I clearly remember my days of working in an office job, how little time was left either side of my hour and a half commute each way. I wanted to make the most of my evenings, and so would often get to bed around midnight, if not even later. It was always a shock to the system when the alarm would go off (again) at 6am.
Sleep deprived I most certainly was, and although I could clearly feel I was functioning at less than 100% (don’t tell my then employer!), little did I know I was also putting a dent in my long-term health prospects. Depressing though this may seem, scientists keep adding more evidence to the case showing just how much sleep deprivation is costing us.
We already knew that inadequate sleep is connected to metabolic disorders, causing weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Earlier this month, some new research(1) explained in a bit more detail just why this is. It seems that sleeping too few hours shifts the way our body metabolises lipids (fats) causes oxidative stress (i.e damage!) generally.
Sleep really is like a disk clean-up you would do on your hard drive to restore its normal function. Your body needs the right amount to clear metabolites away – in other words the waste chemicals produced by your metabolism – and also to produce the antioxidants to counter the oxidative stress.
Unfortunately, sleep is often a casualty of our busy lives, and most people we meet on our corporate wellness programmes admit to getting far too little. No, it isn’t easy juggling work and home life and still finding enough time to sleep, but it’s so important to be aware of the price that comes with it! This might lead to re-evaluating its importance.
As Arianna Huffington puts it so eloquently in her book ‘Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life’(2): “Too many of us think of our sleep as the flexible item in our schedule that can be endlessly moved around to accommodate our fixed and top priority of work. But like a flight or train, our sleep should be thought of as the fixed point in our day, and everything else should be adjusted as needed so we don’t miss it.”
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Sleep is one of the 31 habits I cover in my new book: ‘Eat Your Way to the Top: 31 Habits for Optimising Your Potential at Work and Beyond’. Here are a few tips from ‘Habit 30: Getting Your Power Sleep’:
1. Timing and preparation
- Aim to get to bed around the same time each night, ideally around 10.00pm (or if that’s a bit of leap, start by bringing bedtime forward by half an hour)
- Design your bedroom primarily to support good sleep. Keep it clean and uncluttered
- Listen to white noise or relaxation CDs
- Make sure you are exercising regularly
2. Eating and drinking
- Avoid snacking on sweet or starchy foods just before bedtime as they raise your blood sugar and inhibit sleep (or wake you up when your blood sugars drop!)
- For the same reason avoid or limit alcohol (ever woken up in the middle of the night after a few glasses too many?)
- If you do snack before bedtime, choose protein. It won’t disturb your blood sugars as much and will provide L-tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin and serotonin
- Avoid caffeine as much as possible
- Avoid screens (TV, smartphones and computers) for at least an hour before the time you’d like to sleep
- Keep the lights down in the evening and don’t turn them on if you have to get up during the night as bright light will affect your circadian rhythm.
(1) Aalim M. Weljie, Peter Meerlo, Namni Goel, Arjun Sengupta, Matthew S. Kayser, Ted Abel, Morris J. Birnbaum, David F. Dinges, Amita Sehgal. Oxalic acid and diacylglycerol 36:3 are cross-species markers of sleep debt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201417432 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1417432112
(2) Arianna Huffington. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life’. Published by WH Allen, part of Ebury Publishing, 25 March 2014.
Author: Angela Steel