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Updated: Apr 20, 2023

From the beginning of time people have struggled with sleep. There is no silver sleep bullet that’s going to do the trick for everyone. People’s reasons are specific to their lives, personal issues and circumstances. Those reasons shift over time, but there are scientifically proven general principles that can help.

Sleep deprivation decreases memory capacity, cognitive performance, decision making and social competence. If you need to hit snooze because you can’t get up when the alarm goes off, that’s a strong message you need more sleep.

An Australian study found that after 17-19 hours being awake, we can experience levels of cognitive impairment equal to .05 blood alcohol. Fact: 24 hours without sleep is equal to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. More than legally drunk!

Do you take sleeping pills and how often? Pills typically target only one of the many chemical systems used by the brain as part of the sleep process, which necessarily produces an imbalance in the chemical signalling by which the brain achieves normal sleep. Just because the pills cause you to close your eyes, doesn’t mean you’re asleep. Change your bedtime behaviour instead of popping pills.

Kids need a lot of sleep as their brains are developing and absorbing information to learn. Sleep deprivation is not always obvious. It can actually make them hyper and lead to misdiagnosis of ADHD.

Melatonin is released later in the evening in teens than adults so they want to stay up later. But really they need to sleep. A study of teens found those with sleep problems were 47% more likely to binge drink and suffer other alcohol problems. Sleep deprived students are more likely to turn to stimulants.

SLEEP = KEY TO MENTAL HEALTH. Sleep affects mental health equally as it does physically. Sleep deprivation results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol the next day. While sleeping, our brain is in maintenance mode, like bringing in the overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between the brain cells during the day. This goes towards prevention and treatment of dementia.

Lack of sleep over time can lead to irreversible loss of brain cells. A study in 2014 found that the less we sleep as we grow older, the faster our brains age. Researchers found that consistent early bed times may reduce the risk of mental illness. Sleep disturbances interfere with our dopamine levels, leading to imbalances associated with bipolar and schizophrenia disorders.

We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but ironically, loss of sleep adds up to more days lost in productivity. It’s called presenteeism. We are present physically but not mentally focussed.

Sleep is the most efficient use of time in terms of learning and memory. A UK study found sleep almost doubles our chances of remembering previously unrecalled material. The post sleep boost in memory accessibility may indicate that some memories are sharpened overnight, therefore students are better to go to bed than stay up all night studying.

By weakening our immune system, sleep deprivation also makes us susceptible to garden variety illness like a cold. If you want to increase your chance of getting a cold, don’t sleep. Research has found those who average less than 7 hours are 3 times more likely to get a cold than those who get 8 hours. Why do you think you need more sleep when you feel sick? Because you need it in the first place! It’s your body’s way of telling you.

In a study by the Mayo Clinic, sleep restricted subjects gained more weight than their well-rested counterparts over a week, consuming an average of 559 extra calories a day. People who get 6 hours sleep are 23% more likely to be overweight, have a decreased resting metabolic rate and increased glucose levels after meals. Getting enough sleep can be a matter of life & death. Lack of sleep increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

A 2015 study found a correlation between a pattern of poor sleep before a diagnosis of breast cancer and the likelihood of dying of the disease. Women who got 5 hours or less sleep before a diagnosis were 1.5 times more likely to die than those getting 7 hours. Also when we’re sleep deprived, our pain tolerance is decreased, so normally tolerable levels of pain can feel much worse.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to infertility. Disruption of our circadian rhythms affects hormone production and sperm count. It has been associated with erectile dysfunction. Testosterone is produced during the night, so less sleep can lower levels, production and release of testosterone. Get more sleep and get more sex with partner. You are more likely to want it when not tired.

Pregnant women need more sleep. Researchers found those who slept less than 6 hours a night, especially in their last month, had longer labours and were 4.5 times more likely to need caesarean.

Yawning is a signal for our bodies and brains to wake up, be alert or come back to the moment. Such as when we’re bored or we anticipate something happening. It’s bridging mental states: from awake to sleep & reverse, alert to boredom, changing states as we switch from one activity to another. Contagious yawning may be a form of empathy. Less than 1% of the population are short sleepers by genetic mutation.

Sleep Apnea is when the soft tissue in the back of the throat can briefly block the airway, often leading to chronic snoring. If not this, don’t drink alcohol before bed as it weakens the throat muscles so they are harder to stay open. Use a humidifier if snoring due to congestion or allergies. Lose weight! Sleep in a separate bed to your partner.

Insomnia is having trouble falling asleep because of worry, anxiety, stress, therefore unable to calm the mind & switch off. Do a brain dump & write stuff down before bed so you’re not thinking about it. Keep pad and pen beside you incase you wake up & need to write something down.

TIPS: Keep the bedroom dark. Eliminate blue light from devices & overall content you’re watching. Keep room cool. Exercise daily at least 15mins. Finish eating at least 3 hours before bed so digestion is complete. No alcohol. Your bed has to be associated with sleep, not work or TV.

FOOD: Eat right sleep tight. Eat wrong, up all night long. Don’t drink coffee after 2pm.

What to eat? Nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables and bananas for magnesium. B6 eat fish, beans, poultry. Tryptophan is in chickpeas, seaweed, eggs, pumpkin seeds, halibut and turkey. Cherries are rich in melatonin.

How much sleep do we really need?

Newborns (0 – 3 months) 14-17hrs

Infants (4 – 11 months) 12-15hrs

Toddlers (1 – 2 yrs) 11-14hrs

Pre-schoolers (3 – 5yrs) 10-13hrs

School age (6 – 13yrs) 9-11hrs

Teenagers (14 – 17yrs) 8-10hrs

Young adults (18 – 25yrs) 7-9hrs

Adults (26 – 64yrs) 7-9hrs

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