Most people suffer from sleep deprivation at some point in their lives. London and the demands of SE16 can make it hard to drop off when you want to. It may be that you have a new babe and need to be up and doing all through the night. Or you may have a noisy road or railway outside your home that (or snoring partner who) disturbs your sleep. You may work shifts and find yourself struggling to alternate between different sleep patterns. Or of course you may just be stressed by the demands of life, study, work, family and just coping! Whatever the cause, sleeping for less than you need leaves you struggling to concentrate, accident-prone, lacking willpower and less productive; more seriously, it also increases your chance of becoming overweight, having a heart attach and dying early.
Many people feel they can function well on less sleep but all the studies show that as it is a biological need, you simple cannot cut corners. Sleep less and you will not be fully rested; the way to think, feel and behave will be impaired. Even missing out on a small amount of the sleep you need will impair your functioning in ways you will be unaware of. In a 2003 experiment, rested volunteers were allocated to four different groups. Two groups are given three and five hours sleep each night respectively whilst the other two were given seven and nine. Each day they were tested and of course those with only three or five hours of sleep functioned less well than the nine hour bunch. The seven hour group however continued to say they felt fully awake and competant but the tests revealed that they were much less vigilant, and behaved in a distinctly sluggish manner throughout the experiment. We don’t know when we are sleep deprived; it just makes us function far less well.
Our schools are poor at helping us deal well with our need for consistent sleep. We often come away from our education with no more idea of how to get a good night’s sleep than we know how to fly an aircraft! Scientists have worked out several key ways to enhance the chance of sleeping well and here they are:
- Create a dark, quiet and neutral-temperature space for sleeping (a bedroom) and keep it just for that
- Get enough exercise well before going to bed and keep your mind busy with new things during the day
- Aim for between seven and nine hours sleep each night and make sure you are ready for sleep when you turn in
- If you are worrying, write a list of the things you need to do or remember
- Don’t eat a large meal less than two hours before sleep and don’t drink any alcohol; they disturb your sleep pattern
- Take a bath before heading for the bedroom and add a subtle whiff of lavender to your pillow to waft you to sleep
- If you struggle to get to sleep, add a yawn to your practice – pretending to be tired can fool your body into some shuteye
- If you wake for more than 20 mins, get up and do something non-stimulating that does not involve bright lights or a TV or computer screen
And finally, make a habit of short naps during the day. Often these are just what the body needs and if you are fully rested your body may just demand a twenty-minute nap at about 3pm. All the evidence shows that you will not only wake refreshed but the boost to your performance for the rest of the day will far outstrip the loss of time and effort whilst lying down!
All these guidelines are supported by scientific studies and offer a range of strategies for tackling that dreadful sense that sleep is never sufficient! For more detail see Night School – Wake up to the Power of Sleep by Richard Wiseman