If you’re finding it hard to think, can’t lose weight, and you’re too tired to exercise you could be suffering from one of the most common deficiencies on the planet.
Lack of sleep is a global pandemic affecting around one-third of all adults and two-thirds of adolescents.
Are you one of the one in four Australians are suffering from inadequate sleep?
One issue is that going without sleep has previously been seen as a badge of honour as if your prowess for staying awake while mere mortals slumber the night away puts you at some sort of performance advantage.
While bragging about how little sleep you’re getting by on, might earn you some kudos as a diligent, hard worker dedicated to the cause, you may also be seen as someone who has forgotten how much is “enough”, a workaholic or brown-noser.
The tide has turned. Backed up by the research many workplaces now realise how important it is that everyone gets enough sleep because of the cognitive, health, and economic costs.
In 2016 it was estimated that sleep deprivation cost the US economy about $114 billion with the average worker losing 11.3 working days. For Japan, the cost was $138 billion and Australia $66 billion.
An indication of how times and attitudes are changing was relayed to me by a colleague who had overheard a conversation where the manager was chastising an employee for staying late and working too many hours!
Companies are waking up to the fact that sleep deprivation is bad for everyone. A study by Rand Europe and Cambridge University reported that lack of sleep is the leading cause of low productivity.
Tackling this problem doesn’t have to be hard or expensive but does require a shift in workplace culture and expectation.
More workplaces are now encouraging staff to get a good nights’ sleep including Aetna who introduced a sleep payment for its workers, rewarding those employees who got at least seven hours of sleep at night with a monetary bonus.
Sleep is everyone’s responsibility. Here are seven ways to get better quality sleep.
1. Adopt good sleep hygiene habits.
This is about consistency of habits just like our kids. Go to bed and getting up at the same time, keeping the bedroom cool (around 19 degrees C), dark (useful blockout shades if required) and comfortable.
If you’re sleeping on an old banana mattress stuffed with horsehair circa the early 1900’s it’s time to invest in a new one and some decent pillows.
And if bedtime procrastination has been your excuse maybe it’s time to choose to watch GoT or your favourite Netflix series another time.
2. Give your brain a break.
Are you awake thinking about work at 2 a.m.?
Working too hard for too many hours makes it harder to switch off and maintain sleep.
Recent stress has found that the combination of high stress, high blood pressure and lack of sleep is a toxic combination putting you at significantly higher risk of heart attack and death.
That’s why it’s so important to schedule regular downtime as an annual vacation, a quarterly long weekend, and daily time to down tools, chill and relax.
Regular relaxation practices include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi and mindfulness have all been shown to enhance sleep patterns through a number of mechanisms that lower blood pressure and stress.
3. Take a nap.
Cultures that embraced the midday siesta have long known the benefits of a daytime sleep. While it may not be practical to slope off for several hours for a kip, taking a nap if you’re tired, especially if you’ve been going through a particularly busy time at work can be a lifesaver.
A fifteen to twenty-minute power nap taken in the early afternoon provides a cognitive refresher that will last 3-4 hours.
Nap pods are great if available, but all you need is a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Close the door, switch off the light and enjoy your sleep snack.
4. Use technology wisely.
Brain hyperstimulation is one of the commonest reasons for poor sleep. If you keep using your brain for daytime activities, no wonder your brain gets confused as to what it’s supposed to be doing. Spending too much time on your smartphone or tablet in the evening before sleep has been shown to negatively impact sleep.
So, switch off from ALL technology at least an hour before bed to give yourself some winding down time and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
The wise application of technology here includes those sleep trackers (moderately useful but I question their accuracy) and smart mattresses that measure the amount of time you spend in deep or REM sleep (if you think that’s necessary)
If in doubt, see your health professional who will determine if you need a sleep study especially if you snore loudly (ask your partner!)
5. Practice healthy work-life etiquette.
Lynn Cazaly, a specialist in transitioning to new ways of working says, “When I am at work, I work, and I do my work well and fully. When I’m not at work, I’m living, and I do that well and fully.”
Wise words, if only it was easy to always adhere to this counsel.
Having boundaries helps us to maintain perspective around “enough.”
Do you ever get frustrated when you’re supposedly on leave, yet work has followed you to your holiday chalet and you’re torn between spending time with your kids or catching up on those couple of “important” emails?
It boils down to choice, to switch off your mobile and choose not to spend time on work-related things when it’s your precious downtime. Differentiating between time spent on work stuff and life stuff makes it easier to give each the attention they deserve, reduces stress and frustration and leads to better sleep.
6. Avoid sleep poisons.
Here it’s the usual culprits of caffeinated drinks – tea, coffee and chocolate, alcohol and smoking. Caffeine has a half-life of 6-8 hours so keep your coffee to the morning. Every unit of alcohol takes your body an hour to process. Just two drinks are enough to halve the time spent in REM sleep (the time when we consolidate memory) at night.
7. Move enough across your day.
The new exercise prescription is move more, sit less. Insufficient exercise across our day can make it harder to sleep, so find your trainers and get out for 20-30 minutes. Paradoxically you’ll feel less tired but will sleep more soundly, plus you’ll get the bonus benefit of being in a more positive mood.
If daytime mental fatigue, making silly mistakes and feeling cranky has been getting you down, it’s time to ask, “Do I have a sleep deficiency?” and to take the necessary steps to rectify it.