Aug 28, 2013

Why do we underestimate and undervalue sleep?


A recent study by The Sleep Council revealed that the average person in the UK gets just 6 hours 35 minutes sleep a night and although doctors recommend between 6 and 8 house each night, it still feels shockingly low for a national average. The survey of over 5000 people also revealed that 40% percent of people in the UK get less than 6 hours sleep on average each night.

We spend about a third of our lives asleep, that's an average of 32 years spent in bed, according to Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, Russell Foster. See his full talk here. Yet for such a significant portion of our life, most people give relatively little thought to our sleep pattern and what the potential risks of sleep deprivation are.

Studies have linked poor sleeping habits to a multitude of different health problems; from headaches and concentration problems to depression and obesity. Additionally, research shows that 16% of people regularly use alcohol to help with sleep issues and 14% use medication, both of which have a whole set of health risks, outlined in this infographic.

But why do so many of us regularly fight our instinct to go to sleep when we're tired? 47% of people in the survey reported that stress was one of the main reasons they had trouble sleeping, and is also the cause of our bedtimes getting later and later. In busy lives, sleep is seen by many people as a waste of time: you don't work, you're not productive, and with people putting more and more pressure on themselves to do more, we simply do not want to waste 8 hours a night asleep.

I know that the lack of productiveness something that I regularly use as an excuse for my bedtimes that regularly slip into the following day. If I spend 8 hours a day sleeping, how is it physically possible to go to work, to study, to exercise, to socialise and to do all those other things that take precedence over getting a good night's sleep.

Another factor that I regularly contend with is the rise in use of social media. I know the last thing I do before I shut my eyes is check my Twitter and Facebook feeds, something that is incomprehensible to my mother, but then our bedtime and mobile phone habits vary dramatically. See here. She does not understand my need to get tomorrow's headlines before I go to sleep. And neither do I sometimes, but I'm not alone in my late night habits. 17% of those surveyed admitted to using social media before bed.

So what can we do?

The main bit of advice I've found is probably the most obvious solution: Go to sleep when you're tired. Use an alarm clock and get up at the same time each day, but vary your bedtime as you need to. Reduce the light in the room at least 30 minutes before you go, so avoid the harsh bathroom light straight before you go to bed, and put down your mobile phone!

Diet and exercise is another recurring theme. Avoid caffeinated drinks before bed, and don't forget about hidden caffeine in things like dark chocolate or tea. It's also proven that regularly doing exercise improves not only your sleep cycle but the quality of sleep that you get.

Sweet dreams!

Aug 28, 2013