still up and reading the interweb!
Chris! Go to bed brother!
Greg Everett - Catalyst Athletics says
How dare you suggest I would place Family Guy ahead of News Radio.
It was merely a guess…1,000 pardons.
Steven Low says
There was a very interesting study I came across while researching neuroendocrine response (which SUPPOSEDLY will be included in the article going to be in July PMenu — I know I know I keep saying stuff like this but it’s done and ready for print to say the least).
Namely, two things:
1. you did a workout
2. you were sleep deprived that night (forcibly)
Next night’s sleep you get a higher amplitude GH pulses than normal. So in effect, if we think of it in terms of training it is EXACTLY like a supercompensation effect from using multiple training sessions to induce an overreaching effect.
Obviously, this is not chronic sleep deprivation or anything, but there is some favorable adaptations that can occur because of temporary sleep deprivation.
Anyway, for the topic I’d agree with your hierarchy. Obviously, you’d die sooner with deprivation of air and water.
Sleep is the anabolic time where your body is refreshed especially your mind not to mention the other tissues in your body. You don’t get sleep, bad stuff happens like depressed immune function and blah blah blah. Increased stress hormones like cortisol, depressed GH/test response…. leads to quicker aging. Plus, the brain goes psycho after like a week of non-sleep.
More important than food.. hmm.. possibly. I mean you have to have sustainance to live. Strictly speaking in terms of being able to go without obviously as you grow you have a tendency to have more reserves to be able to cope with such a loss of food. An infant that goes without food for a week will probably be very close to death while most adults or teens can go probably a month.
I would tend to say yes overall (sleep before food). If we look at sleep, chronic deprivation provokes said stress response which is mostly negative. Chronic deprivation of calories results in… longer life.
Here is the update on the boy. He has apparently had a successful surgery.
Nick Hanson says
So glad to see you posting again. I feel like sleep is sooooo important, thanks for reminding me how much. I know one of the biggest reasons for my body comp changes (including crossfit, and paleo/zone eating) has been the fact that I consistently get 7-8 hours sleep. That being said I should get some sleep now.
BTW I gotta say the most recent episode of BSG was kinda disappointing.
I feel bad about my sporadic posting. When I travel I am just CRUSHED. My sleep sucks and I’m just not very creative with the writing. I don’t want to just throw junk up here for filler…I want it to be good and helpful. I’m actually dealing with a pretty good dose of adrenal fatigue that I swear, felt like it was going to kill me off. Terrible stuff.
You are right…BSG is kinda spinning…season 3 was SOOOOOOOOOOO good. I’ve got an idea how a Jimmy Hendrix song made it into the “Final five”…
Allen Y says
That child also is suffering from a Chiari Malformation. There are a host of other problems other than the lack of sleep that are affecting him.
Going back to the lack of sleep thing recently there was a article in Men’s Health where the author tried a multiphsic sleep experiment for 4 weeks on himself. It was basically you nap for 20 minutes 6 times a day. Of course as soon as the experiment ended he slept 15 hours straight and all of his friends were able to tell that he ended it without even being told just by the simple way he looked/carried himself.
While I know there are proponents of multiphasic sleep out there I just can’t see how you can cut to 120 minutes of total rest to sub in for ~8 hours of rest. Then if add up the deficit over a months time the difference is huge.
It might be a great way to get buy but I suspect the price tag might be BIG.
Leonid S. says
Do you notice Robb that in general amounts of sleep necessary to recover and have more energy than normal once an individual goes onto pretty strict Zone/Paleo (with or without IF).
I notice that my sleep time decreases from 8-9 hours to 6-7 as soon as I get in the zone for a week and my energy soars.
A few people said same things about it.
