My alarm goes off, my eyes are heavy. I want another bite of sleep in my warm blanket but I value my job more.
I get up, go to the washroom, and think my cup of coffee will cure the grogginess and the lack of sleep. I look forward to catching up on the lost sleep at the weekend.
We have all been through such days. We believe that we can work fine even if we sleep for six hours. This is how we gradually become sleep-deprived.
"Depriving yourself of sleep will shorten your life," says Professor Mathew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep. "Not getting enough sleep is nothing to be proud of."
Waking up, getting stressed, and facing the day hurts the mind and body -- it's catabolic. We sleep to restore our systems -- and sleep is anabolic. During sleep, hormones tell my body, "She is ready for repairs and upgrades."
If I get high quality of sleep, I'd feel fresh in the morning. If the quality or the quantity of sleep is not right, I'd feel tired and groggy. But this year, I resolve to change my sleep habits.
In an interview with Tom Bilyeu, Shawn Stevenson discusses how sleep is even more important than diet and exercise if you want to live a healthy balanced life.
According to one study, sleep-deprived individuals mess up their lives because their cognitive performance goes down. My dumbed-down version has little chance to succeed in life.
The hustle culture tells us to sleep when we are dead. It's unfortunate. Around 73% of teenagers and 32% of adults are sleep-deprived, according to CDC. If you follow this guide with me, I promise you'll be ahead of your competition in a week. This is the ultimate hack.
"You will factually work better, be more efficient, and get more stuff done when you're properly rested." ~ Shawn Stevenson
"I feel fine after six hours of sleep," I often tell myself. But it's a catch-22 situation. My lack of sleep impairs my judgment. Until I decide to sleep more, I'll always think I'm fine with six hours of sleep.
I watched a seminar by Harvard Medical School, where Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., MD, says that one in five car crashes is the result of drowsy driving. The drivers usually think they are fine until the accident happens.
Rest, relaxation, and sleep play an important role in our lives. It's not bad to admit that I'm tired. It's not wrong to take a nap. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, JFK, and John D. Rockefeller were all day nappers.
Of all the mammals only humans willingly delay sleep or sleep deprive themselves. I'm determined to be not one of those humans.
Here is a rational arrangement of answers to various questions that come to my mind to defy the cultural trend of not sleeping enough:
1. What happens if I don't sleep
In a 1989 experiment, scientists sleep deprived 10 rats. The rats ate 200% more food but lost weight, lesions and scars appeared on their tails and paws, and after twenty days, all of them died. (To prevent animal cruelty, no such experiment has been allowed ever since.)
We can observe the same thing in a rare genetic disorder, called Fatal Insomnia. The patients lose the ability to sleep - and die in a few months.
Not sleeping harms us in many ways. In December 1963 - January 1964, 17-year-old Gardner stayed awake for 264 hours or 11 days. Claudia Aguirre says in a TED-Ed video, "On day two, his eyes stopped focusing. Then, he lost his ability to identify objects by touch. On day three, Gardner was moody and clumsy. On the last day, he was could not concentrate, his short-term memory suffered, he became paranoid, and started hallucinating."
I promise to sleep well to stay sane.
2. Of testes and ovaries
"I would like to start with testicles," says Mathew Walker in a TED talk. "Men who sleep five hours a night have significantly smaller testicles than those who sleep seven hours or more." The same thing happens to ovaries.
Also, men who sleep four to five hours a night will have a level of testosterone of a ten year older person. A lack of sleep ages us by a decade in terms of energy.
I promise to not age myself by sleep depriving myself.
3. My brain fills with toxins
The more we stay awake, a chemical, called adenosine, builds up. It makes us feel sleepy until we use caffeine to block adenosine receptors in our bodies.
Neuroscientist Dr. Jeff Iliff says toxic proteins, like beta-amyloid and tau protein, also build up. The more I stay awake, the more toxic my body and mind become. "It leads to Alzheimer's in later years," says Dr. Jeff Illif.
I promise not to become a victim of Alzheimer's as I grow old.
