Just how did the Western world become so sleep deprived? The answer may well lie in that old equation: money + power = success. After all, plenty of us subscribe to old mantras like time is money and if you snooze you lose.
In fact, sleep has been so undervalued that being deprived of it has become a boast. However, when you factor in The Third Metric, this anti-sleep mentality suddenly seems ridiculously skewed. After all, what's the point of attaining all that solvency and influence if you're so tired you stumble through it all like a zombie?
If you're unfamiliar with The Third Metric, it can be summed up in a single phrase: "quality of life" - the third part of the success equation beyond power and money.
As a society, we continue to be somewhat slumber-dysfunctional. Recently, sleep specialist Dr. Guy Meadows highlighted some rather alarming sleep stats in a fascinating article for the Huffington Post, illustrating the scale of the problem vividly:
• 15.3 million sleeping prescriptions handed to patients in England in a single year
• Over 30% of people in the UK suffer from sleep problems
• Insomnia is the UK's most commonly reported mental health complaint
So, how can we move from sleep deprivation to sleep optimisation? My own journey towards optimised sleep hasn't been an overnight thing - rather, it's been a series of chance discoveries, as well as the occasional bit of research into the things that can boost sleep factors. Here, then, are my Top Nine Sleep Hacks:
Modify Your Sleep Beliefs
If Margaret Thatcher survived on four hours of sleep a night - then I can too!
This one always sounded more plausible in the evening than it did the following morning, when I felt wretched. Statistically there are bound to be some people for whom four hours suffices. But this is likely to be a very slender tranche of the population.
Begin your sleep optimisation journey by looking at sleep as the friend of productivity, not its foe.
No Days Off
Sorry, but if you're serious about optimising sleep, you can't have a separate set of weekend rules. Sure, you may go to bed later on Friday nights, but the trick is to set your alarm for the same time no matter the day of the week. Waking late on Saturdays and Sundays can upset sleep rhythms, making Monday mornings a bleary-eyed ordeal. For me, sticking with the routine also has an effect on how quickly I fall asleep in the evenings (usually just minutes after switching the light off!).
Habit and Ritual
Establish a routine. When it's close to bedtime I find it useful to go through a series of pre-bed actions. Things like selecting tomorrow's clothes and laying them out in the most accessible way (saving time and effort in the morning), brushing my teeth, and filling a jug of fresh water for nocturnal hydration. Then, finally, popping my noise-cancelling earphones in and drifting off to soothing ambient sounds.
Looking forward to something as mundane as sleeping may sound unusual. And when we were kids bedtime often felt like a curfew. But adulthood is the ideal time to reassess our approach to the daily miracle of sleep - those hours where we zone out completely and maybe even have some interesting dreams too.
Accept Interruptions (Smooth Seas Don't Make For Good Sailors)
Don't fear that waking in the night may lead to broken sleep - this can become self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead, get a feel for your sleep cycles and work with them. Most nights I wake up at some point (rarely before 4am for some reason) but I no longer fret about it. Sometimes I get back to sleep fast, sometimes not. Either way, fretting doesn't help. Note: if you're prone to bouts of wakefulness during the night, mindfulness meditation can be a wonderful way to deal with it - although it does require some practice to use it effectively.
Your Bedroom: A Sanctuary
Aim to de-clutter your mind as you enter the bedroom. In fact, make a vow never to worry in bed. Trust in your subconscious to deal with the important stuff while you get on with the serious business of sleeping. It's amazing how much perspective can be gained from a good night's sleep.
Cleanliness is Next to Sleepiness
Change your bedclothes regularly - fresh, clean sheets are statistically (if not scientifically) proven to be sleep friendly.
Wake with Light
It's curious just how less resentful you feel when woken by a beam of light rather than an auditory signal. Dawn simulators are designed to work with your biological clock's rhythms, and provide much more natural (and gradual) waking experiences than loud beeps from an alarm clock or smartphone.
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[photo credit by planetchopstick]