There is a global sleep epidemic. And it’s slowly killing us!
We need sleep for a very important reason: memory and learning. When we gather information and knowledge throughout the day, sleep acts as essentially a “save” button for all this accumulated knowledge. Your brain will sort through what it wants to keep and what is deems as unnecessary.
A recent discovery also suggests we actually need sleep BEFORE learning, so the brain is properly prepared to soak up new information (like a sponge). Without proper sleep the parts of the brain responsible for memory are still full, and continuing the metaphor, the sponge can’t soak up anymore the following day.
There was a recent experiment performed that looked into the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain. They researchers took a group of individuals and assigned them to one of two experimental groups: a sleep group and a sleep deprivation group.
The sleep group were allowed a full 8 hours rest, and the deprivation group was kept awake. The deprivation group was also allowed no stimulants of any kind (caffeine) and not allowed to nap at all.
Then both groups were told to learn a whole bunch of facts while their brains are being snapshotted under an MRI machine. Then after 24 hours both groups were tested on how well they retained the facts they studied.
When the groups were tested against each other there was a 40 percent difference in performance with the sleep group outperforming the non sleep group.
Sleep not only impairs memory and retention, but can also impact your physical health drastically.
Matt Walker explains this in his TedX talk:
Now, in the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep (due to daylight savings), we see a subsequent 24-percent increase in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21-percent reduction in heart attacks.
Losing just a single hour of sleep can place significant strain on your cardiovascular functions. Matt has also performed a number of other experiments that highlighted the following issues arising from lack of sleep:
Contributes to decline of memory leading to Alzheimers.
Increased rate of car accidents, and suicide.
Immense drop in immune system strength (upto 70 percent)
Matt rounds off his talk with a harrowing conclusion: The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.
How to improve your sleep
So how do we go about maximising our sleeping hours? And making sure we are getting plenty of quality sleep time?
Following the tips below will help you get not just quantity, but also quality time with your pillow:
More time in the sun:
Your body uses natural light to know when it should be awake. Spending some time in the sunlight triggers natural hormones in your body that help create optimal sleep conditions. The best time to get some sun is between the hours of 6am and 8am.
Caffeine is fine in the mornings to help give you an early boost but it’s important to limit intake of caffeine from ANY source (soda / chocolate) within 8 hours of bedtime. Your body looks for adenosine to know when it should start sending you to sleep, but caffeine essentially stops your body being able to render adenosine. Meaning late at night you may actually be severely fatigued, your body just has no way of telling you.
Keep it cool:
Did you know that your body temperature actually drops when it’s time to sleep? It’s important to not have an overheated room when sleeping, as it can then be difficult for your body to regulate its temperature properly for sleep. For the smoothest temperature transition take a nice warm bath or shower before bed. This will raise your core body temperature ready for a steady decline when you get into fresh and cool bed sheets.
Timing is important:
Your body clock is well aware of the sun’s rise and fall as the day goes by. This is why there is actually a “sweet spot” for maximising recovery during sleep. And that sweet spot is between 10pm and 2am. If you can get to sleep by 10pm and be asleep during this period you will experience a far higher quality of sleep compared to someone who gets the same hours!
Sleep in the dark:
As above, light is the trigger for your body to be awake. So naturally you should sleep in a fully darkened room. Eye masks won’t actually help you here as light is actually absorbed through the skin. Even having an alarm clock that is too bright can inhibit your melatonin production throughout the night. This very important hormone helps pain, immune system and blood pressure while reducing risk of cancer and osteoporosis.
The act of exercising actually creates tears in your muscle fibers and when you get to sleep your body repairs these tears to be stronger. This process actually promotes the production of a load of beneficial hormones that not only help with the repairs but help a lot of systems function. It’s best to workout in the morning as evening workouts might affects your bodies ability to regulate its temperature for sleep. Also try to do some muscle work instead of just cardio as this is better for hormone release.
Get up early:
Getting up as the sun comes up is not only a great way to get your early morning light (see action 1) but also sets you up for sleeping at around 9pm in the evening to hit the “sweet spot” (see action 4). Getting up early is also excellent for your mental health, starting the day with some simple actions to build momentum. Note: Sleep debt is a myth. You cannot catch-up on the weekend if you miss sleep during the week. All you are really doing is throwing your sleep schedule off.
Stay consistent with your bedtime:
If you are following the previous 7 actions it’s important to remain consistent. We respond and function well when there is a pattern to things, so keep things regular and consistent will improve your sleep quality. To help you wind down do things that relax you, read a book, take a walk, write in a journal or take a long bath. It’s also important to remember that while we love patterns we are not perfect. Don’t fret if your routine gets thrown out for 1 or 2 nights of the week. Just get back to it the next day.