What to wish people for the New Year? Generally, we can only think of the usual wishes for good health, prosperity and time spent wisely. But have you ever considered wishing your friends and loved ones, and even yourself, a good night sleep?
Sleep – it is something we do for about a third of a lifetime. The average person, however, does not reach the estimated 8 hours of sleep for one night. Instead, we try to stay up late, work overtime, attend parties and stay “active” on social media late into the night.
We have unlearned the habit of sleep
We are living in a true sleep deprived society. In it, the need of sleep is considered a weakness and being awake is a hallmark of productivity and success. Society has worked out chants like ‘money doesn’t sleep’ and ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ to maintain such lifestyle norms.
Nowadays, no social level is exception to the rule. This includes night/shifts workers, stewards challenged by jetlag, politicians and executives who attend never-ending-meetings, health professionals on 12-hour-shifts, taxi and truck drivers, who work throughout the night. These examples show that the habit of underrating the need of sleep has been nurtured for decades. This global sleep deprivation epidemic ties to an over-consumption of sleep medication to try and fix our broken sleep patterns.
Is sleep truly a waste of time?
Sleep does have a restorative function. During sleep, our body focuses on clearing toxic substances. For example, some damaging proteins involved in the development of neurodegenerative diseases are removed from the brain at night. We also create links in our memories and balance our metabolic processes. It is needed to allow physical rest and decrease stress levels.
Additionally, an adequate quantity and quality of sleep increases our chances of better health, a healthier ageing, longer preservation of cognitive skills, better quality of life, and productivity (WHO report from 2015 and Vanderlinden et al., 2018). A good quality of sleep can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like Type II Diabetes, some types of cancer and stress-related diseases (Huffington, 2016).
Thus, our sleep deserves a resolution for the New Year. Luckily, sleep can be improved by a change in our daily habits and lifestyle. Expensive (or any) sleep medication is not necessarily the way to go. Especially since they could also cause addictive and adverse effects.
Starting by changing little things might already affect our sleep quality in a major way. Our activities during the day affect our sleep at night. Trying to include active outdoor activities in our daily routine allows natural daylight to reach our skin. This, in turn, increases the vitamin D production, associated with good sleep. This daylight also reaches the “light sensitive” cells in the retina of our eyes, informing our brain of the time of the day, helping our internal biological clock to “stay on time” (Amaral, 2018). Increasing physical activity levels will not only support the hormonal balance but also create a natural fatigue, which generally improves the quality of sleep.
And of course, we all know that exposure to light from various electronic devices before bed time is not advisable if we are hoping for a good night’s rest. Allowing out brain to disconnect from the screen-time a few hours before going to bed also improves sleep.
Good alternatives to the aimless scrolling on our mobile in bed are warm baths, a nice cup of herbal tea, a book, practicing some relaxation or breathing exercises or enjoying a relaxing massage. Anything that allows your system to prepare for power-down would do.
A quiet, dark and well-aired bedroom creates an ideal environment for your sleep. Besides external conditions, also internal factors should be considered. Avoiding caffeine, sugary drinks, alcohol, eating spicy or heavy meals before bedtime is highly advisable as they need more energy to digest, which doesn’t allow our body to rest.
Try to detect your own biological rhythm and act like it
Setting a fixed hour to go to bed and get up, creates a good routine and more structure in our sleep cycles. Putting sleep on our daily to-do list helps realize its importance.
Learn to embrace your sleep and retrain yourself to love this nightly activity. Remember, the more we under-prioritize sleep today, the more it will affect our future health, ageing, productivity and energy levels.
Now that you know what to wish for this year, you “can sleep on it” and come up with your own plan how to get enough of it.