In our busy everyday life, sleep and recovery are some of the most undervalued elements. As our calendars are filled with various commitments and deadlines, we often decide to cut back on sleep in order to try and “gain more time”. Unfortunately, this is not a sustainable strategy as our brains and bodies require sufficient sleep to function properly, grow and recover, and stay healthy.
Health and safety risks associated to lack of sleep
Our brains and bodies are built to function on the basis of the 24-hour natural light and dark cycle. When we alter this cycle, or get insufficient amounts of sleep, we are increasing our risk for various illnesses and safety risks. Below are some examples of research findings related to these issues:
- Sleeping less than 7 hours per night increases the probability of obesity by 6 %
- Constantly sleeping 5-6 hours per night increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 28 %
- Sleeping below 6h compared to 7h increases total cardiovascular disease risk by 15 % and coronary heart disease risk by 23 %
- When exposed to a flu virus those sleeping less than 7 hours were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those sleeping 8 hours or more
- The performance decrease when sleeping 4 hours per night for 1 week is the same as when not sleeping at all for one night
- There is a 30% increase in the risk of work accidents at night and 20% of vehicle accidents are related to sleepiness
Our general recommendation is to sleep 7-9 hours each night and also to go to bed at a consistent time. By having inconsistent sleep routines, we are causing ourselves similar challenges that we would experience from jet lag and therefore the consistency is important. There are naturally some individual differences in our need for sleep, but it is important to understand that a sleepy brain does not even realise that it is not performing well and we can’t always judge how tired we really are. Remember that small changes can make a big difference, and adding even 15 minutes per night to your sleep can be beneficial.
Enhancing sleep quality
Another issue that we have to understand regarding sleep is that in order for our sleep quality to be good, we need to prepare for it well. Many of us struggle for example with falling asleep, or waking up during the night and poor quality sleep can be just as harmful as insufficient sleep. We have put together a list of a few simple tips that can help you to prepare well for sleep and improve your sleep quality:
- Minimise stress and don’t work in the evenings. Do not for example check emails in the evening.
- Limit alcohol use and do not use it as a sleep aid, as alcohol decreases sleep quality.
- Exercise is beneficial, but avoid especially heavy exercise within 4 hours of bedtime.
- Eat light meals in the evenings.
- Avoid caffeine after midday as caffeine decreases sleep quality even if you fall asleep well.
- Do not use tablets/computers before bed as bright screens increase alertness.
- Dim lights in the lead up to sleep as a dark environment prepares our brain for sleep.
- Sleep in a quiet, dark and cool room.
Remember that sleep is essential behaviour and we have to make it a high priority in our lives. Keep making simple small adjustments to your daily routines that will take you gradually in a good direction.
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2) Hargens et al. Association between sleep disorders, obesity, and exercise: a review. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2013 Mar 1;5:27-35.
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9) Lockley, S. Lecture during Hintsa Academy on 10th October 2015