Sleep. It’s seems almost insultingly simple. We’re not toddlers, we are grown adults! Surely our issues stem from far greater challenges than lack of sleep. But what we fail to appreciate is the extent to which our ability to deal with the challenges life throws at us comes down to a few basic factors, including nutrition and how much sleep we’ve had.
In our ‘always-on’ work culture, sleep deprivation has become a bragging right. It implies that we’re extremely busy - and therefore extremely productive, ambitious and important. But there is just too much research about the consequences of sleep deprivation to ignore. It’s all a bit gloomy, so here are the quick notes:
1. Lack of sleep leads to poor decision making and reduced productivity.
2. Sleep deprivation prevents our brains from being able to make new memories, so incoming information get bounced as though from a faulty inbox.
3. Sleep deprivation leads to increased development of a toxic protein in the brain called beta-amyloid which is linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Sleep deprivation affects the reproductive system, lowering men’s testosterone levels to that of someone 10 years their senior.
5. Lack of sleep suppresses the immune system, including the ability of our bodies to fight cancer cells. Insufficient sleep is a predictor for several kinds of cancer.
6. Less than 6 hours sleep a night is associated with a 200% increased risk in having a fatal heart attack or stroke over a lifetime
I’m pretty darn convinced!
For the majority of us, around 8 hours is ideal. Only 1-3% of people have a particular genetic mutation that allows them to get by on very little sleep. Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos is on the cheer squad for decent sleep - "I just feel so much better all day long if I've had eight hours," he said. Bill Gates aims for at least 7 hours a night to stay creative, and Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post is the official sleep queen of our time.
So here’s the challenge:
Get an extra 30 minutes of sleep every night for a week, and see how you feel. Set an alarm half an hour before bed, and use that time to dim the lights and wind down with calm, device-free activities. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, leave your phone outside the bedroom (yes, they still sell alarm clocks) and take a few minutes for some deep breathing, meditation or gentle stretches. If you're not sure where to start, check out this blog post for an easy breathing technique. Lastly, check in with your caffeine intake. Caffeine has a half life of 5-6 hours, so that 3pm latte is still 50% active in your system at 9pm.
We tend to act as though sleeping is a waste of time that could be better spent elsewhere. But sleep is a time of intense cognitive maintenance. Getting adequate sleep brings greater productivity and joy to every moment that we are awake.