In my humble opinion, one oft-repeated to my kids, the three simplest and most beneficial things you can do for your health are exercise, drink enough water, and get enough sleep.
By Lee Sandford
In my humble opinion, one oft-repeated to my kids, the three simplest and most beneficial things you can do for your health are exercise, drink enough water, and get enough sleep. If you normally avoid my column due to pro exercise propaganda, fear not, this one is safe. It’s all about the third of those three easy fixes: sleep.
I recently read “Night School: Wake Up to the Power of Sleep” by Richard Wiseman, whose bio says that he is “Britain’s only Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology.”
It’s taken me a while to get through the book, because if you’re on the beach reading it during your mid-afternoon energy ebb, or reading it before bed at night, it’s difficult to read about sleep and naps, without feeling drowsy. That is not testament to the book being boring. It is a really interesting read that cites astonishing evidence of a sleep deprivation epidemic in today’s society, and how work productivity and academic performance, increase simply by getting a good night’s sleep.
Inhumane as it would be to deliberately test levels of sleep deprivation, scientists can, however, study the effects of moderate sleep loss. In one of the most comprehensive studies, groups were allowed to sleep for nine, seven, five, or three hours per night over two weeks. The groups then had to rate how tired they felt and their alertness was tested. The groups, which had three or five hours’ sleep couldn’t focus and quickly became tired. The group that received seven hours’ sleep per night consistently rated themselves as alert as the nine hours’ group did, but their alertness results proved otherwise, and were significantly lower.
So there is a worrying double effect that you are less alert and more sluggish with only seven hours sleep per night, but you feel fine so press on and don’t make allowances. As Wiseman says, “Within just a couple of days this level of sleep deprivation transforms you into an accident waiting to happen.”
Two large and comprehensive studies conducted on either side of “The Pond,” examined life expectancy and sleep patterns and the results were grim. Just two hours less sleep per night than you require over 20 years, doubles your risk of death. This is attributed to the fact that the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, doesn’t get enough of a chance to do all the good work in the body that it likes to do: lowering blood pressure, helping to prevent great attacks and strokes, and fending off other hormones that are associated with various cancers. There is also a correlation between obesity and lack of sleep.
Among the examples that struck me at the more superficial end of the spectrum, was a study in Stockholm in which volunteers were photographed after they had slept for eight hours and again after they had been kept awake for 31 hours. A separate group was asked to rate how healthy and attractive the individual looked. The “sleepless” headshots were rated significantly less healthy and attractive, due to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which prevents the production of collagen.
So now that you have plenty reasons why you should get a good night’s sleep, here are Wiseman’s tips on how to achieve that.
1. Your bedroom should be dark, silent, and cool. To encourage the sleep- inducing melatonin, limit your exposure to blue light (i.e. your phone or iPad) for the few hours before bed.
2. Avoid large meals and caffeine right before bed.
3. If worry about tomorrow’s tasks keeps you awake, jot down your top three worries and perhaps a note of how you’re going to address them.
4. Buy a lavender eye mask, as lavender is said to help with insomnia.
5. Do some basic math in your head … or think happy thoughts. I prefer the latter, but apparently both work!
6. Fake a yawn. Just as a fake smile sets a chain reaction to make you feel happier, a yawn makes you sleepy.
Sleep well, good people of Rye!