In a climate where mobile phones are glued to hands, eyes are fixed to screens and free time is increasingly precious, getting a good night’s sleep is ever more difficult.
How much sleep do you need?
Sleep is fundamentally important to our daytime performance. In the workplace, we do a lot of high-order executive functions – communicating, recalling memories, problem-solving and being focused to name a few.
These processes are run by an area of your brain called the ‘prefrontal cortex’, which is one of the most vulnerable areas to be affected by sleep deprivation. When we experience poor sleep, we encounter reduced focus and attention, our creativity is dulled, our risk of accidents increases and our ability to manage our emotions is significantly affected. In other words, a bad sleep equals a bad day at work.
Many of us sleep-deprive ourselves in the week by sleeping for five or six hours and trying to catch up on the weekend, but the bottom line is that there is no real way to recoup lost sleep.
There’s also no specific answer to the question, ‘How many hours of sleep do we require?’ Our sleep need is determined by genetics, so while the average proportion of the population needs an average of seven or eight hours, there are also a small percentage of people who might need anything from a range of four to twelve. Essentially, you know you’re getting the right amount of sleep if you wake up feeling refreshed.
Turn off to switch off
The technology we’re surrounded by could be one contributing factor to poor-quality snoozing. One of the main issues is the blue light that laptops, phones and TVs emit. The light suppresses the production of melatonin (the hormone that helps control your sleep cycle) and will trick your mind into thinking it’s time to wake up. Sending a late-night email or checking social media before bed hampers melatonin production and keeps your brain in an active state.
Melatonin is affected by exposure to light and how tired you feel. Bright light slows down this production and makes us feel more awake, so we often feel more tired and sluggish during the winter and have more energy during the summer and spring.
Falling asleep may seem like an impossible dream when you’re awake at 3am, but good sleep is more under your control than you might think. Following healthy sleep habits can make the difference between restlessness and restful slumber. Researchers have identified a variety of practices and habits – known as ‘sleep hygiene’ – that can help anyone maximise the hours they spend sleeping, even those whose sleep is affected by insomnia, jet lag or shift work.
- Keep in sync with your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle
- Control your exposure to light
- Exercise vigorously during the day
- Be smart about what you eat and drink
- Wind down and clear your head
- Improve your sleep environment
This article was first published by Mercer Harmonise