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? (Extract from ‘the business of good foundation’)
What is this revelation? If you haven’t already guessed, this is referring to the zero cost, anyone-can-do-it, remarkably straight forward human necessity, SLEEP!
My Sleep Story
I used to think what you ate was by far the most important thing to focus on for good health. I watched all the vegan documentaries and was SOLD. All I need to do is eat a million plants and refrain from animal products and I’ll live to 100, right?!
Well I still think diet is crucial for longevity but from my recent learnings and personal sleep deprived experiences this past year, I now believe the most important factor for good health is the simple, priceless, shut eye.
And why do I think this?
I recently read Why We Sleep by the neuroscientist Matthew Walker. This book is filled with startling information about the consequences of sub-optimal shut-eye levels for us humans. Along with this, I read ‘The Blue Zones’ by Dan Beutner, which looks at the lifestyle habits of the world’s longest living people and ‘The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time’ by Arianna Huffington.
All sources were aligned by some common which I’ve summarised as;
Post industrial revolution ways of living including; the use of smartphones, not switching off, changing social and employment patterns have disrupted our human sleeping patterns and it is likely this is having horrendous implications on our health as a species.
5 Reasons Why I Think Sleep Is The Most Important Factor For Good Health ….
1. Not enough sleep is highly linked to degenerative conditions of the brain e.g. dementia land Alzheimer’s
Very very few of us need little sleep. This is a myth. Apparently Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan slept 4-5 hours per night but they both developed Alzheimer’s disease, Matthew’s book looks into the reason this happens and diseases of brain degradation occur.
On top of Alzheimer’s, lack of sleep is linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Also, when tired you are likely to eat less healthy food options and therefore put on weight. Matthew looks at an interesting study where 1) non sleep deprived 2) sleep deprived humans were given the opprtunity for free reign at a buffet. The results were clear that the sleep deprived at significantly more calories, and most of these came from unhealthy, refined, snacky options.
Matthew explains that only a tiny minority of people with very rare genetic mutations can thrive on less that 6 hours sleep per night, so the vast likelihood is that you’re not one of them and sleep should be a priority for you.
2. Too little sleep can make you infertile and also stunt your babies brain development
Women’s hormones can be negatively affected through a lack of sleep but this doesn’t just affect women. A 2013 study reported that men who slept too little had a sperm count 29% lower than those who regularly get a full and restful night’s sleep.
Brain development happens during R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, for a pregnant woman it is of great importance to get into a deep sleep for as many nights as possible during her 9 months of carrying her baby for optimal brain development of the soon-to-be-born.
Also I was suprised to hear that even small amounts of alcohol will inhibit a typical woman’s time in deep (R.E.M.) sleep so cutting alcohol back to an absolute minimum is important for fetal development. Along with this, if you are breast feeding … alcohol passes on in significant amounts to your newborn, so a good reason to keep the alcohol free habit going post giving birth!
3. You are far more likely to kill your self or others when tired
Particularly in relation to car accidents. If you drive a car when you have had less than five hours’ sleep, you are 4.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash. If you drive having had four hours, you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident. Matthew also cites that when looking at the dangers of driving, a lack of sleep is akin to drinking a reasonable amount of alcohol.
If you’re sleeping for less than seven hours a night you’re doing yourself a disservice as grave as that of smoking…perhaps opt for public transport the next time you have
4. You can’t catch up on lost sleep.
That ones a myth according to Matthew. Sleeping late at the weekend will not undo the damage done in the week. A shame that our culture doesn’t praise good sleepers and in fact some boast on how little sleep they get.
The name mid night was used to explain what midnight is …. the middle of the night. However in today’s society, midnight is often the last time we check our email for the day. And this would be balanced out if we chose to sleep for longer in the mornings to make up for going to bed earlier, but this isn’t happening either.
Matthew explains how 7-9 hours per night is optimal for our modern state human bodies…. every night!
5. Whether We Are Morning V Evening People We Still Need 7-8 hrs!
Morning people prefer to awake at or around dawn, make up about 40% of the population. Evening people prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, account for about 30%. The remaining 30% lie somewhere in between.
During adolescent years the circadian rhythm (ones body clock) changes, so when teenagers want to go to bed late and wake up late, it’s really not their fault… it is what their body is craving!
Since 2/3 of adults in developed nations fail to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep (recommenced by the World Health Organisation) I really do believe we need to take it more seriously and NHS money could be saved in the long run!
Sleep is the most underestimated and under-utilised health aid in our modern society. Matthew Walker’s recommendation is to get 7-9 hours a night. Figure out what you need by not setting an alarm, sleeping in a room slightly cooler than the rest of your house and removing the distractions (e.g. mobile phones). Track what is working and what isn’t and iterate until you find your personal, optimal sleep formula. Let me know how it goes, I’m working on mine too!