Your New Year Resolution Should Be To Get More Sleep

“Oh I always have a lot of work to catch up on.. that’s the reason I don’t get enough sleep”

Does that sound familiar? If you’re one of those people who put sleep on the backburner, it may be harming you more than you can imagine. Here’s the classic response:

“Perhaps the reason you’ve a lot of work to catch up on is because you don’t get enough sleep!”

Don’t get me wrong, I was one of those sleep warriors. I’d sleep 4.5 hours, wake up super early and feel invincible. Sometimes, I’d work in different time zones all in one day, wake up and sleep at irregular hours and do all kinds of crazy things to deteriorate my sleep pattern. Now I’ve come to my senses to realize how sleep deprived I was without even knowing I was sleep deprived.

My inspiration? This amazing book Why We Sleep by Dr. Walker is the best thing I’ve come across in a while:

The author starts by talking about some sleep terminologies and various experiences we’ve had with sleep. Jet Lag anyone? While I’m not going to bring forth the scientific terms, I’ll briefly cover some of those phenomenon here.

Oh and if you feel sleepy while reading this post, you’ve my permission. I would not mind at all!

Sleep Is Weird

Sleep is an interesting phenomenon. Any living organism that lives more than a day need sleep. What would happen when your new born baby is introduced by the doctor in this manner:

“Congratulations! You’re a proud parent of a handsome little dude with gorgeous eyes and chubby cheeks. In health and wellness, everything is normal and exactly as it should be. Just one thing I forgot to mention that your child would go in frequent lapses of what would appear to be a coma state and then the child would not react to any of your actions and would appear lifeless to you. This would continue to happen throughout the life of the child as long as he’s alive. Not to worry though, this is absolutely normal! Congratulations, once again!”

I can bet you’ll look at the doctor and say.. duh but that’s just sleep!

  • Sleep can be REM (dream stage) and NREM type. They go beautifully together in patterns that are not 100% predictable.
  • The dreams occur in REM sleep cycle. Scientists have been able to predict dream categories by various experiments while the subjects were dreaming though it’s hard to pin point what exactly they were dreaming. Dreams are important for various reasons, one being recovering from trauma or severe shock.
  • You may have heard that good sleep, good food and good exercise are the 3 pillars for a healthy life? WRONG! A Good sleep is the foundation on which food and exercise are hanging. A bad sleep will most definitely affect your exercise and food habits.
  • Sleep cycle is governed by Circadian rhythm and some other hormones like adenosine and melatonin. The rising melatonin levels is what causes sleep after a long wakefulness. Circadian rhythm is again governed by bright light (like sun light) and keeps track of our 24 hour body clock. The hormones and Circadian rhythm work independently. That’s probably one reason why you all of a sudden don’t feel sleepy in the morning hours after pulling an all nighter – perhaps because the Circadian rhythm overshadows the rising tide of melatonin/adenosine (even though it is for a short while).

  • Jet Lag is body’s inability to quickly adjust to the new Circadian rhythm. Practically, the body can only adjust up to an hour or so every day which means that the effects of Jet Lag on a trip from London to San Francisco (8 hour time difference) would last for almost a week.
  • Sleep is much needed during the early childhood and teenage and although the need for sleep decreases after teenage, we all still need to provide ourselves with 7-9 hours of sleep opportunity each night.
  • Binge-sleeping is a myth – if you think you can get by on 4-5 hours of sleep on weekdays and binge-sleep on the weekends for 9-11 hours is not going to compensate for your lost sleep.
  • Blue LEDs (yes like those found in your phones and laptops that you glue to yourself even when trying to sleep) is the most destructive way to interfere with body’s ability to produce melatonin.
  • It is important to note that the Circadian rhythm takes time to mature and that’s the reason young children sleep at a later time. The next time you scold your kids for not going to bed early, remember it’s not their fault!
  • People above 50 tend to sleep early and wake up early- again because of shifting Circadian rhythm. They also tend to sleep lightly and wake up frequently.

  • Coffee is one of the most powerful drug known to suppress melatonin reception to the brain. It’s not that melatonin stops producing, it’s just that the brain is not able to recognize the rising deposits of melatonin in blood because coffee cuts those receptors. When the effects of coffee die down, the brain finds it almost irresistible to stay alert due to the extreme pressure of the piled up melatonin in the blood.
  • Alcohol kills REM sleep. The author recommends to go to the bar in the morning (yes, morning!) to be able to get rid of any alcohol by bed time. The reason? It interferes with sleep big time. People addicted to alcohol may start hallucinating (a hyper version of daydreaming I’d say) because they won’t get any dream sleep!
  • As far as sleep pattern goes, we naturally fall into one of the 3 categories – early birds, night owls or somewhere in the middle based on the chronotypes formed by circadian rhythm and melatonin. Unfortunately, it’s hard to naturally change from one type to another for a long period and most developed nations favor early risers for work and school. I completely sympathize with the late sleepers (night owls) here. Tough luck guys!
The Guinness Book of World Records may allow you to attempt a free fall jump from space, break the sound barrier while doing so and risk your life but does not record any sleep deprivation attempts nor any other attempts for disturbing your sleep. They know that sleep deprivation is more dangerous than free falling from space!

