Sleep deprivation is an epidemic – 1 in 3 are not getting enough sleep. If this was some sort of disease or virus I’m certain governments, organisations, and individuals would start taking action. But they don’t. Sleep is seen as something we can divert our attention from because there are just so many other things demanding our attention until late in the evening or early in the morning. Matthew Walker points out that sleep is a biological necessity not an optional lifestyle luxury
We are sleep-walking towards disaster.
“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep – even moderate reduction for just one week – disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic…” (Walker, 2017, p. 3)
- Walker also undertook a study that showed that by only reducing sleep to 6 hours a night for one week gene’s were effected negatively. He measured change in gene activity and found that 711 gene’s were distorted in their activity and half of those gene’e were genes associated with tumor promotion, long term chronic inflammation, stress and cardio-vascular disease
What gets in the Way?
- We are Bi-modal sleepers. Before the industrial revolution we used to go to sleep when it got dark and then wake up for a period of time through the night then go back to sleep. But now we can put the lights on and stay awake well into the dark hours
- The light from our devices, our mobile phones and tablets disrupts melatonin release which is the chemical that helps us get to sleep. This can suppress our desire to sleep for up to 90 minutes. The light from devices close to us is equivalent to day light and therefore increases the length of time it takes us to get to sleep
- Maybe you’re a night owl – you can read more about that in this blog
- Maybe the quiet of the bedroom means your mind starts wandering about and finds you all sorts of things to think about – some you might not have thought of for years and others that may be quite current. Family issues, money, work – all of these things can play on our minds in the silence of the bedroom.
- Sometimes (like me) you might get to sleep and wake up in the early hours and the ‘churn’ begins – you start to think of what is to do the next day – what might you have forgotten – how might you approach this or that.
- Caffeine plays a role. Lots of things have caffeine in them. The half life of caffeine is about 5 to 7 hours depending on the person so that cup of coffee from six o clock or that coke from 7 o clock is still in your system when you go to bed – and sugar can have the same effect giving you a bit of a buzz
- Alcohol can mean that you get to sleep easy enough but it’s not good quality sleep – Matthew Walker says that after alcohol you are sedated rather than asleep so your brain and body can’t do all of the things they do while you are sleeping
Some researchers have proposed that the brain does not measure the time we have spent awake, rather, it tracks how hard the brain works while we’re awake, and adjusts the amount of sleep we need accordingly. Research in support of this theory has found that individual areas of cortex can briefly switch off when overworked, even while the rest of the brain is still awake. This temporary shutdown of individual brain areas is termed “local sleep” and thought to be a mechanism that allows the brain’s cells to recover. While a person might not notice it, such a localised shutdown can profoundly affect someone’s performance – for example while driving a car.
For some possible solutions to some of these problems have a look at this earlier blog.