…..or is it?
We’re hearing more and more about how getting enough sleep is critical to our physical and mental health. In common with most living creatures, we need to spend about a third of our lives asleep. Yet most of us live busy and stressful lives often ignoring or minimizing this fundamental need. Even when we’re tired at night, we push ourselves to stay awake, checking emails or having another drink at a party or watching one more episode on Netflix. We have, in our advanced society, an increasingly dysfunctional relationship with sleep.
The repercussions on our wellbeing range from the mildly inconvenient to the worryingly severe. When we haven’t had enough sleep, we tend to get moody, our memory becomes impaired, we make poor decisions at work, we snap at members of our family and so the list continues. More significantly, lack of sleep is frequently a contributory factor in an accident or injury. Over a prolonged period, sleep deprivation can have serious health implications, including an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. It reduces our ability to fight infection leading to higher rates of illness. It can also be a negative influence on a range of mental health issues including clinical depression, anxiety and paranoia, and at the extreme end of the spectrum inducing psychosis and even death.
Sleep deprivation affects a surprisingly large proportion of the population.
- In the UK, one in three people have chronic insomnia and four out of five people have disturbed or inadequate sleep.
- A study of 10,000 people carried out over two decades by the University of Warwick and University College London found that people who reduced their sleep from seven to five hours a night nearly doubled their risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- Research carried out in the Netherlands demonstrated that sleep-deprived workers across a range of industries were 70% more likely to be involved in accidents than their well-rested co-workers.
- Doctors working frequent 24-hour shifts make 36% more serious medical errors and five times as many serious diagnostic errors than those whose work is limited to 16 consecutive hours.
- People who get less than 7 hours sleep a night are 30% more likely to be categorized as obese than those who get nine hours of sleep or more.
Sleep deprivation is not just an issue for the person who is tired; it generally impacts the people around them too. A child who has had less sleep is badly behaved, an adult who has less sleep is grumpy, crotchety and possibly unkind and a worker who is tired and operating machinery, driving a car, flying a plane, sailing a ship or carrying out a medical operation, can be lethal. So why don’t we just ensure we get more sleep? For a start, we’re only just starting to understand just how important sleep is and what the severe repercussions of prolonged sleep deprivation are. Then there is the problem of us, as humans who have in large part not evolved over the past 50,000 years, have a profound mismatch between our physiological drivers and the frenetic and complex contemporary world we live in.
So what can we do?
In 2009, Littlehale coached the Sky cycling team in their sleep habits, seeking to maximize their recovery during the Tour de France race. They were advised to do the following:
- To ensure their room is at the best temperature (typically between 16 and 18 degrees Centigrade).
- To eliminate sugary and fatty foods and to be careful about consuming caffeine later in the day. Alcohol is something to be avoided completely. Athletes are given a milk-based protein drink at bedtime to encourage drowsiness.
- To remove any electrical devices from their bedroom, but if that is not possible, they certainly shouldn’t look at their mobile, TV, or computer in the 90 minutes before bed. The light emitted from them can affect the natural circadian rhythm and prevent sleep.
- To use 90 minute sleep cycles, which is the period of time required for us to go through all of the phases of REM and non-REM, to work out when to wake up. Working on this principle, sleep should be 6 hours, 7.5 hours or 9 hours which he explains can be shifted according to what’s going on in someone’s life to ensure they maximize their sleep.
- Then as always I also advocate mindfulness and meditation—medical research is increasingly showing that meditation can be more effective than other interventions for the treatment of insomnia, while also improving sleep quality across healthy populations.As little as 10 minutes a day can have a positive impact on sleep quality.
Extract adapted from my first (unpublished book) and my book Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.com, amazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.
References to research in Defining You by Fiona Murden
Photo by Úrsula Madariaga from Pexels.com
Gary Morley (2014) Sport sleep coach’s top tips to improve your slumber, CNN.com, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/12/sport/golf/sport-sleep-coach- nick-littlehales/index.html
D.S. Black, G.A. O’Reilly, R. Olmstead, et al. (2015) Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: A randomized clinical trial, JAMA Internal Medicine 175(4): 494–501.
Travis Usinger (2014) Effect of internet administered mindfulness training on anxiety and sleep quality, Undergraduate Honors Thesis, University of Colorado, Boulder, https://scholar.colorado.edu/honr_theses/727
M.M. Mitler, M.A. Carskadon, C.A. Czeisier, et al. (1988) Catastrophes, sleep, and public policy: Consensus report, Sleep 11(1): 100–9.
Alhola & P. Polo-Kantola (2007) Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 3(5): 553–67. A.J. Krause, E.B. Simon, B.A. Mander, et al. (2017) The sleep-deprived human brain, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 18(7): 404–18. J.J. Pilcher & A.I. Huffcutt (1996) Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: A meta-analysis, Sleep 19(4): 318–26.
W.R. Gove (1970) Sleep deprivation: A cause of psychotic disorganization, American Journal of Sociology 75(5): 782–99. A. Kales, T.L. Tan, E.J. Kollar, et al. (1970) Sleep patterns following 205 hours of sleep deprivation,