How to succeed? Get more sleep!
Ariana Huffington told us in her 2010 Ted Talk.
She was way ahead of the posse…
Sleep has become one of the hottest health topics of the decade, yet so frustratingly elusive in our FOMO world.
While most of us nod knowingly when we hear the requisite 8 hour figure, do we really get how crucial it is for health and longevity?
Arianna, a self-confessed A type, learned the value of sleep the hard way, after fainting from exhaustion, breaking her fall with a broken cheekbone and a mean six stitches around her eye. Her personal wake up call sowed the seed for ThriveGlobal.com, an organisation with a mission to educate the world on the essential nature of sleep, and how to avoid stress and burnout.
A Dire Prognosis
Matthew Walker, the neuroscientist author of Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams doesn’t sugarcoat the perils of shortcutting sleep: his dire prognosis is spelt out fully in the first page of his bestselling book. Here’s what he is saying:
1. Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a week demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.
2. When you lose even modest amounts of sleep for a week or so, blood sugar levels can be affected so profoundly you could be classed as pre-diabetic.
3. Regular lack of sleep increases the likelihood of weakened or blocked arteries, and the spectre of heart disease or stroke.
4. Sleep disruption and loss is a significant contributor to depression and anxiety.
5. Not getting enough sleep (the 8 hours stipulated by the World Health Organisation) is a predictive factor in determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s.
6. Skimping on sleep leads to overeating and weight gain. How? The “hungry” hormone ghrelin increases when you’re sleep-deprived, while the satiety hormone leptin falls, so you never feel satisfied. You keep eating.
And in midlife, it gets worse…
As a woman in her fifties, the last two stopped me in my tracks.
The brain fog of menopause throws almost every women who experiences it into a panic about the possibility of Alzheimer’s – and the tiniest glimpse into the condition. If sleeping is part of the prevention plan, why are all the women I know in their 40s and 50s sacrificing their sleep so that others can get theirs?
And the weight gain, the sugar cravings and crashes, the inevitable growth of the girth…. lack of sleep explains that out-of-control hunger – why you’re eating twice as much as your younger self – at a time when you’re probably moving half as much. The maths says it all.
Prioritise your sleep
So what to do? When skincare brand Vichy took on the subject of sleep, they invited sleep experts to come up with practical solutions to help us get a better night’s sleep.
Boost your sleep hormones
Dr Sohère Roked, GP and hormone expert at the Omniya MediClinic, says boosting our melatonin levels can improve the depth, quality, and pattern of sleep. “We produce the most melatonin between 10 pm and 2 am so aim to be in bed before midnight. Even alarm clock light can disrupt production so make sure your bedroom is completely dark.”
Get the right bedtime routine
“Smartphones, laptops, and tablets emit blue rays that can disrupt sleep so switch devices off 30 minutes before bed,” says Dr Roked. “Instead, take a warm bath, read a book, or meditate. For evening exercise try yoga, pilates or walking. Intensive cardio will boost energy during the day and help you sleep, but it spikes levels of the stress hormone cortisol so best avoided four hours before bed. Also, cut out caffeine after midday – it can stay in your system for 8 hours.”
Stay in bed
‘While the menopause may trigger insomnia, it tends to be the anxiety and fear associated with sleeplessness that amplifies the problem,” explains Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of the Sleep School and sleep expert for Bensons for Beds. “The traditional advice is to get out of bed and do something boring, like read a book, but when you get up it’s logged by your internal body clock and can become a habit. Your body says: ‘Hey it’s 2 am, time to get up!’. There’s a lot of benefit from simply resting at night so I recommend staying in bed and using mindfulness to ease anxiety instead.”
Let it go
“The more you worry about not sleeping the less you’ll sleep,” says Dr Meadows. “Mindfulness can help loosen the grip of unhelpful thinking patterns, enabling us to observe thoughts without buying into them. Take a few minutes to focus on something that anchors you to the present – the movement of your breath or the touch of the bed on your body. Be open to the fact that your mind will wander then choose to let go of that thought and come back to your breath or the bed. It’s not designed to get you back to sleep, but to let go of unhelpful thoughts. Practise during the day for about 10 minutes. You don’t have to lie in a darkened room – you can do it on the bus, train or when you’re walking.”
Rethink your nightcap
“Alcohol tends to increase the speed with which we fall asleep” explains Dr Meadows. “It takes an hour to metabolize one unit. So if you have a glass of wine at 7 pm it will probably be out of your system by 9.30 pm and won’t impact your sleep. If you drink the bottle then you’ll probably feel the consequences.” Dr Roked adds: “Alcohol is also a vasodilator – it opens up the blood vessels, making sleep-disrupting hot flushes worse.”
To nap or not to nap?
“People believe daytime napping will weaken their drive to sleep at night but, like an overtired child, forcing yourself to stay awake can actually lead to more fractious sleep,” says Dr Meadows. “Try a power nap of up to 30 minutes between midday and 3 pm, when we have a natural slump. It doesn’t matter if you sleep, just use the time to rest. It can still improve anxiety and energy.”