The World Cup, Wimbledon and Tour de France may have kept many of us awake at odd hours these past few weeks but are these events causing our body more harm than we realise? Why is sleep important and how much do we actually need?
Everybody knows that we need to sleep to function. Just talk to any parent with a newborn baby….
American Academy of Sleep President, Dr Timothy Morgenthaler has stated that “our need for sleep is a biological requirement, not a personal preference.”
And when we don’t get enough sleep, we can accumulate what is known as a “sleep debt”.
A study conducted by the University and Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School found that subjects who slept 8 hours each night were able to out perform other subjects who only slept for 4 or 6 hours a night or people who went without sleep for three days.
Why Is Sleep Important?
Having enough sleep is vital to ensure that we can function optimally – physically and mentally as well as emotionally. Sleep helps improve our quality of life and is important because it:
- Helps with learning and problem-solving
- Allows the body time to process the events of the day and to plan for the future
- Can help a person to be more sociable by negating mood swings, feelings of depression or lack of motivation
- Is involved in the body’s process of healing and repair of the cardiovascular system
- Reduces the risk of obesity and/or diabetes
- Helps our immune system function better and
- Supports healthy growth and development in children, teenagers and adults.
Dr Kelly Bulkeley reported that a study released by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence states that sleep deprivation is one of the most “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA.
Keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours (more than a week!) with their hands tied above their heads or while standing can severely affect both a person’s mental and physical health to extreme degrees.
Signs of sleep deprivation can include the following:
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling tired and fatigued
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Poor judgement
- Difficulties in reading and speaking clearly
- Lower body temperature
- An increase in appetite
- Feeling disorientated and
- Visual disturbances or hallucinations.
Another major indicator of sleep deprivation is microsleeps – those brief moments of sleep that can occur when you think you’re awake. For example – driving for long distances and not remembering a part of the trip, or missing a vital part of a lecture at school or Uni? Sound familiar???
You can’t control microsleeps and the scary thing is that you might not even be aware of it happening.
So How Much Sleep Do I Need?
While not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, it is important to know just how much you need for you.
After two years of research, the National Sleep Foundation has released a study that suggests recommended guidelines for sleep for newborns to older adults. It’s important to know that that these are only guidelines and that your individual situation may differ.
The study recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep, however, it has been reported that
- Benjamin Franklin and Margaret Thatcher and could suffice on only 4 hours of sleep
- Barack Obama only needs 6 hours and
- Tom Ford, the fashion designer, only 3 hours.
How Can I Sleep Better?
Interestingly enough, some of us are asleep before our heads hit the pillow but some of us have to toss and turn for hours before we can fall asleep. And while some can get to sleep easily, others have trouble staying asleep.
So, if you’re struggling to get enough sleep, here are a few suggestions on how you can help create a more restful night:
- Exercise on a daily basis (but not just before going to bed as this can make it more difficult to fall asleep)
- Don’t eat a massive meal before going to bed
- Eradicate stimulates like caffeine and energy drinks from your diet
- Eliminate the use of computer/tablet/phone screens and television at least 2 hours before you go to bed
- Create a ritual for sleep whereby you prepare yourself the same way everyday (for example, have a cup of herbal tea, meditate or journal about your day)
- Use earplugs if you are sensitive to noise
- Use block out blinds if you are sensitive to light
- Try to sleep and get up at the same time every day (even weekends)
- Go to bed when you are tired and wake up without the use of an alarm clock. Let your body decide how much sleep you need and over time, this can help reduce your sleep debt.
It’s important to realise that some of us could also be suffering from a sleep disorder and if this is the case, we suggest that you see your preferred GP or doctor for a diagnosis and more advice.
Article by Melanie Yeoh, Sydney Remedial Massage.
Note: This article is written for reference only and does not constitute as medical advice. If you are having difficulties with sleep, please visit your local GP or medical professional.