Sleep is every bit as important if not more so on our well being than eating and even movement. It is a foundational element to a Happy Mind. Sleep is the fountain of youth of sorts, enhancing the function of just about every organ in the body and every process in the brain. Good sleep pretty much makes us better at everything. When your mother told you that everything would look better in the morning, she was right!
One of this week’s challenges is in terms of sleep which we will explain in more detail at the bottom of this section.
The current situation
As a society, we are in a sleep crisis. More than 60% of us in the West are not getting our recommended 7-8 hours sleep a night recommended by the World Health Organisation. A recent study revealed that in 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night; in 2017, almost one in two people is. Children and teenagers of all ages are sleeping one hour and 10 minutes less a night, on average, than they did a century ago. It really is a sleep epidemic and having serious ramifications on all aspects of our lives.
Research by the Royal Society for Public Health in 2016 found that working adults in the UK typically sleep for 6.8 hours a night.
According to a recent study, Sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue due to sleep deprived workers being less productive, which amounts to 1.6% of GDP and it is a whopping $414 billion that lack of sleep costs the US economy!!
Sleep is not an optional lifestyle luxury, it is a nonnegotiable bodily need. According to experts sleep deprivation is anything less than 7 hours sleep.
Sleep expert Mathew Walker says that research from 10,000 scientific studies, the number of people who can survive on six hours’ sleep, rounded to a whole number, is zero.
You cannot train yourself to need less sleep, this will have a dramatic negative effect on your short and long term health.
In the short term, poor sleep can have an impact on your mood, productivity and interactions. In the long term, it’s been linked to serious medical issues like heart disease, stress, poor memory function, reduced ability to fight infection, weight gain, increased risk of type 2 diabetes and depression.
Why are most of us not sleeping enough?
Sleep deprivation is just an unfortunate side-effect of modern day living. Many of us in the West associate success and reaching the top with having to sacrifice and cut down on sleep. There are many urban myths of iconic political leaders who supposedly survived on 5 hours sleep a night and this was central to their success. In today’s western culture busyness is often heralded as a badge of honour with little sleep being a means of measuring busyness. There seem to be a number of factors that seem at the root of our current sleep epidemic:
Lights – simply put our electrified world is keeping us up later making us ignore our natural biological triggers that want us to sleep. Midnight was called so as it used to be the middle of the night, with less artificial light it might regain the original intended meaning of the word.
Blurred lines between work & life -For many in the West, we are now starting work earlier and finishing later and the lines between work and non work is starting to blur as is down time, rest and off time to unwind.
Screens and technology – entertainment time is keeping us up later
Anxiety – We are lonier and more isolated than ever before (see page x)
Social stigma associating sleep with being weak
Alcohol & caffeine
How sleep happens
We sleep in 90-minute cycles, and it’s only towards the end of each one of these that we go into deep sleep, you need 90 minutes to get to deep sleep, and one cycle isn’t enough to do all the work. You need four or five cycles to get all the benefit. Each cycle comprises two kinds of sleep. First, there is NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep); this is then followed by REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In NREM sleep, vast amounts of memory processing happens before your body settles into a lovely low state of energy, the best blood-pressure medicine you could ever hope for.
REM sleep, is an incredibly active brain state, your heart and nervous system go through spurts of activity.
The 2 areas of focus for this week in terms of forming a good sleep habit
This is the single most important factor according to many sleep experts that will enhance the quality and quantity of your sleep. Essentially it is being really consistent with the time that you go to bed and the time you wake & rise at, both are super important for the quality and consistency of your sleep. It all comes back to our evolutionary circadian rhythm (our internal 24 hour clock) which encourages regularity in terms of your sleep. It releases hormones at certain times to trigger sleep and regularity is one of the anchors of good sleep.
This week part 1 of our sleep challenge for you is to go to bed at the same time this week and get up at the same time everyday for the next 7 days and we hope for the rest of this course! Really do your best with this, we know this is not possible in every situation but this really is one of the foundations of a good sleep habit.
I am like clock work, I start to get tired from 8pm, I dim the lights and start my bedtime routine and by 9 o’clock, 9 days out of 10 I will be in bed by 9pm and then at 5am I will be awake and ready for the day. I am not saying that you need to follow my cycle at all but just to be really conscious of being consistent with your regularity, your natural rhythm might be going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 7am and that is fine just make it regular & consistent whatever your timings are!!
If you stay up later at the weekends or have a bad night sleep, get up at the same time as you usually do (you most likely won’t have to try!!) and simply have a short nap/rest during the day this will help the consistency of your sleep. We will cover napping later in the course.
2. Sleep routine
Forming a bedtime routine is associated with much more consistent and better sleep.
The second part of the sleep challenge this week is to form a bedtime routine. We recommend that an hour before your regular bedtime that you proactively try to wind down.
Dim the lights the hour before bed, disk/darkness helps release melatonin the hormone that helps you sleep and helps to slow the body down.
Avoid any screens the hour before bed or if you really need to do something on a screen ensure that it is dimmed right down. There is lots of blue light blocking software for phones and laptops that don’t inhibit your bodies melatonin release.
Your bedtime routine might include – reading an easy book or take a shower or bath, to actively try to slow down so that when you do hit the sheets you are ready for the journey to dream-land! A couple of tips for this:
Keep your mobile phone out of the bedroom – this will encourage you not to look at it before bed and upon waking up.
Best of luck with this week’s sleep challenge.