What’s the first thing you’d think you need for survival? Food and water, right? Well, sleep might just be more important than food and water combined to meet the bare minimum requirement for, well, living. Today, the value of quality and quantity of sleep has been replaced by a need for accomplishing more with one’s time. Simply put, sleeping is seen as a waste of time. Although there has been raging awareness in staying healthy by maintaining a wholesome and nutritious diet, what we fail to understand is the part sleep plays in achieving that healthy lifestyle.
Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week. At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? You’d probably be hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly somewhat thinner. But basically you’d be fine.
Now let’s say you deprive yourself of sleep for a week – the result would not be the same as starving yourself. After several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function. That’s why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation attacks the mind — which is the master of our bodies. Starvation plays the long game, breaking down vital organ functions until the body simply can’t go on. Sleep deprivation robs the brain, the primary source, of the ability to execute these functions in the short and long run. So those symptoms you may suffer from in the short term transform into real conditions that impact other bodily functions as well.
So then why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising? Such growing demands that our placed on our lives due to work, family, and social obligations, how significant are they if your life span to perform all the same is shortened? We tend to bargain with ourselves in order to feel as if we are making the most of the 24 hours we have in each day and continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, however, research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity.
Many of the effects we suffer are invisible. Insufficient sleep, for example, deeply impairs our ability to consolidate and stabilize learning that occurs during the waking day. In other words, it wreaks havoc on our memory.
So how much sleep do you need? When researchers put test subjects in environments without clocks or windows and ask them to sleep any time they feel tired, 95 percent sleep between seven and eight hours out of every 24. Another 2.5 percent sleep more than eight hours. That means just 2.5 percent of us require less than 7 hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested. That’s 1 out of every 40 people.
With sufficient sleep, we tend to feel better, work with more focus, and manage emotions better, which is good for everyone around us. It’s important to start making a conscious effort to dislike having even a single day where you haven’t gotten enough sleep, because the impact is immediate and unavoidable. On the rare days that you don’t get enough, try hard to get at least a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon. It helps more than you can imagine.
Here are a few other tips to improve your quantity and quality of sleep:
- Go to bed earlier — and at a set time. Sounds obvious right? The problem is there’s no alternative. You’re already waking up at the latest possible time you think is acceptable. If you don’t ritualise a specific bedtime, you’ll end up finding ways to stay up later, just the way you do now.
- Start winding down at least 45 minutes before you turn out the light. You won’t fall asleep if you’re all wound up with responding to work mails, or doing other work. Create a ritual around drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to music that helps you relax, or reading a dull book.
- Write down what’s on your mind — especially unfinished to-do’s and unresolved issues — just before you go to bed. If you leave items in your working memory, they’ll make it harder to fall asleep, and you’ll end up ruminating about them if you should wake up during the night.
Bottom line is, if you have started eating healthy to have a healthier body, it is perhaps time you start prioritizing your sleep to witness incomparable results!