Over the last couple of generations, technology has done more than provide us with a few useful gadgets and toys, it’s changed our ‘Rhythm of Life’. For literally thousands of generations, the cycles of the sun and daylight dictated the rhythm of our lives. When the sun went down – so did we.
The world was a dangerous place in the dark, so our ancestors would grab their mate, head back to the cave, and call it a day early. There was no modern appliance or electronic technology to keep them up – so nightfall signaled the end of the day. Nowadays, very often in this modern world, sunset simply marks the beginning of the second half of the day.
Late-night TV, all-night computer gaming, restaurants and entertainment centers open until the small hours, together with the 60-hour workweeks, have created a cultural norm of nocturnal living that is unrecognizable to our ancient ‘hard-wiring’. If you are a creature of this modern world like me, then your body expects and requires more sleep than it gets.
It is statistically highly likely, whether you know it or not, that you yourself are chronically overtired. If that’s true then this is for you.
We can all recognize the signs of tiredness in our day-to-day lives, like midday head bobbing and black circles under your eyes, but it’s the silent damage under the surface that you’ll experience with chronic sleep deprivation that is a real killer – literally.
You see, sleep is the time when your body rests and repairs its tissues. Our brain requires sleep to make new connections to process the information from the day, creating lasting memories. Hugely important sleep cycles balance our hormones which affect everything from energy levels and mood to metabolism and our ability to regulate our body weight. In fact, sleep deprivation is actually a reliable predictor of obesity. It has also been recognized as a precursor for eventually developing dementia.
For most of us, we should definitely try and improve our sleep patterns as this will promote complete sleep cycles including that vital ‘restorative sleep’. Your brain goes through different sleep phases when you rest. You may have heard of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) which is when we tend to dream. Non-REM sleep is the deepest and most critical phase of sleep. It is then that a vital growth hormone circulates in the blood repairing our tissues, our organs and our brains. For our kids, this is when they grow.
To help us optimize our sleep and our cycles, humans thrive best when we follow the Circadian Rhythm that is coiled deep inside our DNA. This rhythm, dictated by the light of the sun, is a physiological ‘set point’ that has promoted ‘early to bed, early to rise’, for millennia. In terms of practical advice, we can certainly recognize that getting to bed before 11 PM is a best practice followed by the healthiest, most energized people in the world. Indeed, tallying seven hours or more of quality sleep has been shown to increase longevity. If you’re not quite hitting that target then here’s the good news. Our afternoon nap turns out to be one of the most effective and productive methods for increasing energy and improving cognitive skills and focus while mitigating the adverse effects of chronic stress by lowering circulating stress hormones like Cortisol. This almost certainly is one of the reasons Spain has just been recognized as the healthiest country in the world – they do love their Siestas.
If you would like to improve your sleep, you could try going to bed fifteen minutes earlier for 21 days. Studies show that a new habit can be formed within 21 consecutive days, so you could then repeat this every 3 weeks until your target “bed-time” is reached. Why not give it a shot; this strategy has proven to be extremely effective and has helped many solve unhealthy late-night habits that leave us less fit for the rest of our waking hours.
Wouldn’t you like to have that feeling?
Of course, you would.
Help nudge yourself into bed on time by creating a sleep sanctuary. Invest in a quality sleep surface or mattress, a high-quality pillow, and comfortable pajamas. Practice an ‘eFast’ (no electronics) 30 minutes before bed – in fact, keep the TV, iPhone and computer out of the bedroom all together. Buy yourself an old fashioned alarm clock if necessary
Avoid food or drinks, such as caffeine or alcohol, that disturb healthy sleep patterns. Keep your bedroom cool and don’t exercise within a couple of hours of bed. Try reading a good book before bed – worked for millions of people for hundreds of years before cellphones were invented.
Finally, as always, listen to your body, if you need more sleep there will be signs. Don’t ignore them as the damage of poor sleep builds up or ‘bio-accumulates’.