THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?
Have you ever experienced disrupted sleep when you are under stress or when travelling? It’s such a common problem that being sleep deprived can become the norm for us.
I don’t want to alarm you but it’s time for a “wake-up call”. If you are chronically under-sleeping, you are doing very serious damage to your health, as well as to your relationships and career.
Studies have proven that not getting enough good quality sleep (between 7 – 9 hours) each night can have a wide range of negative effects on your health, including impairing your immune system and significantly increasing your risk of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. As neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, summarises:
“The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.”
There are also knock-on effects that lack of sleep has on your thinking and emotions. We are all familiar with how sluggish and irritable we can feel when tired. Arianna Huffington, a self-described ‘sleep evangelist’, puts it succinctly in her book, Thrive:
“Rob yourself of sleep and you’ll find that you do not function at your personal best. This is true of work decisions, relationship challenges, or any life decision that requires judgement, emotional equilibrium, problem solving and creativity.”
Studies have shown that managing emotions and consolidating learning are both deeply affected by how much sleep we get. Bill Clinton famously only used to sleep 5 hours a night. “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life,” he once said, “I’ve made because I was too tired.”
By neglecting our sleep, we are sending the worst version of ourselves into the parts of our lives that matter to us the most. This is why sleeping less to work more is often an oxymoron.
THE PHYSICAL AND CULTURAL CAUSES OF THE MODERN POOR SLEEP ENDEMIC
There are multiple reasons why we now sleepless. Firstly, there are the physical causes, such as overexposure to caffeine and electric and LED lighting – these interfere with the hormonal system that runs our circadian rhythm.
Secondly, there are also cultural factors. Earlier this year, for example, Albibaba founder Jack Ma publicly endorsed what is known as the ‘996’ work culture in China (working from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week). “I personally think 996 is a huge blessing,” he said. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?”
Whilst Ma is far from alone in his thinking, some companies are starting to look at sleep from another angle. P&G and Goldman Sachs both now offer their employees ‘sleep hygiene courses’ (sleep hygiene is the habits and routines in our daily lives which influence sleep), while Nike and Google have gone further, allowing more flexible working hours according to employees sleeping patterns and even installing sleeping pods in their offices for employees to use when tired.
4 STEPS TO INCREASE AND IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
Aside from sleep disorders and unavoidable bouts of insomnia, for most of us improving our sleep comes down to taking care of our sleep hygiene. Build a routine before bed, a habit, just like you would with a baby to help them sleep.
Find what works for you – a warm bath, reading in bed, meditating or sleep visualisation, this is a very personal process but it’s worth putting in the effort to create healthy habits that work for you.
Here are our 4 practical and easy-to-implement steps that you can make to improve your sleep hygiene, which will make an immediate improvement to both your physical and mental wellbeing.
1 Cut down on caffeine
In healthy adults, caffeine has a half-life of 5 – 6 hours, meaning that if you have your final cup of coffee at 5pm, half of its caffeine content will still be circulating in your system at 10pm. As caffeine works by suppressing our adenosine receptors, which play a crucial role in us falling to sleep, the consequences of the day’s coffee(s) can be felt long after their consumption. It is also worth noting that decaffeinated coffee still contains between 15 – 30% of the caffeine of normal coffee, so though switching to it would be an improvement for most people, it wouldn’t be a total cure.
2. Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol is often associated with aiding sleep. However, the sleep induced by alcohol is of a much inferior quality to natural, non-drug induced sleep. When the body metabolises alcohol, it produces by-product chemicals called aldehydes and ketones, which are two of the most powerful suppressors of REM sleep (a crucial stage of sleep responsible for dreaming and memory consolidation) – therefore the more you drink, the worse you sleep.
3. Control your temperature
In order to fall asleep, your core temperature needs to fall by about one degree Celsius. The ideal room temperature to attain this is 18 degrees Celsius. In our modern world of central heating, double-glazed windows and down duvets, the need for a cooler room at night is often overlooked.
One easy way to cool down at first may seem counter-intuitive: to have a hot shower or bath. This works because the initial heating-up effect is soon followed by a more rapid cooling down. The key areas to focus on for maintaining a cool body temperature are the head, feet and hands, which each have vast networks of blood vessels and veins that cool us down quickly when they come into contact with the cold.
4. Limit your exposure to (all kinds of) light
“Despite being just 1 to 2% of the strength of daylight,” writes Matthew Walker in Why We Sleep, “[the light of a subtly lit living room] can have 50% of the melatonin-suppressing influence within the brain.” LED lighting has an even more powerful sleep-suppressing strength, which is why anyone struggling to sleep should avoid all screens in the hours before they go to sleep.
Turning off all visible lights emitted by chargers and appliances is also essential for securing a room dark enough for a decent night’s sleep. So get rid of alarm clocks with illuminated displays, night lights and so on. Turn off your mobile phone or put it on airplane mode so you don’t get notifications during the night. How many of you check emails or Facebook on your device before bed? “Just in case”?
Consider a ‘digital detox’ – no screens – for an hour before bedtime; work with your body and help give it the physiological signals that help you.
GETTING UP ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BED
At Breakthrough Global we practice what we preach, and we are champions of the benefits of quality sleep. In fact, it forms a critical part of how our Programmes are designed, ensuring our participants get the most out of their time with us.
Firstly, our Programmes are residential, and there are many reasons for this. Having a full night sleep away from the ‘business as usual’ of our daily lives, allows participants to focus fully on themselves. Sleep also breaks down our barriers to change. With a full night’s rest before a Programme, participants are able to be fully present and open to new experiences. No school runs in the morning, no early morning meetings, no late-night calls. Our participants are there and ready to work ON the business, not IN the business.
We work directly with hotels and caterers to design healthy menus, and most importantly we don’t serve alcohol. This is often a surprise for some of our clients, but it is essential to give them the valuable insight of how a few days without it benefits their energy levels and ability to concentrate on the business.
There are many other factors which we build into the design of our Programmes, including sessions from our Master Leader, Duncan Barrow, on building resilience, which is full of tips on healthy habits to improve sleep hygiene.