By Ray Tellili
Does how we sleep influence the success or failure of the ensuing day? That time you snapped, or the time you were rude and impatient, or that silly argument over nothing; perhaps it wouldn’t have happened if had you slept properly the night before or started the day right. Maybe you wouldn’t have eaten that extra dessert. Maybe you would have made a better presentation in front of all your peers, or done better on that exam, or remembered that person’s name. Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdowns, the Challenger Shuttle explosion and the Exxon Valdez spills are just a few examples of catastrophes that were linked to sleep deprived human error. It is a proven and self-evident fact that memory and mental acuity is diminished because of sleep deprivation. Solving complex problems become more difficult.
Extrapolating over a lifetime, how much of a role does sleep play in in helping or hindering us? It would stand to reason that over a lifetime, someone who sleeps well in general would have an advantage over someone who does not. Aside from real sleeping disorders, our environment, and genetic dispositions, we are likely quite responsible for a good part of our sleeping quality.
Some people have better habits or more self-discipline than others. Some have better work habits, others better exercise or nutritional habits, some have better financial discipline. Certainly when it comes to health, someone with better sleeping habits is better off than someone with poor sleeping habits.
We need more or less sleep depending on our age, genetics, and situation. Babies, young children, adolescents, adults and seniors all require different sleeping hours. Revisiting our understanding of sleep and its overall impact on the individual and society would be beneficial. Allowing teenagers to start school later in the morning for example as per the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control would probably benefit society at large.
Sleep is often sacrificed the way exercise and proper nutrition are, but what can be more important than health. And it’s free. The best things in life really are free. Aside from recharging and regenerating, sleep is one of the best things we can do to strengthen our immune system, reduce stress and calibrate our appetite so we don’t overeat.
We have known about good sleep habits since time immemorial, but there’s no doubt that the introduction of electricity and lighting in our homes has played a number on our circadian rhythms. Getting to bed on time, at the same time every night, not eating or drinking hours before sleeping, staying off our phones and tablets all help us sleep better. Food, caffeine, medication, alcohol; even what we watch or read before going to bed can affect our sleep quality. Many people have a hard time sleeping in hotels, especially on the first night. As most business travelers know, it’s not just the pillows, it’s the temperature of the room you’re not used to that can disrupt your sleep.
If getting a good night’s sleep can help us get ahead and it’s something we all want and need, why then, do we not all do, what we need to do? It comes down to habits and self discipline. We are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep.
Are you able to nap on a plane or a train? There is something to be said about the daytime naps or siestas or the power nap, but it’s not for everyone. According to research the optimum daytime nap for an adult ranges between 10 and 20 minutes, beyond which point you risk going into a deep sleep, which you should avoid in the daytime to maintain regular energy levels. According to NASA, 26 minutes is the perfect nap time.
A quarter of married couples sleep in separate beds with many sleeping in different rooms altogether. It’s not just the snoring that can be a major issue for couples, some people just sleep better in their own beds. A sleep divorce has saved many a marriage.
Most of what we know about sleep has been discovered in the last 30 years only. Perhaps the world be a better place if everybody slept right. Here are a few interesting sleep facts:
- The latest research theorizes that we dream to prevent our visual cortex from being overtaken by other senses during the relative inactivity of sleep. A blind person for example develops non-visual senses to a greater degree to compensate for the loss of sight.
- Sleep deprivation kills faster than food deprivation which is why the Guinness World Records no longer tracks records for sleep deprivation. The last Guinness record was set by R.Gardner in 1964. He was awake for 11 days. He reported suffering serious insomnia decades later.
- Any light exposure can cause sleep disruption, even the little alarm light.
- Peak tiredness is reached at 2am and 2pm.
- Higher altitude environments cause sleep disruption (until your system adapts).
- The moon affects our sleep (full moon versus new moon). No one knows why yet.
- If you sleep next to someone who snores, it means that every night, on average, you lose 1 hour of sleep and are woken up 20 times.
- You can only dream of people whose faces you have seen before.
- Sperm whales sleep in an upright position. Horses sleep standing except during REM sleep when they lie down. Dolphins sleep with one half of their brain and keep the other half awake for safety.
- 82% of us dream in colour. Before colour television 15% of us dreamed in colour.
- Night noise can weaken your immune system even if you sleep through the noise.
- Tolerance for pain as well as empathy is diminished in sleep deprived people.