Do you value and protect your sleep or do you believe that sleep is something you’ll do when you stop working? Can you survive on a few hours sleep, or are you the eight-hours-each-night kind of person?
I am in the final stages of writing my book, which will be published this summer. I have a whole chapter on the benefits of sleep and the damage that a chronic lack of sleep can have on our health, beauty, society and productivity.
Having made some inquiries to various universities studying different facets of sleep, I came to the conclusion there is an epidemic of sleep deprivation accompanying our “go-go-go” lifestyles.
Constantly “being on the go” is rather like having your foot on the accelerator of your car whilst your foot is also on the brake. Do this in your car and you’ll break the engine — our bodies are no different.
Our constant business and “instant connection and gratification lifestyle” are putting undue pressure on our bodies and relationships. Couple that with our love affair with caffeine and a lack of proper relaxation before bed and you have a recipe for damage to our emotional and mental wellbeing.
Sleep issues may precede the first signs of serious mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia according to Russell Foster, PhD, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University, England and co-author of the book Sleep: A Very Short Introduction (available at the library soon).
I protect and prioritize my sleep and I nurture it. I usually sleep very well, but I know I can do better; I am not choosing a regular bed time, which is key to helping my body develop a healthy sleep-wake cycle. I also am not getting morning sunlight every day, which is important for the body to maintain its "clock" that is still reliant on the rising and setting of the sun.
What we are stimulating, with natural morning sunlight, are light sensors in the eye called ganglion cells and they are in charge of resetting our "clock." We need light on these ganglion cells to create a healthy sleep-wake cycle; the timing is important or we can inadvertently create jet lag without having flown anywhere. A lot of the time we are in “dim little boxes” according to Professor Foster. Many of our homes and workplaces have little natural light. I would add that fresh air is generally of benefit and in fact, if you are struggling to sleep, enjoying a walk to the end of the street after supper can be a great help.
Limiting the amount of light after supper is sensible. Too much blue-spectrum light can have a detrimental effect on our sleep and the quality of the sleep we get. How many of us watch television or stare at a computer screen, mobile phone or tablet in the evenings? That blue light has a stimulating effect increasing our levels of alertness at a time when we need to be winding down.
According to Dr. Bengt Arnetz, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Wayne State University, using a mobile phone in the hour before bed may activate the brain's stress system: "Making people more alert and more focused, and decreasing their ability to wind down and fall asleep.”
Many people ride a daily wave of sedatives and stimulants and Professor Foster says this is particularly noticeable in teenagers in the United Kingdom. Typically, this cycle begins with poor sleep; waking up needing a “pick me up” a family-sized cup of coffee is gulped down or a can of fizzy, monstrous energy is deployed. There is a lot of caffeine in these drinks.
I like a cup of good coffee; I am not anti-coffee per se, just anti “too much,” especially if you have sleep issues. Could you survive without a cup of coffee? Ask yourself how you would feel if there was a rockslide on the highway and the town ran out of coffee? Would you be okay or would you be organizing a community heli-drop of beans from the outside world? Your answer might be telling.
Clarity can come from a short nap — 10 to 15 minutes seems to be the answer. My mum says “see how you feel in the morning” and usually what appears to be a pressing concern at 9 p.m. is long gone after having a good night’s sleep. John Steinbeck said, “A problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”
In the few years I have been researching my book I would go to bed rather than stay up late waiting for inspiration. Sleep “restores your energy, fights off illness and fatigue by strengthening your immune system, helps you think more clearly and creatively, strengthens memory and produces a more positive mood and better performance throughout the day,” according to the University of Georgia, Health Center.
We need to re-educate ourselves and start to value sleep. Sleep isn’t for wimps or sissies, sleep is for those that wish to be successful, clear headed, healthy and happy.
Tips for a good night’s sleep:
Open the bedroom window — fresh air all year round!
Put a blanket on the bed if you are cold.
Wear bed socks, if you get cold hands and feet.
Hot bath before bed, with a drop of lavender oil.
Turn off your mobile phone.
Joanna writes for www.ActualOrganics.com and likes a hot bath and an early bed.