You know…I’ve never noticed the decrease in sleep need. Coach Glassman has mentioned it. Barry Sears talks about it, but like creatine, I suspect I’m a non-responder! The thing about this…I am always tight on my nutrition…I just can’t eat much junk and if anything I tend towards really low carb….so the only real uptick I get from the Zone is I have better glycogen reserves and can do better on WOD’s. Post WO carb intake definitely minimizes soreness for me…but I do not see the dramatic change many people see. I wonder if this is a function of how much the diet gets cleaned up? How far off the rails are you by comparison to when you are Zoning?
Rhett is a very interesting case, but it’s difficult to translate a cranial deformation to an entire population. However, I found another article that stated some of Rhetts problems.
Most notable among his problems are irritability and learning disabilities. This article says that, although short, he did get some sleep during the night and a quick nap at night. When deprived of REM sleep the body will skip Phase 1-3 of sleep and go right to REM when a person finally gets to bed. This may help explain why Rhett has survived as long as his has with his condition.
Luckily he has had surgery and has just recently had a full nights sleep. I’m sure this will help with his irritability problems and also help him grow as a 3 year old should.
On a personal note, I can go about 20 hours without sleep (depending on the situation) but right when I’m around that 24 hour mark I become extrememly paranoid.
Sleep RULES ! Believe me, I have tried to convince cortisol-zombies of the importance of this essential activity for life… they might be convinced from you. thanks for your post (and glad u have time!)
The celiac discussion was right on target too — and it’s been on my thoughts (&blog) as well — silent celiac disease actually causes ALL these below conditions — which everyone I know HAS…
And good dietary nutritional factors have been shown to reverse/ameliorate these:
1) enough vit D to get blood to 25(OH)D3 = 60 ng/ml
2) fish oil 3000mg EPA+DHA (or even higher)
(and as you mentioned gluten-wheat-elimination, ie paleo diet)
Have you read that Cordain piece on north-south skin pigmentation, vit-d and gluten? SUUUPER good.
J Jones says
Some interesting reading are the studies of artillery crews and soldiers being pushed without sleep (found out about these through Dave Grossman’s “On Combat”).
Good stuff (data wise, not what those boys had to go through).
Haico Bianchi says
Regarding sleep. There is a guy called Steve Pavlina who tried the polyphasic sleep thing for a few months. It worked wonders for him but it got him so much out of sync with the rest of the world that he abandond it. You can find the artikels at:
Leonid S. says
I usually deal now with Calories/P/C/F breakdowns in grams and less with blocks (I convert them after I do the math).
Before the recent Zone streak I was doing
2700-3000 cal / 300 g pro/
You are feeling/performing better on Zone ratios? Better sleep?
Leonid S. says
Did my post got cut off? If it did – I’ll repost the data again.
Sleep is just less. I sleep well always. It’s rather I wake up a bit easier and usually can stay up an hour or two longer than before.
Performance wise – better on metcon and just a tiny bit worse on strength (lower body) but better on upper body strength (and even that might be of a result of overtraining).
A week after switching to strict zone – got 7 strict hspu (normally I kip) and a deadhang muscle up – both pr’s. And a few days later – a Big Boys MU Greg E style.
Yes! I have read about Cordain’s theory and it all makes sense to me (he has apparently evidence that wheat agglutin proteins reduce vitamin D activation in the skin too). Thanks! G
Mike OD - IF Life says
and I read this as I am watching Family Guy re-runs right now….
Gabriel Land says
Actually, warmth would come right after air. Any survival class will teach us that the first order of business in a dire situation is securing a warm shelter/fire. Without it we will never see thirst or hunger become a pressing matter.
It’s projected to be in the 100’s (F) in Chico today…I think thirst wins! We did do a gig in Edmonton and it was -50C…that day, cold trumps thirst!
I think meggie found this artile on a sleepless night but i am curious if you have heard anything about the U shaped curve this guy talks about? There is definetly some dragging when i get too much sleep.
Not the best source (yahoo) but interesting point. Thoughts?
I’m going to tackle this in another post, great find!
