Increasingly these days, sleep is getting a good rap as we learn more about how important sleep is for your health and wellbeing. One of this week's top sports stories was about how Gareth Bale and Real Madrid are taking their sleep seriously, enlisting the help of sleep coaches and experts to enable them to get the right sleep in order to maximise their performance on the football pitch.
As a sleep and energy expert who has spent thousands of hours helping people to sleep over the last two decades, this is music to my ears but we've still a long way to go. Just earlier this week I worked with two burnt out patients from professional services firms who have been sent to me by their HR departments to get some help. Their problems are simple - too much time at work, little or no respite from screens and not enough sleep. In both cases, they were taking 'slices' off their sleep to try to get more work done and in the process had plummeted into exhaustion and mental illness.
There is still too much 'sleep arrogance' in the corporate world whereby people think they can get by on less sleep because they've got too much to do (who was it that said 'I'll sleep when I die'?) and the sleep that they are getting is shallow, non-restorative, toxic and laden with refined sugars and stimulants. I call this 'dirty' sleep.
Nature has given us an amazingly designed process that we spend over a third of our lives doing. The process of sleep has an innate intelligence if we allow ourselves to do it properly; we sleep in 90 minute cycles which repeat throughout the night. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has been around for thousands of years, offers a fascinating insight into the role of each of the 90 minute slices and the healing it offers:
9-11pm - repairs the thyroid, adrenal glands. Important for metabolism and energy levels. Reorders mental filing cabinets. Emotional rebalancing: hopelessness, confusion, paranoia. This is the vital sleep phase that too many night owls are missing out on.
11-1am - muscle and tissue repair. Rebalances immune system. Emotional rebalancing: bitterness, resentment.
1-3am - liver detoxification, heart and other organs detoxified. Deepest sleep. Emotional rebalancing: anger, frustration, rage.
3-5am - lungs. Release of toxic waste from lungs (hence early morning coughing in smokers). Emotional rebalancing: grief, sadness.
5-7am - gut and large intestine. Optimal time for rising and bowel action. Emotional rebalancing: guilt, feeling stuck, fear and defensiveness.
It's clearly not just a case of going to bed and getting seven or eight hours of sleep. It's important to get the right type of sleep and at the right time. This is all beautifully synchronised by the circadian timer in the pineal gland - that is if we don't try to override it with life's demands, too much blue light from technology, umpteen cups of tea and coffee and everything else that seems to be muddying our sleep these days.
My message is simple: You don't need to be an elite athlete to allow yourself the healing, restorative benefits of sleep. Be kind to yourself, sleep intelligently and you too can live your life with extraordinary energy and health.