4. My gut feeling and judgment can improve
I learned from Dr. Scott Killgore, professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, in the documentary The Science of Sleep, that my ventral medial prefrontal cortex is where my emotional memories are combined with my reasoning to guide my decision-making.
If I go 24 hours without sleep, this part of the brain shuts down. When I can't access this part, my intuitions, gut feelings, and judgment suffer.
I promise to sleep more to improve my gut feeling and ability to judge.
5. Little Sleep - more eating
The big cats, like lions and cheetahs, when they are starving, they remain awake for 24 or 48 or 72 hours on a hunt. In that state, their brains release a hormone that makes them hungry and makes them ferocious.
Something similar happens to me too. But I have my refrigerator. When I'm up late, I eat more. And I ferociously finish that double chocolate fudge cake.
I learned from the Healthline article about the hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells our minds to eat more while leptin signals satiety. When we don't sleep, not only leptin gets suppressed, ghrelin production is increased.
In other words, the only reason your system can think why you are not sleeping at night is that you are starving and you need to eat before you can sleep.
Weight gain and prediabetes
Just one night of 4-hour sleep is enough to hurt your insulin sensitivity. Five such nights can make you gain weight and you'll have blood glucose readings of a prediabetic person.
7. How sleep will help me
Getting high-quality sleep can help me in these four key aspects of my life:
Telomeres are like the aglets of our shoelaces. They keep our DNA strands in our chromosomes in place that they don't unwind. Unfortunately, the telomere length is shortened after every cell division.
But sleep is the only thing that can impact your telomere length favorably. In other words, sleep slows down the natural aging process.
I learned from this piece in the Atlantic, that sleep and creativity are linked. Penny Lewis from Cardiff University says non-REM and REM work together to make you more creative.
"The obvious implication is that if you're working on a hard problem, allow yourself enough nights of sleep," Penny adds. "Particularly if you're trying to work on something that requires thinking outside the box, maybe don't do it in too much of a rush."
Robert Stickgold's lecture taught me how memory is consolidated when we sleep. If we don't sleep after learning something new, we fail to transfer our memory from the short term to the long term memory.
One study says that sleep deprivation makes me emotionally volatile and more sensitive to stressful events. Sleep is essential for me to cope with emotional stress in my daily life.
8. Caffeine vs napping
This is something I've learned from Sara C. Mednick who is a sleep researcher at the University of California, Irvine.
In her TED talk, Sara starts by saying that we should be taking daily, weekly, and yearly breaks and breaks are a part of a productive life.
Later in the talk, she says that a cup of coffee only makes us falsely believe our performance will improve. Her research shows that a daytime nap actually improves our performance. Sometimes, a 90-minute nap improves our performance as if we slept for a whole night.
I promise I'll nap for 60 minutes daily to improve my performance.
11. Sleep flushes toxins out
I have learned from Dr. Jell Ilif's TED talk, that our brain does not have a lymphatic system to collect waste products created in spaces between the neurons.
The only way that my brain can clear the debris leftover during a day's hard work, is when I sleep.
My brain cells literally shrink in size to allow the cleaning of the waste material left during the time I used it.
I promise to give my brain time for its cleaning work.
12. When to sleep
Our bodies have a built-in 24-hour clock. Our "circadian rhythms" govern our sleep and wakefulness patterns regulated by a hormone, called melatonin. Melatonin is produced only when it is dark.
I'm imagining myself as a biological machine that is controlled by light signals.
Sleep as early as possible
How important is it to sleep early? Just think about how daytime saving affects us all.
When one hour is taken away from people, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks. And when one hour is added to the day, there is a 21% decrease in heart attacks.
I sleet at 11 or 12 pm but now I resolve to sleep at 10 pm.
Sleep to save what I learn
Sleep is my save button. When I learn something new, I need to sleep after that. My hippocampus plays a crucial role in this memory consolidation.
Different parts of my brain handle concepts and things I do habitually, like driving a car or playing the piano. For optimal results, I must sleep:
- 1 hour after practicing piano or any procedural practice.
