A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book. – Irish Proverb
When I decided to work on this blog, I got reminded of my Greek friend's advice while working in Barcelona. He told me that the one thing you must never worry about splurging your money on is the mattress. It is the place where you spend almost half of your life. Well, I took this advice pretty seriously and trust me, I never regretted it ever.
As you all know, the cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth. Cheetahs can go from being stationary to running at 60 miles per hour in just a matter of seconds – but they also sleep as much as 18 hours in a day to rest after reaching such remarkable speeds. Unfortunately, human athletes aren't always as wise.
But how often have you heard someone make a New Year's resolution to get better at sleeping?
It might sound like an excuse to be lazy, but sleep is a crucial process for the body that influences our ability to achieve other goals.
Sleeping less is not saving time, its wasting health – from the book The Blue Moon Day
Sleep in today's world
Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone." — Anthony Burgess, Inside Mr Enderby
Sleep can be a wonderful, rejuvenating experience, a time for repairing our bodies and refreshing our minds. And although the modern world seems intent on destroying the sanctity of sleep with screens, artificial lights and strenuous demands on our time, you can use modern science to push back against this.
In our modern world, which prizes speed and productivity, sleep can seem like a waste of time. If we're swamped with work or overwhelmed by a laundry list of tasks, the first thing that we sacrifice is our sleep. This war on rest has become so acute that the average person's sleeping hours have decreased from roughly nine hours to seven.
But there are big problems with painting sleep as the enemy of productivity. When you're sleep-deprived, not only are you slower and less creative – you also accomplish less.
Heath Cleland Woods, a sleep researcher at the University of Glasgow, found that people sleep less well when they're emotionally invested in social media and suffer from higher anxiety rates.
Emotions and stress aren't the only problems with social media, either; the blue light emitted from our devices also keeps us awake.
Industrialisation – an enemy of sleep
"Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep." – Mesut Barazany
In the 1980s, a new global economy required people to work longer hours than ever. Since money never sleeps, more people were adopting the same attitude, despite the fact that there was also a booming fitness craze.
Remarkably, psychologists and scientists were also claiming that there were health benefits to sleeping less. Journalists were seemingly happy to perpetuate the myth of sleepless success by seeking out scientific data that supported this narrative.
There were entire books devoted to the subject. Everett Mattlin's 1979 book, Sleep Less, Live More, was filled with research that argued against the need for eight hours of sleep per night.
In 1981, psychologist Ernest Hartmann released his own findings, which suggested that those who sleep six hours or less are more energetic, capable, successful and happy. He even encouraged people to train themselves to sleep less in order to reap these benefits, just as dieters need to change their lifestyle if they hope to lose weight.
"Some people can't sleep because they have insomnia. I can't sleep because I have Internet."
One study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, found that surgeons awake for over 24 hours took up to 14 per cent longer to complete tasks and made 20 per cent more mistakes once they did. And if there's one person you don't want to slip up, it's your surgeon.
One primary reason for this is that sleep deprivation reduces the brain's glucose content – an essential carbohydrate that your grey matter uses as fuel. And this glucose starvation doesn't affect all parts of your brain equally; the ones that are hardest hit are your parietal lobe and prefrontal cortex, which are involved with problem-solving and high-level thinking. After 24 hours without sleep, glucose in these regions decreases between 12 and 14 per cent.
Furthermore, several studies have shown that skipping one night of rest makes us insulin-resistant as type-2 diabetics. An insufficient amount of this essential hormone leads directly to weight gain, signs of ageing and decreased sexual drive.
Thus, sleep is not the enemy of productivity or an obstacle to overcome. It is a necessary restorative state, vital for our physical and psychological well-being. We cannot be healthy or function at peak performance without good quality sleep.
"Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds." – JoJo Jensen
In a sleep-deprived state, your performance suffers, your immunity is compromised, and your stress hormones creep up. Your ability to learn, evaluate situations and respond to stimuli are also diminished.
Even more worryingly, studies have found that a week of sleeping only four to five hours a night amounts to a cognitive impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of one per cent!
Sleep also helps us cope with emotions by highlighting our daily anxieties, a benefit demonstrated by dream expert Rosalind Cartwright. Over five months, Cartwright logged the dreams of 20 recently divorced men and women, half of whom were clinically depressed.
Those who recalled their dreams more often would experience longer and more complex dreams, which often integrated recent emotional experiences. This group recovered better than those who had shorter dreams and often couldn't recall them. As Cartwright explained, the dreams were like rehearsals for the patients' recovery.
Then, it follows that our dreams can help with emotional trauma, often showing us multiple perspectives, thereby helping us understand and process experiences more effectively.
"Never waste any time you can spend sleeping." – Frank H. Knight