Style Observer

Sweet Dreams are Made of (Good) Sleep

Sunday, February 03, 2019

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After 11 years as editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post , Arianna Huffington left her Pulitzer Prize-winning web publication in 2016 so that she could get some sleep. Sorta. Huffington grasped that besides exercise and eating well productivity is fuelled by sleep. As a result, she launched Thrive Global, a company dedicated to turning “sleeping well into the corporate world's most celebrated productivity tool”.

Huffington has given interviews in which she has stated that she'd rather skip an evening engagement if it meant a late night out. As a “sleep evangelist” her mission is simple — to interrogate the notion that burnout and exhaustion are synonymous with success. “Sleep, or how little of it we need, has become a symbol of our prowess,” Huffington noted in an interview with CNN. She continued, “There's practically no element of our lives that's not improved by getting adequate sleep. And there is no element of life that's not diminished by a lack of sleep.”

Dr Anika Mitchell, consultant otolaryngologist, head and neck surgeon at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, notes: “Sleep is an essential biological function and is important as it affects the development and growth of vital organs. Normal sleep is between seven and nine hours; less than six hours is considered inadequate sleep and greater than nine to 10 hours in a 24-hour period is excessive.” Dr Mitchell shared that studies have shown that inadequate sleep decreases memory and learning (especially in children) and negatively affects the metabolic and cardiovascular systems.

Dr Edwin Tulloch-Reid director of Clinical Services and consultant interventional cardiologist, Heart Institute of the Caribbean, concurs. “Not getting adequate sleep, not paying attention to sleep hygiene and sleep-disordered breathing are all linked to cardiovascular disease.”

So what, exactly, is sleep hygiene? It refers to, as Tulloch-Reid puts it, “The quality of the sleep environment, eg no TV or computer in the bedroom, no stressful activity or serious mental engagement before bedtime, etc.” Sleep hygiene has become a popular buzz term and has five core tenets — have a set time to go to bed and wake up; avoid screens 90 minutes before bed; limit caffeine intake after 12 noon and reduce alcohol intake; ensure that the bedroom is dark, cool and quiet; and have a calming bedtime routine.

Screens (yes, these include your smartphones) emit short-wavelength artifical blue light that supresses melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone) and delays the body's internal clock (aka circadian rhythm) making it difficult to fall asleep. Instead of watching Netflix on your laptop or tablet, texting or watching the late evening news, opt for reading, journalling, or meditating as a part of your bedtime routine. Oprah's bedtime routine includes a warm bath and a book. Bedtime routines are integral to good sleep hygiene. You can't expect to go from 100 to 0 without some calming techniques.

By the way, your mattress could also be keeping you awake at night. Gasp. We spend a third of our lives sleeping (for those of us who get enough sleep, that is) and the mattress should be one of the most important pieces of furniture that we invest in. It should be changed every eight to 10 years. Forget the 50-inch LED television and ensure that your mattress is up to par. Mattresses have become big business and this is why Swedish bed purveyor Hästens does very well selling its top-of-the-line mattresses that range from approximately US $30,000 to over $100K. As the N ew York Times heralded in a 2017 article — “Sleep is the new status symbol.”

We exist in a world where the term self-care has turned into activism. How did we get to the point where unplugging and enjoying downtime has become an act synonymous with picketing on the front lines? In Japanese, death from overwork has its own word — karshi. Though we have no such word in English, if not curbed, the current sleep deprivation crisis will create a word for which burnout does not encapsulate.

Good sleep is vital to good health and well-being. The repercussions of sleep deficiency can negatively impact the way we “think, react, work, learn, and get along with others”. Yes, your irritability could be a result of a lack of sleep.

Sleep research has revealed that insomnia, oftentimes is seen as a result of depression, may actually be the cause of it. A research study conducted by the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford revealed that “sleep disruption is a driving factor in the occurrence of paranoia, hallucinatory experiences, and other mental health problems in young adults (university students) with an average age of 25”. Simply put: a lack of sleep can cause the brain to short-circuit.

Daniel Freeman, the study lead and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Sleep problems are very common in people with mental health disorders, but for too long insomnia has been trivialised as merely a symptom, rather than a cause, of psychological difficulties.” He continued, “A good night's sleep really can make a difference to people's psychological health. Helping people get better sleep could be an important first step in tackling many psychological and emotional problems.” If that doesn't make a dent, Dr Mitchell explains that “inadequate sleep is also linked to decreased sexual function”. As a culture we need to start paying better attention to the vast impact that sleep has on the body.

Inadequate sleep also increases the risk of Type II diabetes and hypertension. Prolonged periods of inadequate sleep put one at risk of heart attack and stroke. People with inadequate sleep increase the risk of accidental injuries at work or during driving. Studies have shown that driving while sleepy is equivalent to driving while under the influence of alcohol. If that doesn't give you pause this fact should: “After several nights of losing sleep — even a loss of just one to two hours per night — your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.”

Speaking with Style Observer (SO) nurse manager at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica Noelle Campbell highlighted that a lack of sleep suppresses the immune system, as a result, one becomes more susceptible to cases of flu and colds, and “your body stops doing the jobs that it is supposed to do”. She and the Heart Foundation team emphasise to recovering patients that along with a good diet “adequate sleep is vital in the body repairing itself”.

Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity. Proper and adequate sleep help to keep the body's hormones in a healthy balance that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin (the hormone that makes us feel hungry) goes up and your level of leptin (the hormone that tells us when we are full) goes down. An insatibale appetite oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with not being well rested.

Tiredness has become the norm. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, the sleep-health industry — a spectrum that includes bedding, prescription sleep aids, sleep-inducing and meditation apps, white noise machines, sleep apnea machines, sleep robots (cue: side-eye) and “sleep coaches” — has an estimated worth of between US $30b and US $40b. Sales of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids reached US $576 million that year. By 2023 the market is estimated to amass US $101.9 billion in sales with prescription meds accounting for 65.7 percent of revenues. The study made it clear that “sleep insufficiency exacts a high human cost in physical and mental health, as well as a considerable economic toll in lost productivity”. Lack of sleep causes us to go broke.

In her New York Times bestseller The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time Arianna Huffington notes: “Simply put: we don't get enough sleep… Both our daytime hours and our nighttime hours are under assault as never before.” However, Huffington declares: “Our sleep time is not empty time. Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity — a rich time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance.”

So tonight, put the phone down 90 minutes before bedtime. Quiet your mind. Read a book, meditate or pray, if that's your cup of tea. Actually, have a cup of tea. A small cup of chamomile will do the trick (not too much as you'd not want your sleep interrupted the result of bathroom breaks). Ensure the room is cool and dark. Put this habit into practice and hopefully, this will kick-start a new healthy relationship with sleep.

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