Gabriel Land says
Good point Robb, depending on the climate, dying of dehydration can occur faster than dying of hypothermia, while oxygen stays always at the most important of exogenous necessities. In such conditions though, hyperthermia might kill someone faster than hypothermia, in which case moving about seeking water may not be the smartest course of action and it might be prudent to seek shade and wait out the heat until the evening.
However there is one thing that kills faster than suffocation/drowning, as I learned in my wilderness first responder course, and that is a wound to a major artery, particularly the carotid or femoral arteries as they are the most exposed and susceptible.
Robb — I am an insomniac (for about 8 years now) and often don’t sleep well–6 hours instead of the 8 I would prefer. When necessary (i.e. because I need rest for a big day at work the next day or a test when I was in school), I use ambien to ensure I get a reasonable nights sleep. I often feel more rested because I got more sleep, but not as rested as I do when I get a full nights sleep w/o the drugs. How much do ambien and similar drugs detract from the helpful effects of sleep?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll check on the pharmacology of Ambien…I do know that a common sleep aid, benedryl (diphenhydramine) works by blocking histamine production…which also shuts off growth hormone secretion. Not too damn restful. I suspect Ambien is s similar story but I’ll check. It’s rare that we get a free lunch!
First of all, I wanted to tell you what a pleasure it was to meet/train w/ you @ the Camp Pendelton cert this past weekend. Thanks for all the great info and training, as well as for furthering my already existing CF addiction! The whole team was amazing and this was by far the best certification I have ever attended as far as knowledge gained & professionalism by the staff. Absolutely incredible and can’t wait for my next opportunity to get more of the kool aide ;o) I was truly amazed at how much insight you were able to provide in the short time you were allotted (I could have listened to you talk nutrition for hours on end) and found all the info fascinating (started the zone today as promised so we’ll see if we can lean out some of the mass). Of course now we move to the topic of this discussion…sleep deprivation & its effects on your health, training & life in general so of course I find it enlightening per our conversation Sunday (disturbing is really more accurate due to my lack of anything even resembling a normal sleep cycle). Promise I will be adding sleep into the regime as well as rest days to limit overtraining! Look forward to seeing what other RWOW’s (Robb’s words of wisdom) are posted here in the future. Take care&Happy CrossFitting.
That was a fantastic weekend…makes me want to be a Marine! OohRAH!! THANK YOU for the kind words…I love doing the certs and helping folks. I did a year of medical school and pulled the plug on it because I felt like it was pinning in the wind…you never really help people, just stem the tide of the inevitable. I actually feel like I make a difference at these events and, well, it’s damn fun to boot!
Keep me posted on your improving sleep schedule(hint)
Ricardo Carvalho says
I’ve read somewhere that most humans can’t survive if totally deprived from air/oxygen for more than 4 minutes, from drinking water for more than 4 days and/or from food for more that 4 weeks. So I would rank my priorities as this: Air > Water > Food (pizza not included). I don’t know about sleep deprivation. Can you die just because of being forced not to sleeping for a few days?
That is my understanding…a week or so of no sleep causes cardiac arrhythmias and a host of other problems…I’ll track down some additional info.
With regards to “No favorable adaptation to sleep deprivation”, scientists have found that short term sleep deprivation can alleviate depression:
So there may be some use in staying up all night.
But more recently (though known for some time), others have found that fasting the day before and then eating at upon waking can be used to resync the food entrainable circadian rhythms. In short, fast, fly to Bejing, eat breakfast with them, and you will be on their time. This may work well for Paleo Dieters wanting to snap out of a little insomnia.
I’ve been working on a post looking at sleep deprivation and depression…the key here is punctuated exposure!
Great find on the re-sync info!
