Your sleep is so important! And yet, when it comes to self-care and time management, sleep time is often what we sacrifice to get just-one-more-thing done.
While that “one-more-thing” may seem very important in the moment, when it sets you back, sleep-wise, that deficit affects everything that follows.
The amount of sleep that each of us needs varies from person to person. In addition, our sleep needs change as we move through the different developmental stages of our lives. But however many hours of sleep you need, I suspect that it’s a safe guess that you don’t often hit that number. (And I suspect it’s also a safe guess that you may not actually know how much sleep you need.)
In a recent study in Britain, it was noted that hours of sleep are generally on the decline. The impact of changing that trajectory (i.e. increasing hours of rest) was looked at, with interesting results. The researchers found that some of the results were as you might predict: the energy levels and mental agility of subjects decreased as hours of rest decreased.
But then they looked at specific, measurable physiological effects and found the following:
“Dr. Simon Archer and his team at Surrey University were particularly interested in looking at the genes that were switched on or off in our volunteers by changes in the amount that we had made them sleep.
“‘We found that overall there were around 500 genes that were affected,” Archer explained. “Some which were going up, and some which were going down.’
“What they discovered is that when the volunteers cut back from seven-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours’ sleep a night, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active. The team also saw increases in the activity of genes associated with diabetes and risk of cancer. The reverse happened when the volunteers added an hour of sleep.”
The study also looked at the different types of sleep, their timing and their functional impact on mind and memory. Deep sleep, for example, is a time when memories are moved “from short-term storage into long-term storage, allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. If you don’t get adequate deep sleep then these memories will be lost.”
REM sleep, on the other hand, is a time for processing emotions. Here’s how that works, according to the researchers: “During REM sleep an extraordinary thing happens. One of the stress-related chemicals in the brain, noradrenalin, is switched off. It’s the only time, day or night, this happens. It allows us to remain calm while our brains reprocess all the experiences of the day, helping us come to terms with particularly emotional events.”
Lack of sleep, as you can tell from the above, is going to cut into important internal activities that have a profound effect on how you feel and how you function the next day.
Unfortunately, that “one more thing” that you do the night before, sets you back in the morning … and very likely all day long. So I encourage you to try and experiment with yourself this weekend.
- Both days of the weekend, DON’T set your alarm, and see how long you sleep. Pay attention to how you feel – how your energy, mood, and productivity are affected. This will begin to give you a baseline idea of how much sleep you need.
- In the following week, fight the urge to do that “one more thing” and give yourself the sleep time you need. Observe how your week feels different, and build from there.
The only thing I’d add is that if you suffer from insomnia and/or have gone short on sleep for a very long time, it may be difficult to find your baseline. Be patient with yourself and know that, bottom line, the additional rest that you are able to secure will repay you exponentially in increased productivity and a heightened sense of well-being (not to mention the actual health benefits you also enjoy).
Here’s to giving yourself what you need and finding more time!© Copyright 2013 Paula Eder, Ph.D.