Go ahead, do nothing

What’s the simplest thing you can do to be at your best, without studying, exercising or even lifting a finger? And still, so many of us resist doing it…

Oh, right… sleep

We’ve all heard before that sleep is important. We may even know it from experience. Been there, heard that, move on, right?

No, and here’s why: despite what we kind of, sort of – when we really must think about it – know about sleep, many of us don’t focus on our own sleep needs. We might even be relatively strict about our children’s bedtimes, but when it comes to ourselves, most of us need a reminder, if not a push, to get enough rest.

Unless you’re working the night shift or you have a baby, you could probably be getting more rest. But when life gets busy and you can’t buy enough time during the day, it’s easy to steal it from your bedtime hour.

Living in the digital age also makes it hard to commit to rest, with work available at all hours and so many ways for our attention to be drawn through smartphones, email, text, and social media.

In the moment of wanting to get the task done or have that extra hour to ourselves, we might not even be conscious of the sleep sacrifice – those of you reading a good book or binging on Netflix, you know what I’m talking about!

Why is sleep such a big deal?

According to Arianna Huffington, who suffered a collapse from her own sleep deprivation and now calls herself an “all-out sleep evangelist,” 40 percent of us aren’t even getting six hours of sleep a night, and 60 million prescriptions for sleep aids are written each year. But Huffington predicts 2016 is the year for a sleep revolution.

Let’s hope she’s right, because lack of sleep can affect us in so many negative ways. I remember over the holidays when asked our mailman how the deliveries were going, and he confided that he was working 10-11 hour days 7 days a week, and he was starting to make mistakes.

When you’re tired, you might also notice low energy and motivation, foggy thinking, lower recall, bad mood or irritability, and less tolerance for stress.

In a 2013 study, Stress in America, the American Psychological Association found that adults who were getting less than eight hours of sleep a night, in comparison with those getting eight hours, were much more likely to report symptoms of stress such as anger or irritability, feelings of overwhelm, lack of interest or motivation, lack of patience, and skipping exercise. The study concluded that if most of us could get an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep a night, we’d be happier, healthier and safer.

And the sooner we address sleep issues the better, because medical researchers link chronic lack of it to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.

Bonus for the brain

Not only will more sleep allow for better emotional and physical health, but it also promotes better brain health.

Though our bodies do nothing when we rest, our brains are still working. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the brain uses the time to strengthen neural pathways and build new ones. It sorts information, sifting out what’s irrelevant and strengthening recall with what’s relevant, and builds new pathways to help with concentration and reaction times.

So before you turn to an app for brain-building exercises, first get some good sleep.

Simple tips for better sleep

Exactly how many hours of sleep are optimal can vary by individual, but experts agree that adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. With that in mind, decide how many hours you need, recognize the importance of it, and:

  1. Stick to a schedule. Experts agree that it’s best to keep the same daily bedtime and wake-up times. And to that point, avoid the snooze button which can make you feel even groggier than if you’d never used it.
  2. Have a pre-bedtime routine that helps to slow you down. This involves avoiding electronic devices, including TV, at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and avoiding emotional or difficult conversations.
  3. Keep your bedroom dark, with phones and clocks or other electronic devices away from your head.
  4. Stop caffeine 6 hours before bed, and alcohol 4 hours before bed.
  5. Do activities that promote rest, including exercise and gentle activities that help slow down the thoughts like listening to soothing music, meditating or doing some gentle yoga poses. (The two poses that I like when I can’t sleep are legs-up-the-wall pose and reclined bound angle pose.)

Over to you

Is this the time for your own sleep revolution? If you agree, or you know someone who’s in need of a gentle reminder about sleep, please share this post. Or join in the conversation in the discussion below.

And with that, I’m off to take a cat nap.

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