The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is important. But you knew that already, didn’t you? That’s why you’ve been staying up late watching your favourite tv show, or going out drinking midweek, or playing Call of Duty into the early hours of the morning, then wondering why you’re so tired all the time at work. In staying with the mission of this site I’m going to spell it out for you loud and clear – you need to wake up to yourself (pun intended). All those things above that you feel like you can’t live without will seem like so much wasted time when you spend your first week at work actually having a good 8 hours sleep every single night.

I’ve seen this so many times at the last place I worked, which was full of younger people who wanted to go out drinking all the time. They would show up tired to work – to a 12 hour shift no less, and would struggle through the day, all the time thinking that they hated their job when in fact they hated their sleep deprived life. As I said above, it doesn’t have to be drinking, it can be any activity that keeps you awake when you should be sleeping. If you’re wondering why you hate your job, or why it feels like you’re going nowhere in your career and/or life and you do the above, you have your answer. When you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, you start to see the world through a zombie haze that turns everything a bit more dull. You lose enthusiasm and of course energy. People where you work will notice this. Bosses especially will notice this. Believe me, you aren’t fooling anyone by downing a Red Bull first thing at work on your bad days.

This is the perfect time to bring up the word sacrifice. Too many people see going to bed early as an inappropriate sacrifice, as though it makes you an old, out of touch 60 something person. Here’s a newsflash for you, sleep is the number one factor in living a satisfying life, and going to bed not long after it’s dark and waking up with the sun is somewhat of an ancestral trend for our species. We’ve done just that for a couple of million years, but since electricity came along, we instead prefer to reclaim the night staring at a blue screen.

I’m not going to rattle off a list of statistics about what being sleep deprived does to you, or tell you the benefits of a good night sleep. If you don’t know that by now, I’m surprised you’re even here. What I am going to do is give some concrete steps to getting good sleep and making it a habit. I’ve had plenty of problems getting to sleep in the past – I have one of those minds that never stops, even when it hits the pillow. I’ve tried everything except sleeping pills, so here’s what works for me.

1. Turn the damn tv, computer, or smart phone off at least an hour before you need to sleep. Blue light messes with your sleep hormone melatonin and stops you from sleeping. This is the single biggest hindrance in getting to sleep. Once you set your alarm or whatever you do with your phone, don’t pick it up again. If you are going to read a book (which is a really good way to wind down and get to sleep), have a lamp or something that throws less light out than your ceiling light if possible.

2. Go to bed at a decent time. People think they are a night owls when it’s more likely their tv/computer etc is keeping them awake by jacking their serotonin up. We haven’t all of a sudden evolved as a species past our circadian rhythms – humans function best when they sleep while it’s dark, and are awake while it’s light. If you’re going to bed past 10:30pm, you should really be asking yourself why.

3. Try a couple of supplements. Zinc and magnesium work wonders for most people I know – it induces very deep sleep and very vivid dreams. You wake up incredibly refreshed. ZMA is a compound of zinc, magnesium and B6 and is even better, but a lot more expensive. Valerian root seems to work for a lot of people (I didn’t have any luck with it though), as does passion flower.

4. Make sure you’re exercising vigorously. If all you do is sit at a desk all day, it’s little wonder you don’t feel tired when you go to bed. You actually need to work your body out and induce tiredness a little if you want sleep to come easily. As a species we are meant to be walking around, standing, running after food and sprinting away from predators (to simplify things a tad). Being chained to a desk all day, sitting in a car to go home, then sitting down at home until you go to bed is doing you no favours when it comes time to sleep. More on exercise in a future post.

5. Make sure your room is dark and cool (in summer as cool as you can make it).

Believe me when I tell you that going to bed at 9:30pm (I read for a bit before sleeping) for a 6:20amwake up is one of the best things I have done. I generally wake up a few minutes before my alarm goes off and I actually feel awake, rather than that groggy, zombie like haze that most people have first thing in the morning. The other thing is, I don’t miss the tv shows I’d normally be watching at that time either. Kate Moss once said “nothing tastes as good as being skinny.” I say no tv show is as enjoyable as being fresh and energetic every morning.

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