Sleep is critical to good health, but only 1 in 3 adults gets enough of it, a number of studies done in different countries show.
Why is that? Why are we, humans, inclined to delay sleep even if it is bad for our health? Did you know that humans are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep? The busy schedules and the anxiety due to these overwhelmed schedules each day might be one of the reasons for the sleep issues most of us are facing today.
Why does sleep matter?
Sleep deprivation could lead to a lot of health problems in the long term but could have many harmful and serious consequences in the short term as well – drowsy driving, being a rather dangerous one. Did you know that being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol concentration of .05? “If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive it’s like you have a blood alcohol concentration level of .10.”* If you have a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 you are considered too drunk to drive.
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep and less than 7 is usually associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and mental distress.
We have approached sleep consultant Simona Peycheva to talk about all the sleep matters and to get some really helpful tips for all of you so that you can start sleeping better.
Simona Peycheva is a mother of 2 and a certified child sleep consultant. She is the founder of the Sleep Well Association in Sofia, Bulgaria, working on the prevention of sleep-related problems with children. Simona is a practicing sleep consultant helping families with kids to solve sleep-related issues
HoW: What is it that prevents so many adults from having the sleep they need?
Simona Peycheva: More often than not it is just anxiety. People are getting to bed with a lot of anxiety. They are thinking about all the things they didn’t manage to do, about what they are about to finish next, about all the deadlines ahead of them. We are all just having extremely dynamic days and we are trying hard to fit more than what we are capable of in 24 hours. What is worse is that we are trying to get our kids into that as well with all these extracurricular activities after school. Many of us have extremely high expectations and quite ambitious goals. We want more from ourselves, but we want more from the children as well.
People know they have to go to bed, but they also have to finish this, and that, to do the laundry, to send that email, and they just miss the moment of time in which they can easily fall asleep. The window of opportunity shuts. Once that happens, our bodies start producing stress hormones. Biologically, if you do not go to sleep at the expected time, that signals that there is a stress situation going on that needs to be overcome. These stress hormones keep us awake so that we can cope with an urgent situation.
If we have a lot of stress, we have a lot of stress hormones as well that keep us awake. Because of these, many people cannot fall into a deep sleep. so that they can always get up if something happens – just like mothers to newborns. They are always on a stand-by to hear if their baby needs them.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to slow down, to lower the speed which would be the best option but there are some easy tricks that could help us get enough time for everything and do all we wish to do without sacrificing sleep.
HoW: What can be done to get that special kind of balance?
S: First you will have to make a clear schedule. At what time do you need to wake up, so that you know at what time you have to go to bed in order to get the sleep hours needed. My advice would be to go to bed and wake up at the exact time each day so that it becomes a routine.
Another important thing, once you have cleared out what is the best time to go to bed is that you deliberately switch off all screens and electronics.
You should consider your bed as THE place for sleeping. It should not be a place for watching TV. It should not be a place for working and sending emails. It shouldn’t be a place associated with staying awake. The bed should be perceived as the place to which you go to have sleep or a place for intimacy with your partner. Apart from that – nothing else.
The best thing we can do before going to sleep is to calm down and relax. There are some physical activities that can help you do that: folding laundry is one of them. Sudoku game is another… In fact, any activity that is simple enough and at the same time requires concentration could do the trick, so that all your thoughts can go in that direction and you can forget about all the other issues that cause you anxiety.
HoW: There is a trend going on of waking up early in the morning so that we can be more productive. Could waking up at 5 am be the universal productivity pill?
S: Unfortunately there is not a single universal trick that works for everybody. Different people at different ages are productive at different times of the day, that is how it was from the earliest of times. There is nothing universal that is relevant to everybody. Of course, if you are one of those being productive at 5 am, you can get up at 5 am, as long as you get to bed early enough so that you can get the necessary hours of sleep. If you cannot go to sleep early enough, it is not a healthy idea to wake up at 5 am, just to follow the trend.
As a conclusion we will quickly draw the benefits of good sleep, believing that they will motivate most of you to prioritize sleep:
- Sleep is one of the greatest boosts for your immune system
- Sleep is usually a prerequisite for a good mood
- Sleep can prevent weight gain
- Sleep increases productivity & memory
*Read more about drowsy driving here.