It seems like every week there is a different awareness campaign attempting to help us live a healthier and happier life. Paying attention to all these different campaigns can be exhausting, and so it’s timely that from the 3rd July to 9th July it is Sleep Awareness Week, and we can all get some well earned rest …….. or at least learn about the benefits of good rest.
We all know that we feel better when we get a good night’s sleep, but when we are struggling to fit in study, work, hobbies, social life into our days, often it’s sleep that takes a back seat.
Unfortunately, our brains seem to quite like a good sleep, and if we deprive them for too long problems can emerge. According to the National Sleep Research Project, the record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes, which was achieved during a rocking chair marathon. The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses, which is perhaps a small price to pay for being crowned a rocking chair marathon champ (not).
BUT seriously folks ….. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role. Just imagine the damage that lack of sleep could do to your grades !
If we want our brains to operate at high efficiency (generally considered a good thing for learning) then making sure that we get adequate sleep is a high priority. How much sleep individuals need varies depending on a number of factors, especially age, but generally aim for 7 to 9 hours per night. It’s interesting to note that before the electric light bulb was invented, adults slept nine to 10 hours a night. Tennis No 1 Andy Murray claims he gets about the same number of hours per night.
In order to achieve this sleep goal, establish a regular bedtime and waking time, and stopping exposure to electronic screens an hour before bedtime will help you to get to sleep faster, as these screen emit blue light which suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.
The other major sleep disruptor is caffeine, which has a half-life of about 6 hours. That means 6 hours after a cup of tea or coffee, you still have about 50% of the caffeine in your blood stream. This can be a problem if you are drinking caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. If you are feeling drowsy and need a pick me, try taking a quick walk outside instead of reaching for kettle.
The very sensible folk at National Sleep Awareness Week have produced a lovely infographic with some very interesting and useful tips on sleep.