Sleep is the foundation of health, restoration and rejuvenation. Nothing is more important to our daily health and energy levels than getting a good night’s sleep, so take a little time to understand how you can maximise the benefits of your own sleep.
Every month, I see many patients with sleep-related health problems like anxiety, low hormone levels, headaches and muscle pain.
These common ailments can easily be treated by building good sleeping habits, but it seems that training the body to stay up late is one of the biggest, yet under-acknowledged, addictions of our 21st-century culture.
No one likes the thought of leaving home in the morning with a half-charged phone battery, and yet we can quite happily stay up till 2am and go to work with a half-charged brain and a fatigued body.
This state of “perpetual jet lag” not only disrupts the endocrine system and inhibits physical repair, it also has a hugely detrimental effect on our cognitive function.
In fact, if someone asked me to design a “How to get sick and age quickly” programme, sleeping late would be at the top of my list of “daily” activities.
Sleep deprivation is actually so effective at creating a rapid decline in both physical and mental function that it has been widely used as a form of torture since the Inquisition in the Middle Ages.
So why is it that millions of us willingly submit to this draconian torture technique by forcing ourselves to stay awake long after we have sent our own kids to bed?
What’s the attraction, where is the benefit, and more importantly, how do we begin to break the addiction and start repairing our natural sleep cycles?
Fun sleep facts
Presenteeism is a term coined by British psychologist Prof Carey Cooper in the 1990s to describe the state where an employee is at work but is too sick or tired to function well, resulting in diminished performance.
The Harvard Business Review published a year-long telephone survey of 29,000 working adults, dubbed the American Productivity Audit. The research team calculated the total cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than US$150bil (RM600bil) per year.
There are 81 private five-star siesta rooms at the Real Madrid football training facility designed by sleep performance expert Nick Littlehales. Top sports clubs recognise the impact of poor sleep on performance and Littlehales has worked with most English Premier League teams, as well as Sir Bradley Wiggins at Team Sky.
Tennis great Roger Federer and basketball star LeBron James are both advocates of sleeping for upwards of 10 hours per night.
A study by Stanford University sleep expert Cheri Mah showed basketball players who increased their sleep duration to nine hours improved shot accuracy by 9% in tests and recorded improved sprint and reaction times.
Sleep is such a hugely relevant, topic so let’s break it down into a couple of areas:
Getting to bed on time – First of all, many of us are out of tune with our energetic selves and we are getting home exhausted after a long day of work.
Some days, the only thing we have the energy for is to buy some take-away and relax in front of the telly. If this becomes a long-term pattern, then we have to find a better work-life balance, otherwise we will find ourselves gaining weight, stressing out and falling sick.
Break this cycle once in a while by following your body’s natural need to sleep, even if it’s as early at 8-9pm. I guarantee you will wake up refreshed and have plenty of time in the morning for all the things you missed out the night before.
As your circadian rhythm starts harmonising, you will be able to recognise your natural bed time and be less likely to resist the lure of blissful sleep.
Falling asleep in 1-2-3… – Chances are, if you have been abusing your natural sleep cycle for a while, then falling asleep regularly at an “honest” hour will be your biggest task.
So, here’s a knock-out tip for knocking out: drop the drama.
When we watch TV, our brains process the experience like a real situation and releases the hormones related to the emotional state.
Why are they called TV programmes? Because they are literally programming us to feel a certain way, and some states created by watching horror or drama increase stress hormones like cortisol, making it impossible to get to sleep.
I always know when Game of Thrones is getting interesting: The clinic is full of patients with anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia!
It’s even worse with Hong Kong TV dramas, those guys really know how to twist a plot!
My advice: Turn off all electronic gadgets like phones, iPads and laptops, and read a book – a boring one!
If you really must watch TV, then pick a show that reflects the mood you want to sleep in, like a romantic comedy.
Make programming work for you and enhance the restorative benefits of sleep and experiment a little until you hit the right note.
Growing up as Christians, we were always taught to pray before sleep and give thanks for our blessings. This nightly ritual ensured that we fell asleep in a grateful state. Simple, but so very effective.
Catch up with me in a fortnight for the best tips for falling asleep, or better yet, write in and let me know your secret formulas for passing out.
Until then, put a little spring in your step with some extra ‘zzzz’s this week.