Sleep Good

“I’ll sleep when I die”

IMG_2996That’s what a friend of mine said a few days ago before starting his night shift at work, right after finishing the day shift… I knew he wasn’t serious. Or was he?

To acknowledge my bias, I am a big fan of sleep. Personally and professionally. Russell Foster is too and in his 2013 TED talk he delivered some convincing points on why we should be taking sleep a bit more seriously.To recap some of his statements, sleep is of critical importance for memory consolidation and sleep deprivation is associated with less creativity, memory problems, poor judgment, and loss of vigilance. On top of that, lack of sleep hurts our immune system and tends to result in higher stress levels, which in turn can impact our mood and wellbeing in general. With impaired ability to be creative and integrate knowledge, folks tend to do worse at work and school and be less able to respond effectively to new challenges. Higher stress levels reduce our tolerance for the hassle of daily life and people in our lives are more likely to encounter our bad side. This can’t be good for anyone.

This may sound radical to some, but here it goes: If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you are probably not getting enough sleep!

Now there are a whole lot of people who have no way of getting the sleep they need. Millions of people depend on demanding shift jobs, have multiple responsibilities that cut sleep time, or face living situations that disturb sleep on a regular basis. Many of them are all too well aware of the negative impact of sleep deprivation. And unfortunately, all the good advice in the world is not so helpful if people are stuck in unhealthy situations. But there is another set of people who have the chance to get enough sleep, but choose not to.

Throughout my training and work I have met many young adults who struggle with symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. A large proportion has also had poor sleep habits. Using the laptop, TV, and smartphone in bed has been a consistent part of that, and one that seems to be hard to change. Ironically, people may end up using those bright-light screens when they have trouble falling asleep, only to signal the brain to stay alert. In addition, with many of us staying indoors most of the day, daylight exposure gets cut to the point of confusing our system even more. And to make it through the day, caffeine and other stimulants are used to jump start the brain, which in turn can exacerbate stress and signs of unnecessary anxiety.

My favorite part of Russell’s talk was his bottom line: Listen to your body.

It’s simple, really. Life can be so much better once we stop fighting our body and treating sleep with respect is a great start!

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