Whichever way the precarious life-work scales tip, it’s sleep that always seems to get the boot. We are designed to spend a third of our lives sleeping and yet 43% of the American workforce say they “rarely or never” get a good night’s sleep on weeknights. Thirty per cent of Brits claim they are sleep deprived or verging on insomnia, which suggests that some 19 million of us are not getting to sleep, or, if we are, we’re certainly not staying that way for long.Sleep is a fundamental component of our physiological and psychological wellbeing. The body is busy doing all sorts of things while we rest. Cells, tissue and muscle are all busy regenerating themselves; the immune system gets a boost, hormones that control weight are regulated and detoxification occurs in both body and brain. Sleep research also indicates that a good snooze wards off stress, anxiety and depression (the cruel irony, of course, is that psychological stress is one of the primary causes of insomnia, a condition identified by the consistent inability to fall asleep and stay that way).
Since sleep is such a critical restorative process, the effects of chronic deprivation can be severe. A study from the University of Surrey in the UK demonstrated that fewer than six hours of sleep per night for two weeks affects the expression of some 700 different genes. This means that a lack of sleep can affect change our biology and predisposition to disease in a very real – sometimes irreversible – way.
The vast majority of us, however, are more familiar with the pedestrian consequences of a shoddy night’s sleep. Neuromuscular coordination goes awry, mimicking the effect of a night on the tiles, short-term memory becomes a lost cause, skin ages prematurely and productivity takes a dramatic nose dive (and we’ll say nothing of the wardrobe decisions made on a poor night’s sleep).
The hard-schooled would argue that sleep is a luxury, but in our particularly fraught modern life, sleep is a precious commodity. The idea that highly productive people have to get up at 4am every morning to do emails is highly outdated. Fall into sleep debt and it can be incredibly hard to make the repayments. “After a while, it becomes impossible to have a night of slow-wave sleep,” says independent sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley (thesleepconsultancy.com).
Whether you have trouble invoking the Sandman, find it hard to get an uninterrupted night or are wandering around in the lighter stages of sleep, read on for some sure-fire tips to maximise your rest.
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