In this interesting ‘sleep experiment’ article, the author has mentioned a number of present-day dysfunctional beliefs, and true facts, about sleep.
Work hours, sleeping hours, daytime functioning, napping, foods, concentration and mood are certainly all inter-related to sleep – or lack of it.
- There is no doubt that we currently live in a ‘24/7’ world, whether we like it or not.
- Twenty-four hours of television, movies, food availability, smartphone device and Internet access, even gymnasiums, are all available during normal daytime hours, and seriously unearthly night time hours.
- Add in the pressures of increased performance demands at work, more deadlines, more tasks, and the expectation of instantly responding to text messages and emails, is it any wonder that we sometimes physically and mentally struggle with daily life, including fatigue, poor memory and concentration, and irritability? Why is this so hard?
Why are we choosing to engage with any or all of these activities during the night at the expense of sleep?
The answer is simple – we have forgotten about the importance of sleep to our overall health and well-being. You have all heard of the “Three Pillars of Health’ – Diet, Exercise and Sleep.
– Do we spend around eight hours a day actually eating? No.
– Do we spend around eight hours a day exercising? No, unless of course we are one of the chosen few to compete at Olympic Games or elite sports level – so for most of us, no.
So why then is it necessary to allocate around eight hours at night to the single longest behaviour we engage in (or should do) every 24 hours? The answer – sleep must be important. Sleep is the essential, fundamental pillar of health.
As the author indicates in his article, he thought it was easy to experiment with sleep timing and duration in order to fulfil workplace demands. But that approach is completely the wrong way around.
Firstly, there is no denying that we humans have evolved to be active creatures by day and restful sleepers by night – that process has only taken a few hundred thousand years to be set in our DNA.
But secondly, why do we think we can adjust that anyway, or instantly, to suit the 21st century? We cannot and should not. Quality sleep at night is the priority.
The body operates on a biological circadian clock found deep within the brain and has evolved to function on two factors only – whether it is light, or whether it is dark; simple as that. Whatever our busy, active days look like starting at sunrise, and reducing at sunset, the one thing we all should have in common is sleep need, sleep ability and sleep opportunity; not sleep reduction or sleep deprivation. Sleep research has shown that normal healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep, every night (not just on week nights) for normal, healthy, effective daytime functioning, every day, including weekends.
During good quality, restful sleep at night, restoration and repair of the physical body occurs during the deep sleep cycles. And no less importantly, mental restoration tasks take place during our lighter sleep dream cycles. While the actual dream content is often nonsensical (regardless of our memory of them), this part of sleep is equally essential mentally, for good decision-making, problem-solving ability, coping skills and stable mood by day.
So, if we have bedtime and waking hours at random, all over the place, of varying less-than-optimum lengths, we cannot possibly function well physically, or be mentally alert or pleasant to others next day.
Research also shows that there are increased risk factors linking sleep deprivation with poor mental health (including depression and anxiety) and poor physical health (including cardiovascular disease and diabetes).
As the author later positively discovered in his own ‘experiment with sleep’, his adjustments to quality, quantity and timing of his sleep produced seemingly amazing results. But realistically, he simply returned to normal, healthy, happy, productive and efficient daytime functioning, as we all can.
So, ask yourself, what do you need to change about your sleep behaviours (or lack of) to make your days much more productive, effective and healthy again?
To find the answer, sleep on it!
Geoff Brearley, Sleep Psychologist
Bayside Sleep Health, Wynnum, QLD.