Hey Robb! So here is an update…the good, bad&ugly of it. Starting w/ the good…upon my return from the cert I decided to take your advice and hit the zone. I am all for reducing my mass, leaning out some more(still don’t wanna buy Coach’s comment to Eva T about being 1 nut shy of being a dude. LOL!), getting stronger&faster and improving PR’s. Currently I am on 13 blocks and have managed to follow it fairly well the past 2 weeks minus a few hiccups (here comes the bad…it was my b-day and I was still traveling up until last week so did the best I could but had a few issues with the portions especially when I wound up @ an all you can eat sushi buffet 2x. Very dangerous place for 1 that luvs the fishies). All in all, however, I felt I did a fairly good job follwoing the diet. Those thoughts were confirmed when I finally made my return to my CF home in Athens, GA, Wednesday night for FGB. The first thing out of our trainer’s mouth was “You’ve been zoning”. He was amazed that I had not been as strict as I should and that my body still adapted the way it did so wants to take before and after pics and have me do it hard for 30 days to show what changes can be made as well as track my WOD results, so that coupled with all the RWOW’s you dished out @ the cert and that night @ the OC Tavern have made me want to go as strict as possible and see what my body comes up with, so rest assured you will be hearing from me again to tweak the program on my quest to becoming a lean,mean crossfitting machine. I am just kicking my own ass for not sticking with it up to this point b/c who knows where I’d be.
Now here comes the ugly (always saving the BEST for last)…the sleep issue. Still lucky to get 5 hours a night (this is on a very good day). I realize how much I am affecting my lifespan, daily health and performance. Don’t get me wrong, I hold my own pretty good but would love to see what I’d be capable of if I could get adequate rest. So trying to figure out what’s going on. Got homw the other night from work @ 9 and should’ve headed straight for the rack since that would allow me exactly 7 1/2 hours. Instead I was lying down about 1030 and did not go to sleep until almost 1200. Once I finally drifted off, it wasn’t an hour & 1/2 later that I was wide awake again. This sort of thing happens all the time. Either I stay up til 12,1,2 and then just thrive on 2-3 hours of sleep or I will wake up throughout the night and have bouts of insomnia where it takes me anywhere from 45 mins to sometimes hours to go back to bed. No clue what’s going on but since you are the guru when it comes to all theis stuff, decided to let you chime in and give me some recommendations. BTW-sorry for the novel! Hope all is well in Cali and if you ever find yourself in the Peach State you know you’re ALWAYS welcome. Take care&Happy CrossFitting. Lauren
I think your experience is typical that even moderate shifts towards a paleo/zone approach produces stunning results. I really like that idea of a 30 day super tight experiment…see how much you can ratchet it down and what the results are. THEN you have a baseline of perfect compliance and training to compare/contrast with say a 1 cheat day per week scenario. The interesting thing is you will likely feel BETTER overall with the 1 day off the rails…both physically and emotionally. The Zone is a BOATLOAD of discipline and it borders on the OCD…but it fracking works.
Sleep-That is a tough one…we noticed that if we can keep the light low and no computer/TV in the evenings we crash out pretty easily. Sounds like you run a very tight schedule so it can be hard to simply plough through the door, hop in bed and sleep. I think we need some “in-between” time where we are just hanging out…but obviously this whittles into our potential sleep time…tough to balance. You might try 100mg 5HTP before bed to solidify the quality of your sleep. 1000mg of buffered vit-c can also reduce cortisol levels before bed…this is a big help for me. Keep me posted, send photos of the transformation!
I work as a polysomnographic technologist in Mississippi, where there are vast numbers of obese people. I could not agree more. People with severe cases of sleep apnea can resemble the walking dead. We recently conducted a study on a 167 lb 3 year old . During the night she awoke every 15 seconds from a collapsing airway, and with each arousal her heart rate would jump 40 bpm, if only for a few seconds. The same goes for a 397 lb 8 year old girl we recently tried to titrate on cpap (continuous positive airway pressure).
In both cases the patients were hindered in virtually every measurable spectrum of development. In the 8 year olds case, her apnea was resolved with cpap and has turned a corner, grades up, losing weight, and joined the choir!
Great information…all i can say is “WOW”. 400lb 8 year olds?! Stunning AND tragic.