The thought of a good nights sleep is simply heaven for many and something to look forward to after a busy day. For some of us we get just that, but for others a good nights sleep is something they could only dream of (if they could get to sleep).
Sleeping is extremely important for us and we are in danger of forgetting its significance in our lives. Who needs sleep when we have more interesting things to do? Well, we do. We need sleep to conserve energy, consolidate memory, restore and recharge our bodily functions, keep our immune system in check and get us back to balance after a stressful day. In other words, we need sleep to function optimally.
But since the invention of the light bulb, us humans have been sleeping less, to our own detriment.
Our brains have evolved enough to invent the smart phone, but our brains and bodies haven’t evolved enough to be coping with the effects of less sleep. Sleep disorders are a large and under-recognised problem in Australia, contributing to many physical and psychological health conditions. We often blame other factors for our symptoms of illness, whilst leaving lack of sleep relatively unexplored.
Sleep is something many people think little about until a problem arises; yet here we are as a society with quite a few problems. About 1 in 3 people suffer from sleeping issues at some stage of their life, with many people experiencing chronic sleeping problems.
Sleep is a vital biological function. We need to be doing it. No matter what age we are, limited sleep can affect every aspect of our life, from work through to our home life. We all know what it feels like to not have enough sleep. We wake up feeling still fatigued and less than able to tackle the day. In some countries, sleep deprivation is a form of torture, yet here we are, going about our day feeling just that.
Before the invention of the electric light most people were getting 10 hours of sleep a night. Us adults now get roughly about 7 hours a night, if we are lucky. Obviously, we can survive on this lesser amount of sleep, but it may come at a cost. With our modern sleeping behaviours, we are pushing it way past what our bodies have evolved to do, and subsequently feeling the consequences.
We are just not doing sleep right.
Alarm clocks buzzing before we are ready to wake, swigging mug loads of coffee, sitting for most of the day indoors, avoiding sunlight, coming home and sitting again, drinking too much alcohol to get to sleep in the first place and late nights spent staring into our smart phones. A whole heap of habits that are not conducive to healthy sleep, or wellbeing. We are not even giving ourselves time to count sheep.
The problem with poor sleep is that it affects everything. We might be familiar with what usually goes hand in hand with tiredness; constant irritation, aggression, low confidence, anxiety, moodiness, depression, lack of concentration, inability to problem solve, and an inability to think properly.
But poor sleepers are also more likely to become overweight or obese, have a poorer immune system which means they’re sick more often, and an increased risk for many other chronic health problems. On an environmental level, poor sleepers are a hazard, causing more work and car accidents.
Frontline treatment for sleeping problems is likely to be sleeping tablets, and usually people take them longer that their GP tells them, which inevitably makes sleeping worse. Yet for many people I talk to, they are just not doing sleep correctly, on a personal level.
A large proportion of sleep-related problems are preventable or treatable. It may really just be a simple tweak of habits that could bring closer that deep sleep that has been yearned for.Learning good habits such as being awake in the daylight and asleep when it is dark. Giving our body a reason to be tired at night because we are physically active during the day. Spending time outdoors. Having a purpose during the day. Having a bedtime routine.
We need to unlearn some bad sleeping habits such as staring at back-lit devices that mimic sunlight late in the evening, not managing your anxiety, drinking caffeine at night and taking naps in the late arvo. These all have to stop if you are planning on actually sleeping. Then we have the more hard core among us who play video games until 3 am, sleep until 3pm the next day, and then wonder why we can’t sleep the next night. This needs to stop if you want sleep.
If we learned how to sleep better, many of sleeping problems could be avoided in the first place. I am putting it to all of us, that many sleeping problems can be managed by ourselves by changing some of our own behaviours.
Sleeping isn’t a waste of your time. It pays to start taking sleep more seriously.