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Donald Trump’s sleep-bragging highlights a broader issue – Chicago Tribune

Your average American is unlikely to brag about, say, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, eating his weight in red meat or downing a fifth of gin for breakfast.

But bragging about sleep deprivation?

Yep, that’s a thing.

Despite studies showing links with diabetes, high blood pressure and weight gain, sleeping just a few hours a night was a badge of honor long before Donald Trump’s repeated — and very flattering — public comments on his own ability to get by on three or four hours. In Springfield on Monday, he touted this trait, saying, “I have a great temperament for success. … You know, I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.”

On Wednesday morning, having caught a plane to New Hampshire after Tuesday’s Republican debate in Milwaukee, he went further, saying he’d only had 90 minutes of sleep.

This isn’t a partisan issue — Bill Clinton’s legend rests in part on his tolerance for sleep deprivation, and CEOs and inventors (Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Thomas Edison) let it be known that they’re part of the club. Most of us have friends, neighbors or, sigh, co-workers who broadcast their superhuman sleeplessness — or simply send emails at 5 a.m. to let us know how on top of it they are.

The problem, experts say, is that very few of us — in the realm of 1 percent — can actually flourish on just a few hours of sleep a night, and sleep-bragging makes what for most of us is an unhealthy practice seem more desirable.

“It sets a precedent,” Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, says of sleep-bragging. “If people feel they can work harder or achieve more by sleeping less, then they’re opening themselves up to sleep deprivation.

“And the consequences of sleep deprivation? People who are sleep deprived have a higher rate of diabetes, a higher rate of high blood pressure. And let me say this: High blood pressure? That’s the most common risk factor for heart disease in our country. Diabetes? The deadliest risk factor for heart disease. And both are seen in patients who are sleep deprived.”

Studies show that some people truly can do well on just four hours of sleep a night, but Kat Duff, author of “The Secret Life of Sleep,” says you’re probably not one of them. Maybe 1 percent of us are truly genetically predisposed short-sleepers, she says. More people are sleep braggers.

Duff says that the sleep deprived miss out on REM sleep, in which we do emotional processing. They tend to be more irritable, less cooperative, more impulsive, more likely to blame others than the sleep satisfied, she says. They may also have difficulty listening.

“It’s scary to think of someone like that making big decisions,” she says.

There’s also a Catch-22: if you’re sleep-deprived, it may be hard to get more sleep because your judgment may be affected. Think of the times you blew a diet at night or stayed up late watching TV you didn’t even like. It may, similarly, be hard to make yourself go to bed on time when you’re already overtired, Duff says.

Dasgupta and Duff both point toward a deep-seated bias in our culture toward sleeping less and doing more.

Dasgupta ticks off some of the well-known sayings: “I can sleep when I’m dead.” “The early bird gets the worm.” And for Gen-X and millennials: “Sleep is a poor substitute for caffeine.”

We need about seven to eight hours of sleep a night, Dasgupta says, but that’s just an average: Some of us need more and some can handle less. As for four hours a night, night after night?

“I would be very, very surprised,” he says. “There’s something called sleep debt. If you don’t get the sleep that you need, the debt accumulates throughout the week. To function well on four hours of sleep a night for a week? That’s pretty tough.”

Twitter @nschoenberg

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