I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with sleep. A few years ago when I had a small child and a fairly demanding full-time job, I found myself existing quite happily on four hours sleep a night. I patted myself on the back marvelling at how much I was packing into my long days. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I joked to concerned friends and family. Six months later, I crashed. Big time. It wasn’t pretty and it had a major impact on my health.
Basically, all the scientific research on sleep deprivation is bad news. One recent study that was particularly frightening came from Uppsala University in Sweden [published in Sleep in December 2013] and showed that one night of sleep deprivation can result in a loss of brain tissue. “We observed that a night of total sleep loss was followed by increased blood concentrations of NSE and S-100B. These brain molecules typically rise in blood under conditions of brain damage. Thus, our results indicate that a lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes,” says sleep researcher Christian Benedict, who lead the study.
Good sleep habits are like a healthy diet; pretty boring but necessary for mental, physical and emotional health. For those who do shift work, have kids that wake at all hours through the night, like to party late, or struggle with sleep in general, the recommended guidelines (below) seem very simple on the surface. But in reality, they can be fairly challenging. If you’ve had ongoing issues with sleep talk to your doctor, therapist or healthcare practitioner. I’ve learnt the hard way that poor sleep is one of those issues you shouldn’t ignore.
The basic guidelines for good sleep:
Get enough, but not too much
Like most of the population, I need around eight hours sleep a night to function well. A Korean study published in the October 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that short sleep durations of five hours or less per day and long sleep durations of nine hours or more per day were associated with poor self-rated health. Another study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine [October 2013] showed that too little sleep (six hours or less) and too much sleep (10 or more hours) increases the risk of chronic diseases – including coronary heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and obesity – in adults age 45 and older.
A regular bedtime works for me like it does for my kids. Your body’s sleep-wake cycle is controlled by an internal “clock” within the brain. Most bodily processes are synchronised to this 24-hour clock. Going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday helps to “set” your body clock, which keeps everything ticking along nicely. For those trying to lose weight, a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion [November 2013] has also shown that a consistent bedtime and wake time are related to lower body fat.
The bedroom should be used for sleeping and intimacy only, recommends The Sleep Health Foundation. They suggest removing all distractions from the bedroom such as televisions, computers, radios or mobile phones. They even recommend covering a clock to avoid clock watching.