Like most of us I’m aware that it’s a good idea to aim for 8 hours of sleep a night, but I’d be lying if I said that I consistently managed it. In fact… if I’m totally honest, whilst I’ve always aimed to get a good nights’ sleep, I don’t think I’ve ever taken this as seriously as keeping fit or eating well. I treat it the same way as getting enough water each day – I’m always aiming for it, but if it doesn’t happen…. meh! It’s not the end of the world right?!
I know I’m not alone here. How many people really take their sleep seriously? Worse still… I’ve lost count of the number of self-help, fitness gurus and even work colleagues that I’ve heard boasting about how little sleep they can survive on.
In today’s culture, sleep seems to be a dirty word. It’s as if we should bow down to these ‘successful’ types who apparently only need 5 hours a night, while perceiving someone who always gets their shut-eye as boring or lazy.
The thing is… this is not only stupid, but it’s also incredibly harmful.
Thanks to a growing wealth of scientific investigation in this field, we know that sleep is absolutely vital to health, happiness and longevity. And with this in mind, I’m going to hit you with just 5 facts from leading sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker.
Why we need to get SERIOUS about getting 7-9 hours:
1. We now know that good quality sleep is just as important to healthy brain and body function as being awake is. Every major system in your body experiences some kind of restorative reboot during sleep – this in turn benefits your memory, learning processes, emotional reasoning and so on.
2. Sleep is the number one pillar of good health, before diet and exercise; in fact, it’s the foundation on which they’re built. If you’re trying to lose weight and get fit, but you’re sleep deprived, 70% of the weight you lose is actually from muscle mass instead of fat!
3. Every major disease in the developed world has significant links to insufficient sleep. This includes: Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health, to name just a few. Matthew says it best: “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation. It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny.”
4. Once you’re getting under 7 hours of sleep, scientists can measure objectively impairments in your brain and body. It won’t be a big shock that people in this bracket performed poorly on reaction and concentration tests the following day. What is perhaps more shocking is that research shows that it only takes 10 days of sleeping six hours a night to become as impaired as someone who’s gone without sleep for 24 hours straight.
5. An adult sleeping only 6.75 hours a night would be predicted to live only to their early 60s without medical intervention. So basically, the less you sleep, the shorter your life-span. Again, in Matthews’ words, frequently depriving yourself of sleep is basically a “slow form of euthanasia.” Eeeek!
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re damaging yourself both in the short and long-term. Of course, life will always get in the way and you’re never going to manage this every night. But take it seriously. And try hard. At least make it as important in your head as regular exercise and good food are.
Researching and writing this has certainly made me re-think my own approach to sleep, and I will be making adjustments. More on this tomorrow!
If you’re interested in hearing more from Matthew Walker, he appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast and it’s a fascinating chat to watch/listen to.