- 3 hours after memorizing formulas and concepts
30-minute screen curfew before bed
A Harvard study says one hour of 'blue light' screen time in the night time, delays your melatonin production by 30 minutes. I have to try to go to sleep at 9 pm and before that implement a 30-minute minimum screen curfew.
One app, called f.lux, can also help you as well. (It's free to download and use.) On Mac and iPhone, blue light blocking is built-in and it's called night shift mode.
13. We create meanings when we sleep
"We create meanings of our lives when we sleep," says Robert Stickgold, a full professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
In one of his maze experiments, he says that if a participant takes a nap after going through the maze and dreams about the maze, she performs 10 times better than others when she goes through the maze again.
When we sleep and dream about something, it means our mind is trying to understand the thing in more detail.
In a way, our dreams work like therapy to let us know what really matters to us.
I promise to use this unconscious resource to my advantage by sleeping more.
14. How I can trick my mind into falling asleep
It takes on an average of 10–20 minutes to fall asleep. If you fall asleep in less than ten minutes, it may be a sign of sleep deprivation.
As I sleep, I move from one to the next phase of sleep. Waking up many times during the night is normal. I may wake up as many as 8 times as I go through light, deep, and Rapid Eye Movement sleep.
A study says exposing my body to more sunlight and doing physical activities throughout the day can help me to sleep better at night.
For the nights when I toss and turn but can't fall asleep, I have collected some tips and tricks. These might work for you too:
i. Six tips to sleep
Here are six scientific tips:
- Go to bed at a regular time: Use an alarm to go to bed. Wake up at the same time daily. Regularity is king.
- Temperature: Keep your room at 65⁰ F or 18⁰ C.
- Darkness: It helps your body to signal melatonin production. "If you're looking to lose weight, aim to sleep in a dark room," says Phyllis C. Zee, MD, Ph.D.
- Walk it up: After 25 minutes, just go for a small walk or do something else. Don't let your bed be associated with wakefulness.
- Monitor alcohol and caffeine: Avoid caffeine in the second half of your day.
- Wind down routine: Spend an hour winding down. It's like landing an airplane. No phone, no laptop. Discover what makes you feel more relaxed.
ii. How to stop worrying at night
I'll remember that my bed is not the place to worry about life. It's a place to sleep only.
I plan to worry at some other place. I can keep a Worry Journal. Writing down my worries, listing my anxieties will help me more. "I don't have a solution to this problem yet." I'll always include the word "yet" in all my entries.
Then, I'll sort through my worries. I'll ignore my imaginary worries, and deal with the real ones. I'll make a plan and take a very small step to resolve that worry.
iii. One exercise to fall asleep
I learned this from Jim Donovan who is a drummer. He says the key to falling asleep is rhythm.
This is his exercise, "At bedtime, I sat at the edge of my bed, and I brought my hands to my lap, and I began doing my drumming exercise on my legs, very lightly."
Once his mind notices the rhythm, he starts slowing down his drumming speed. He slows it down until his eyes feel heavy and he goes to sleep.
I can also use Yoga Nidra videos on YouTube for guided meditation. I often fall asleep when I listen to these sessions.
iv. Vitamin D deficiency
If my sleep is not good or if I find it hard to fall asleep, I'll get my Vitamin D levels tested as I read in this study.
15. Immune system and sleep
"People who get 5 hours of sleep are 4 times more likely to catch a cold than people who get 8 hours or more," says Professor Walker. Sleep improves my overall immune system.
In times of COVID, especially now that Omicron is spreading so fast, an eight-hour sleep reduces my chances of getting seriously infected.
Also, if I get enough sleep, my body will produce 2 times more antibodies after I get a booster dose of vaccine than if I did not sleep well.
16. Rest and slow down - - to speed up
"Sleep is God. Go worship." ― Jim Butcher, Death Masks
I love Bec Heinrich's definition of rest. She defines it using these words: "Rest is the renewing of one's depleted physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual reserves. It's about the deep internal renewal that occurs to our whole self."
She goes on to say, "We have to fight the lie that being busy and doing all the time is actually an inspiring act."
I'll remember that it is never too late to start sleeping better than yesterday. I promise to sleep more this year.