Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?
The ‘ad’ above appears in neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s bestselling book, ‘Why We Sleep’. Although the ad itself is fictitious, all the claims that it makes are the scientifically proven benefits of getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.
If sleep is the equivalent of a free ‘wonder drug’ offering so many amazing benefits, why is it so common these days for us to give sleep such low priority in our lives? The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared a sleep-loss epidemic throughout industrialised nations and our failure to prioritise sleep can leave us tired, sick and unable work effectively.
Working and Playing 24/7
In the words of Phyllis C. Zee, MD, PhD, a neurology professor, “With artificial lighting we’ve been able to fool our brain and internal clocks that it’s still daylight and remain alert. Bedtimes have become later, but wake times have not. The result is a sleep-deprived society.”
Recent advances in technology have resulted in a huge surge in time we spend looking at screens. Electronic devices such as televisions, personal computers, tablets, and smartphones emit blue light that can hurt sleep.
According to Alyssa Cairns, PhD, a sleep research scientist, “Exposure to blue light can suppress melatonin, which allows you to transition to sleep. If it’s suppressed, you are not able to fall asleep as easily.”
In addition, using computers and phones for playing interactive games and social networking can activate and excite the brain, making it harder to fall asleep.
“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
In today’s busy world, increasing demands on your time means less of it is available for sleep. People are working longer hours and trying to cram more into a 24-hour day then they did in past decades.
If you have a demanding job or are trying to get ahead on your responsibilities, you might be caught in a vicious cycle of skimping on or skipping sleep altogether to work longer, but this kind of lifestyle can seriously backfire. It is a dangerous myth that working longer and harder will result in increased performance.
Sean P.A. Drummond, PhD identifies the following reduction in performance caused by missing sleep:
- Attention and concentration. You may notice your mind drifting or find it hard to focus, especially if you’re trying to concentrate for a sustained time.
- You may have trouble holding multiple things, like three or four numbers, in your head at once.
- Decision-making. Without sleep, you’re less likely to step outside the box and be creative, or come up with new ideas.
- Reaction time. Not only can this be a big problem in some jobs, it can also make commuting by car extremely risky.
So what can you do?
If you’re routinely tired, short-tempered or distracted at work, consider the priority you give sleep. To give yourself a fighting chance of some quality rest (and some workday sanity), take a look at the following sleep-improving tips:
- Stick to a sleep schedule that allows for 8 hours of sleep time. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Try setting an alarm to remind yourself it’s time to go to bed.
- Limit your caffeine intake. The stimulating effects can last in your bloodstream up to 8 hours, so a late afternoon coffee can make it hard for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
- Take time to relax and unwind before bed with activities such as reading or listening to music. Taking a hot bath or shower causes a drop in body temperature once you step out, which can help you feel sleepy.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. A nightcap can keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, robbing you of the brain-repairing deeper sleep cycles.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and free of gadgets such as TV’s, smartphones, bright lights or computers.
- Try to get outside in natural daylight for at least thirty minutes each day, and dim the lights before bedtime.
See full list here
Reaching for the coffee?
It’s a well-known response to grab a strong coffee to help wake yourself up, but do you know how caffeine blocks our feelings of fatigue? This Ted.com talk offers an insight into the pro’s and con’s of the world’s most commonly used drug.
To Nap or Not to Nap?
An afternoon nap may not be your boss’s idea of a productivity boost, but they may be pleasantly surprised by the consequences.
Our bodies are programmed for two natural periods of sleepiness during a 24-hour day, no matter how much sleep we’ve had in the previous 24 hours. The primary period is at night, and a second period occurs in the midafternoon, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. So there’s a reason why afternoon meetings may leave your head drooping.*
While naps do not make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap (20-30 minutes) provides significant benefit for improved alertness, mood, memory and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep. However – if you tend to have trouble sleeping at night, stick to napping before 3pm, otherwise you may find this makes it harder for you to get to sleep at bedtime.**