For many of us, going to sleep is the absolutely best part of the day, especially after an exhausting day. As going to sleep is a common highlight of the day for many, waking up to an early, invidious alarm clock that hampers our brain and body’s hourly (desperately) needed sleep, is also a rather common feature. We are all known with the term of “8 hours sleep”, however, it is easier said than done. I do believe that this is due to our unawareness of the “8 hours sleep’s” perks. We are unaware of all the benefits that would actually make us prioritize a good night of sleep instead of watching another episode of Netflix or pulling an all-nighter close to an exam. But don’t you worry, I will in the following minutes explain these perks, moreover, pursue you to prioritize the 8-hour sleep.
The article is based on neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s book, “Why we sleep”, as Walker dedicated over 10 years of his life to research on human sleep. As per 2020, he is working as a Sleep Scientist at Google. So, this is not some traditional, out-of-date nagging on the importance of sleep. These are facts.
Inner clock and adenosine
It has been proven that sleep is the most effective way to reset our body and brain. We all have our own circadian rhythm inside of us, it’s like an inner clock that keeps track of what time during the day we’re in. You might not be ready to tell the exact time during your awake state but I’m pretty sure some of you, occasionally, are able to wake up just before your morning alarm rings. This particularly mark days where you have something important on the agenda or somewhere to be. This is due to circadian rhythm, together with the amount of melatonin that your body produces. Melatonin is depending on the light versus darkness that an individual is exposed to during the day, which is why we are told to not have any “non-natural” lights in or by the bed, such as tv, computers, phones etc.
The second factor that makes your body want to sleep is the natural buildup of the chemical adenosine in your brain, and that’s where caffeine comes into the picture. When our body consume caffeine, we block the adenosine receptors telling us that we need more sleep. So, if you can’t start the day without your morning coffee, that’s – how should I put it – unfortunate. Sorry, hard truth, I know.
Different Kinds of Sleep
There are two types of sleep. Firstly, NREM which denotes deep sleep, and secondly, REM sleep, which means light sleep, including dreaming. Do the two types of sleep affect us in different way? Yes!
NREM is best described as the reflection state; you are storing and strengthening the information of facts and skills you’ve been learning during the day. The light sleep (REM), is then interconnecting all these dots, with all past experiences, and builds up more innovative insights and problem-solving abilities. During REM-sleep your brain is completely free from the anxiety triggering molecule noradrenaline (also called norepinephrine). Problems with noradrenaline are associated with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. REM sleep has been proven to help people who suffer from these problems, but also preventing it as a whole.
For the Weak, or for smart?
There are a lot of benefits with sleeping, more than you think, and if you want to learn more about how sleep actually helps you, I suggest you buy the book or watch one of Walker’s lectures. One of the most impressive things I came across while reading his book, was that sleep has proven to repeatedly be the perfect memory aid. Before and after learning. Meaning, to initially make new memories you have to prepare your brain for it and after you’ve done it, you have to engrave those memories to prevent you from forgetting. Preventing you from sitting the next day with the same assignment without knowing the answer. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
A last crucial benefit from sleeping is for me one of the most important and valuable characteristics: Sleep will boost your creativity.
What If I don’t?
One sentence to summarize the obvious; every benefit you gain from 8 hours of sleep, you miss out on when you don’t fulfill the 8-hour sleep. On top of that, little sleep gives you much higher risk to develop Alzheimer’s, dementia and cancer, to name a few. Too little sleep also causes a change in your hormone levels, gives a bigger appetite for high calorie foods, worse impulse control and a lack of concentration.
The worst part about it all, is that we won’t recognize these facts, as we lack sleep, we have a harder time noticing, and constantly misjudge how reduced our performance is. So, what will it be, an extra episode of Netflix or 8-hour sleep?
Rough week? “Let us rest this weekend and catch up on that lost sleep from the stressful week”. That is a pretty common thought among people, as we think we can “catch-up” on our sleep. Sadly, it does not work that way. After a normal week of insufficient sleep, it takes MORE than three nights of full recovery sleep to get you back to your best performance level. Even if you hit 7 hours every time, it is still not sufficient enough. After just ten days with seven hours sleep each night, your cognitive level is as bad as if you stayed up for 24 straight hours. Heads up future finance workers. And once again your mind is insufficient to accurately pinpoint how sleep deprived you actually are. Sad but true.
The Tips You Know But Didn’t realize You Needed
So to wrap this up and give you a good night of sleep, here are 13 sleep tips. 12 that you already know (but still ignore) and 1 you might not have tried, that serves effective for me.
- Get yourself a sleep schedule
- Try to exercise during the day. And if you like me, like to work out late, try to stress down after, and try not to workout 1-2 hours before bed.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine, caffeine will be affecting your body for 5 hours even when your coffee rush is out of your system.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Yes, this affects students sleep too*
- Avoid large meals just before bed.
- If possible, avoid medicines that delay your sleep.
- Don’t take naps after 3 p.m., but overall, naps are good for your health and memory and learning bank.
- Try to have a relaxing activity before bed, reading, listen to music or that podcast you wanted to.
- Take a hot shower before bed.
- Make sure you have a dark bedroom, cool bedroom and gadget free bedroom.
- As said before, your sleep pattern is partly controlled by your sunlight exposure, try to get outside and don’t be afraid to turn the lights up in the morning. Even if that can be a tough challenge, it will get you going much faster.
- Don’t lie in bed awake, your body has much easier to fall asleep if you associate it with sleep.
- My favorite, if you tried everything and still are wide awake, you even feel a bit stressed about the fact that you’re still awake. Then I always use this breathing exercise from Wim Hof ‘The Iceman’
(preferably if you’re alone or if you give your partner a heads up so he or she doesn’t think you got yourself a heart attack). It takes about 10 minutes and you will feel a bit weird the first couple of times, also a bit numb so don’t get too surprised.
I sincerely hope that you after reading this will begin to prioritize your sleep more. If there is no time left in your schedule, make time for it. You won’t regret it in the long run.
Sleep tight dear! <3