How did you sleep last night?
Did you get to bed on time to allow yourself enough shut-eye hours before the alarm clock rang? Did you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to bring your best self to work?
Or did you find yourself crawling out of bed this morning, feeling foggy-headed and having to knock-back the coffees in order to function?
A problem of epidemic proportion
If it’s the latter, you are not alone. According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker in his bestselling book, ‘Why We Sleep’, two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to regularly obtain the recommended amount of sleep we all need for our brains and bodies to function optimally. Sleep deprivation has reached epidemic proportions. The World Health Organisation stipulate an average requirement of 8 hours sleep per night for adults. If you’re consistently getting 7 hours or less of sleep per night you are officially sleep-deprived.
A workday far from perfect
And according to Walker, regular sleep deprivation will, without doubt, not only be impacting your health, but also your mood, your decision-making ability, your memory and the way you interact with others. So, unless your idea of a perfect workday consists of feeling irritable, forgetful and drained, it’s worth stepping back and considering some strategies to ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance of a healthy night of sleep.
Acting like a zombie
Perhaps sleep isn’t a big priority for you, and you feel you’re one of those people who gets by fine on just 4 or 5 hours sleep a night then think again. Sure, there is a very rare genetic predisposition that makes a tiny percentage of people more resilient to sleep deprivation. But according to Walker, who has spent his entire professional life investigating the science of sleep, it is extremely unlikely that you are one of these people. Most of the time we think we’re doing okay when sleep deprived, but this is because after a few days of sleep deprivation we tend to acclimatise to feeling and acting like a zombie. Before you know it, a sub-optimal state becomes the new normal and you fail to notice the impact.
Of course, we all know that the modern world throws a great deal of distraction at us. Our devices constantly call for our attention, there’s an overwhelming range of addictive TV entertainment to catch up on, we work late and our fear of missing out tempts us into staying online for longer than is healthy.
So, what can you do?
- Stick to a sleep schedule as much as possible.
This means that you not only set an alarm to wake you up in the morning but also to remind you to go to bed. It’s a myth that you can catch up on a week of bad sleep by sleeping in at weekends, so instead try to keep your sleep pattern consistent so that your body can find a regular rhythm for sleeping and waking. Make sure you allow yourself time for 8 hours sleep opportunity – which means setting aside more time if you’re someone who frequently wakes during the night.
If you’re someone who finds it difficult to tear yourself away from your screen late at night, consider the life hack suggested by James Clear in his book ‘Atomic Habits’ by investing in a timer switch that cuts the power to your internet router at a fixed time each night. Sure, you can go fumbling with switches and restore the power, but it’s certainly going to be impossible to ignore this reminder!
- Consider what you’re drinking
It’s worth remembering that the effects of caffeinated drinks like coffee, colas, some teas and chocolate can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. If you’re someone who has trouble sleeping, consider cutting caffeine after midday.
Alcoholic drinks keep you in light sleep stages and rob you of the deeper stages so important for brain health and repair so alcohol before bed is best avoided.
- Create a bedtime ritual
Before hitting the sack, create a bedtime ritual that allows you time to wind-down. Switch off screens and devices designed for stimulation, dim the lights, use blackout curtains, cool the bedroom and do something relaxing that doesn’t over-excite the brainwaves, like reading or listening to calm music. A hot bath or shower before bed works well as it will cause your body temperature to drop once you step out, triggering your natural circadian rhythm to put you into a drowsy state. Do whatever feels good for you – maybe diffuse some lavender essential oil, massage your feet, or take the opportunity to practice some simple breathing or meditation techniques.
- Get some ‘me time’
Consider the potential gains of having one of those blissful deep night’s sleep. It has the power to serve up a great mood and the kind of performance and mood enhancing qualities that could potentially get us closer to that dream promotion or nurture fantastic team relationships at work.
And in the modern world where we tend to over schedule our time and self-care gets low priority, couldn’t you do with clearing a little more space for some nice old-fashioned, good-for-the-soul pampering? Surely, we all work hard enough to deserve that.
Let’s reclaim our bedtimes as ‘me times’ and enjoy the magical brain and body-restoring properties of sleep!