More sleep. That’s my answer when I’m asked what’s the quickest fix a person can apply to their life.
I write about how to improve it regularly; you could say it’s a bit of a passion of mine. Most of us desperately need to spend more time in bed and exhibit signs of being chronically under slept. While the amount of sleep we need is individual; it varies depending on a number of factors including how active we are, if we are sick or if we are under emotional stress, it’s pretty clear that most people simply don’t get the rest they need. If you knew that going to bed earlier would make you happier, calmer and more resilient would you do it?
For over 100 years, scientists have been studying the purpose of sleep. Some of the earliest research was rather gruesome and involved keeping puppies awake for days at a time until they died. Thankfully both the ethics of research have moved on and it’s also been discovered that humans aren’t the same as puppies. We won’t die if you deprive us of sleep for long periods of time, but we might feel like we want to. In humans the lack of sleep has been linked and array of negative physical health outcomes including heart disease, obesity and inflammation. The exact functions of sleep are still not fully understood, but it’s becoming clear that a good night’s rest is absolutely vital to our wellbeing.
More sleep is not just vital for our physical health.
Insufficient or poor quality sleep can also affect our mental health. In fact, a single sleepless night can increase anxiety levels by up to 30%. Researchers at UC Berkeley proved in their research that non-REM sleep actually decreases anxiety by reorganising neural connections in the brain.
Even subtle changes in sleep were linked to changes in anxiety levels exhibited by participants in the study. The researchers suggest that there is a causal relationship between the erosion of sleep and the ‘marked escalation in anxiety disorders’.
According to the Sleep Council (UK) the average Brit only gets 6.5 hours a night. The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is between 7 and 9 hours each night. So as a nation we are accruing a sleep debt of at least half an hour per person, per night.
There are a multitude of reasons why we don’t get enough sleep. We are now exposed to, in fact bombarded by, lights which affect our natural circadian rhythms and waking cycles. We watch suspenseful shows TV or Netflix late at night, hyping ourselves up by watching cliff-hanger endings mere minutes before we attempt to go to bed for the night. Many people are juggling work and families and feel they need that extra time to catch up on their chores or have some semblance of a social life.
However, these choices have a consequence the next morning. Perhaps you wake up feeling groggy and gritty so you reach for a coffee, then that coffee becomes two. Before you know it you’re wired. Lying in bed later that day you make a resolution not to have so much coffee the next day. But because you didn’t sleep well, again you reach for a coffee. Maybe you wake up feeling anxious and over-strung. You spend your day biting your tongue and trying to keep your emotions contained.
Many people don’t really understand the importance of sleep. It’s just something that you ‘have to do’ rather than more interesting things. Perhaps part of this disconnect that we have from something which is such a crucial activity is that most of us don’t really understand its purpose; it doesn’t actively ‘do’ anything.
I propose that we start viewing sleep differently, bringing it to its rightful place as absolutely central to our well-being and vitality. In my work as an Integrative Therapist I’ve learned that if we can take a holistic approach and we can get someone sleeping better we can usually resolve the rest of their issues more effectively.
When a person has had enough sleep they’re happier, more resilient and healthier. Don’t you think that you deserve to feel that way?