“Sleep, delicious and profound, the very counterfeit of death” – Homer, The Odyssey
Thomas Edison, one of the inventors of the light bulb, said, “Sleep is a criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days”. According to Margaret Thatcher, “Sleeping is for wimps!”. It is true that famous insomniacs have changed the world: Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton to name but three. Yet they are the exceptions to the rule. For the rest of us, less than seven hours sleep per night is simply not enough.
Let’s face it, lack of sleep at night can stop you functioning during the day. People who are sleep deficient take longer to finish tasks, have slower reaction times and make more mistakes.
Sleep helps your brain to function. While you sleep, your brain is preparing for the next day, forming neural pathways to help take in and remember information. Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning. It also helps with paying attention, decision making and creativity.
Lack of sleep may mean you have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and coping with change. You could become angry, impulsive, sad, depressed, even lacking in motivation. Then you could become stressed about your lack of sleep, the vice-like fingers of insomnia will tighten its grip, the stress will be magnified and you will face another night of staring at the ceiling.
If all that was not bad enough, prolonged lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. It can also cause higher than normal blood sugar, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Then there is the damage to your immune system; ongoing sleep deficiency may mean you are more susceptible to common infections.
We’ve all heard the saying “asleep at the wheel”. Studies have show that sleep deprivation interferes with your ability to drive as much as, if not more than alcohol. It is not just about car accidents – lack of sleep has played a role in human errors linked to train derailments, shipping and aviation accidents.
Okay, you know you need your sleep but what can you do to make sure that you get enough?
Here are ten tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:
Get into a routine. Try going to bed at the same time every night. Have a ‘wind-down’ period which includes unplugging your electronic devices at least one hour before bed. Maybe have a warm drink, say chamomile tea or warm milk.
Meditation before bedtime could help you to un-wind. But meditation isn’t for everyone. Even just sitting in a comfortable chair and listening to your favourite calming music could help.
Avoid naps during the day. While some people swear by a power nap in the afternoon, for now, don’t do it. You want to be tired when you go to bed.
Re-think what you eat in the evening. Avoid heavy meals and too much alcohol. Cut out tea and coffee after four o’clock in the afternoon.
Look at your overall nutrition. Are you eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes? Try to eliminate over-processed, high sugar food that might be slowing down your metabolism.
Tiredness and dehydration go hand in hand so drink plenty of fluid throughout the day. Avoid sugary and energy drinks; good old fashioned water is best.
Exercise every day; the more vigorous the better and preferably in the morning.
Take advantage of bright sunlight during the day to increase your level of vitamin D; when night falls keep the lighting mellow to help your body clock wind down naturally.
Cut out the critical self-talk. Don’t lie in bed going over and over something in your mind. It could be a problem at work, it might be something that you fear is going to happen, or it could be an unresolved argument. The chances of resolving it by lying there and obsessing about it are zero. Of course, the more you push it away, the more it seems to take hold.
Time to try a little exercise from Mallika Chopra, daughter of Deepak, designed to short circuit anxiety. It’s called STOP and it’s a great little stress buster that needn’t be saved up just for bed-time.
Take three breaths
Observe what you are feeling
According to Chopra, “By taking the time to pause, breath, and acknowledge your emotions, you get control over your body’s fight-or-flight reaction to whatever you’re thinking. Your heart rate will slow and you can move on instead of analyzing it too much.”
Phyllis Diller famously said, ‘Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” Clearly Ms. Diller was joking but she got the first part right. Try to avoid arguments and tears before bedtime. If your partner needs to get a few things off his or her chest then listen, nod sagely and make a few soothing remarks. You don’t have to agree or acquiesce but if they feel that they have been listened to then that might be enough to avoid tension and a full blown argument.
Sleeping for seven or eight hours straight: Is it really necessary?
Sleeping straight through the night is a relatively new thing. In the time before the electric light bulb—thank you Thomas Edison et al—humans would go to bed when darkness fell and wake up in the middle of the night. They’d be awake for a few hours and then go back to sleep. So waking in the middle of the night isn’t necessarily a sign of insomnia, as long as you can go back to sleep you will still get the all-important seven or eight hours. So no need to start obsessing about the ill effects of sleep deprivation.
“Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.” Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
What bedtime hack do you swear by? Leave a comment below as we’d love to know.