According to the World Health Organisation adults need eight hours of good quality sleep every night. The truth is that most of us (as many as two-thirds) get far less. But why is this happening, what is lack of sleep doing to us, and how can we change it?
Our lives are increasingly busy, working hours are longer and the working day is further extended by the commute. Add to that the extra errands or activities you do on the way to and from work, (dropping off or picking up the kids, going to the gym, popping to the supermarket), and many of us don’t really start to wind down until late into the evening.
When we do go to bed our minds are often busy processing the day or thinking ahead for tomorrow. When our alarms wake us in the morning, we start the whole cycle again, ploughing ahead into the next busy day without sufficient sleep. We then spend the weekend too exhausted to enjoy it. Sleep is what we push aside so we can make room for all the other things we have to fit into our lives.
You may feel as though you’re getting enough sleep, even if you only get a few hours or your nights are disturbed, and of course our individual needs differ. However, if you continue to get less than your body needs, the impact affects much more than just our physical health. Lack of sleep will impact your emotional state and your cognitive ability too.
After just one bad night of sleep:
- Your learning ability is affected, your brain can’t absorb as much new information
- Any new information that you do absorb won’t be retained if you don’t sleep well the following night.
- Evidence suggests that we are 57% less productive.
- Your short term memory is affected
- Your ability to make decisions is decreased
- Your reactions are slower. If you have been awake for 16 hours the effect is similar to drinking alcohol. So if you wake up at 6am and you are driving home at 10pm, your ability will be similar to driving when drunk.
Then there’s the emotional impact:
- Without sufficient sleep you are more likely to be over-sensitive, overreact or misinterpret situations.
- You are less trusting of others, and more likely to express feelings negatively or get into arguments
- Lack of sleep causes you to be less emotionally resilient, so situations you would usually handle with ease can feel much more difficult.
There are both short-term and longer-term physical implications, and I won’t go too deeply into these as it’s not my area of expertise, other than to say there is evidence that lack of sleep has been shown to contribute to serious illnesses such as dementia, alzheimers, and cancer.
Lack of sleep certainly affects our immune system. After just one night of four hours sleep, our immunity is decreased by around 70%. I know every time I’ve had a few late nights, I get a cold or some other minor virus soon afterwards.
We’ve all experienced the lack of energy, that ‘fuzzy’ feeling, the afternoon slump, and headaches that usually follows the day after a poor night’s sleep. Imagine the impact this is having on us if this is the norm.
Here are some ideas to help you get more sleep, and also sleep that’s better quality.
Are you a lark or an owl? Whenever possible, plan your daily routine to suit your own sleep needs. If you are more alert and productive in the mornings, get up early and get tasks done first thing, If you’re an owl, sleep as late as you can in the morning, and save those tasks for the evening when you’re at your best.
Have a night time routine. Instead of cramming every last minute of the evening with things to do, have a routine that allows you to unwind gradually, signalling to your body that it will soon be time to sleep.
Download your thoughts. If you are wide awake at night thinking, you could try keeping a notepad beside your bed and writing down anything important so it’s out of your head.
If you’re bothered by endless overthinking, try this method: instead of getting caught up in those thoughts, simply acknowledge that there’s a thought. It may sound strange, but simply saying to yourself in your head ‘there’s a thought, there’s another thought’ will stop you from getting caught up by the thinking.
Another similar method is to label each thought. Categorising your thoughts will distract your mind from actually following where the thought is leading you. For example you might label them as a worry, planning, or ‘nonsense’.
Sleep in a dark room, the darkness indicates to our body that it’s time to sleep, having light in the room prevents your body from being fully rested. Remove mobile phones from the room, use an alarm clock rather than the alarm on your phone. If you must have your phone in the room, put it on ‘flight mode’ to reduce disturbance from notifications.
Train your brain. While we’re on the subject of phones, don’t sit in bed checking your social media, work emails, or playing games. It will take longer for your brain to switch off and be ready for sleep. Train your brain to associate being in bed with sleeping.
Get more exercise during the day, especially if it takes you outside. We don’t get as much daylight as we’re supposed to, often spending our working days in buildings with artificial light. Get as much exposure to daylight as you can, choose to sit near to windows if you’re commuting or working inside.
Lower the temperature. Keep your bedroom cool, 18 degrees is the ideal.
Get up! If you’ve tried everything and you’re still wide awake, leave the bedroom, only switching on as few lights as possible, and do something else (but not TV, mobile phone or laptop). Only return to your bedroom when you feel ready to sleep, and start the process again.
As with all new habits, it can take time, but persevere and make getting good quality sleep a priority. Your body will thank you for it.
If you’re finding it hard to create new habits, kick habits that don’t serve you or anxiety is keeping you awake each night, then I may be able to help. Get in touch to arrange a free discovery call to see if life coaching might be for you.
Image by PollyDot from Pixabay