Sleep Deprivation – The Bad, The Bad and The Ugly

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory, makes you more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

Can you guess the new treatment? I thought you’d know by now – SLEEP!

  • Just 20 hours of continuous wakefulness equals to the effects as that of a legally drunk person
  • Sleep less than 6 hours per day has been strongly linked to various types of Cancer
  • Less than 6 hours of sleep affects your mood (anger, irritation etc.). If you find yourself cussing a lot lately, take a good look at your current sleeping patterns!
  • Did I mention sleep deprivation makes you feel 10 years older in bed..
  • Sleep and immunity go hand in hand. Ever noticed you feel more sleepy when you’re sick?
  • Most heart attacks are caused on the Monday of Spring Forward. Convinced yet? If not, check this out: less than 5-6 hours of sleep increases your risk of heart attack by 200%
  • Less sleep makes it hard to quit addictions (like smoking)
  • Less sleep may tempt you into eating more and eating unhealthy snacks
  • Less sleep makes it harder to repair your skin. There’s a reason they call it ‘beauty sleep’.
  • Sleeping less brings your alertness and concentration levels down which drastically reduces your creativity at work. It may also increase errors at work. Adults giving themselves 7-9 hours of sleep opportunity each night earn 4-5% more than those sleeping less.
  • Lack of sleep can literally kill you! A lot of government agencies do exploit this well known fact for severe inhuman tortures.
  • Lack of sleep in teenagers (thanks to the early morning school system in Europe and North America) has been linked to various mental disorders like ADHD and depression.
  • Lack of sleep seriously impairs your ability to retain long term memory of past events.
I’m not pulling the above data from thin air. All the above data has been backed by scientific experiments and facts.

 

Social Implications of the Sleep Phenomenon

  • Next time you’re going for a surgery and you’re able to elect a doctor, ask them how much sleep they got in last couple days
  • Stop making heroes out of poor souls traveling frequently in different time zones and people always boasting about how little sleep they actually had last night
  • Understand that different people have different sleeping patterns. Just because you rise early and other don’t doesn’t make them lazy!
  • Just 40 min of extra sleep for your kid in the morning can boost their intelligence. See if you can drop them to school yourself.
  • Don’t drive if you’re extremely sleep deprived. You’re risking your life and of others on the road. When sleepy, take 30 min of nap but don’t immediately start driving after you wake up, give your body another 20 min to exit the sleep limbo
  • Don’t work if you’re extremely sleep deprived! Do you know what’s responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear accident and Exxon oil spill of Alaska? SLEEP DEPRIVATION.
  • Consult a sleep doctor if you think you’re suffering from some sleep disorder. Do not go to your General Physician for advice! They probably didn’t study much about sleep in their curriculum and may subscribe you to sleep pills which may make your situation worse.
  • Although there’s no scientific data to backup this claim, sleep naps (not exceeding 1 hour) may boost creativity. Einstein was notoriously famous for taking short naps and keeping a pen-paper next to him for recording his dreams and memories upon waking up.

Improving Upon Sleep Quality and Quantity

I’ll give you 12 pointer cheat-sheet to improve your sleep quality starting today (as suggested by Dr. Walker in ‘Why We Sleep’):

  1. Stick to  sleep schedule –  Set an alarm for bedtime just like you’d set an alarm for waking up. If there’s just one tip that you can implement out of these 12, this is the one! 
  2. Exercise is great but not too late in the day (not later than 2-3 hours before bedtime)
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine – a cup of coffee in late afternoon will remain in your blood for next 8 hours and probably interfere with your sleep
  4. Avoid alcohol before going to bed, it may help you relax but it’ll rob you of your REM sleep
  5. Avoid large meal or drinks at night
  6. Avoid medicines or drugs that may disrupt your sleep – consult your health care provider for details
  7. Don’t take naps after 3 pm
  8. Relax before bed – a relaxing activity such as reading should be part of your bedtime ritual
  9. Take a hot bath before going to bed – the drop in body temperature may help you feel sleepy
  10. Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget free bedroom – Keep a low room temperature (recommended is 65 F), make sure there’s no artificial light interfering with your sleep and ensure your gadgets like phone and computer are away from you
  11. Have the right sunlight exposure – use bright lights in the morning and get at least 30 min of sunlight each day
  12. Don’t lie in bed awake – if you lie in bed for 20 min without sleeping, try to get up and do some relaxing activity. The anxiety of not able to fall asleep may actually prevent you from falling asleep.

Hope you now realize that sleep is one of the essentials and we need to give it the much needed attention to improve upon our lives. Now get that warm, cozy, deep sleep that you’ve been ignoring for a while!

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