We all know sleep is important, but sometimes it’s hard to get a full eight hours every night.
As a business owner and single dad, I get it.
There’s not enough hours in the day, and we end up burning the midnight oil just to get sh*t done.
But when I sat down with sleep scientist Dr. Carmel Harrington, she revealed some shocking facts about sleep deprivation and how it could be affecting you without you realising.
So, here’s what you need to know about sleep and how to get more.
Why is sleep so important?
When Dr Carmel Harrington began researching sleep 20 years ago, it was considered a bit bizarre at the time.
But in the past 10 years, and particularly the last 5 years, we’re sleeping less and screening more than ever.
People are noticing they don’t feel as well, they feel sluggish and foggy which affects their productivity at work.
They’re fatigued and don’t have the energy to really enjoy their time with friends and family.
These are all classic symptoms of sleep deprivation.
So, how much sleep should we be getting?
Most of us require between seven and nine hours of sleep for good physical and mental health.
Two to three percent of the population can get away with much less than the standard 7-9 hours.
Another 2-3% actually need much more than the standard.
So really, there’s no golden rule for how much sleep you should be getting.
It depends a lot on genetics, environment, health, and how much sleep your body individually needs, so it’s very important to have an understanding of your baseline energy and what feels good for you.
The reason for this is we perform unique functions when we’re asleep that we can’t do when we’re awake.
What we do when we’re awake, like eating and drinking, keeps us alive. But what we’ve forgotten and need to remember is that what we do in our sleep also allows us to survive.
If we don’t sleep, we’re going to suffer the consequences.
Good sleep really comes down to how you feel. Whether you need five hours or nine hours, you’re meant to get enough sleep so that when you wake up in the morning, you can take on the joys and the challenges of the day, and can fall asleep again the next night.
What happens when we don’t sleep enough?
It’s well documented that without enough sleep, we’ll die.
In the 90’s some experiments were done that showed a rat can survive 13 days without water, 23 days without water, and can survive only 18 days without sleep.
You can see sleep is right up there in terms of importance, between water and food.
All you have to do is ask a new parent with a three-month-old that cries all night, “How do you feel?” And they’ll tell you, it feels absolutely like sh*t.
Many, many people out there are walking around, sleep-deprived and have no idea.
There’s a great study that looks at two groups of people.
One group was kept awake for 36 hours straight, and another group had their sleep time reduced by two hours a night for ten days.
So you’ve got acute sleep deprivation and chronic sleep deprivation.
They gave each group a skills test at the start when they were fully rested, and at the end when they were sleep-deprived.
What do you think happened? Any guesses?
The two groups both performed really f**king badly.
They got the same results, riddled with mistakes and slow reaction time and forgetfulness.
But the group with acute sleep deprivation was self-aware and knew they performed badly.
The group with chronic sleep deprivation said they felt okay and thought they performed pretty well, no different than normal.
It’s scary, isn’t it?
Totally sleep-deprived, their performance was affected, tonnes of mistakes, but they had no idea…
So, how can we improve our sleep?
It’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of everyday life and turn to vices that might be sabotaging our sleep.
But if you’re really committed to high performance and productivity, there are a few things you can implement to improve the quality and quantity of your shut-eye.
Give the tech a rest before bed
We have this need to stay connected and be on our phones and social media, and I don’t need to tell you how distracting that can be if you’re trying to wind down and relax…
On top of this, the light from our devices tricks our brain into thinking it’s day time.
When our eyes detect fading light, they communicate to our brain that it must be night time and we then produce melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy.
But if you’re scrolling Instagram at 1 am, your brain is wired to associate that bright light with daytime and will try to keep you awake.
Limit your alcohol consumption
A lot of people use alcohol as a sedative or a sneaky nightcap, but it turns out alcohol can severely affect your ability to sleep.
Most people will wake up around five hours later feeling very alert and unable to get back to sleep because their body hasn’t been able to enter into the deep, restful phases of sleep that it would without alcohol.
About one drink for women and two for men is the recommended limit if you want to maintain good sleep that night.
Develop a good sleep routine
If we get into a routine, our brain begins to adapt to that and makes it autonomous. For example, if you went to sleep every night at 10 pm on the dot then your brain would know to start making melatonin around then.
In the same way I wake up at 4:30am most days and I rarely wake up tired or wanting to sleep longer, my body knows this routine and produces wakefulness hormones at that time.
The more routine we have, the more our brain responds to our needs.
When it comes to falling asleep at night, a good rule of thumb is to start winding down an hour before you want to be asleep. A nice warm shower, phone away, and reduced lighting are all great ways to set yourself up for a better night’s sleep and signal to your body to produce those sleep hormones.
Don’t eat right before you sleep
We live in a culture where our biggest meal of the day tends to be at night, but is this really the best idea?
When we eat, we stimulate the digestive systems our body is geared to go, rather than rest. This applies double for caffeine, cheeses, and red meat, all of which are well known to keep you awake.
So many people out there are struggling with sleep, and it’s seriously affecting their health, performance, and mood.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
If you want to check out the full episode of my podcast with sleep expert Dr. Carmel Harrington, you can watch it right here.
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