Sleep is non-negotiable for your mental health and optimal performance
Sleep is a critical aspect of our psychological well being. Leading neuroscientist Matthew Walker on why sleep deprivation is reducing our peak performance ability and increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s-- as well as a list of tips for what you can do about it!
■ Sleep deprivation decreases athletic focus and stamina. The time taken to reach physical exhaustion by athletes who obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.
■ Sleep deprivation can reduce life span. An adult sleeping only 6.75 hours a night would be predicted to live only to their early 60s without medical intervention.
■ Sleep deprivation lowers sexual wellness and virility. A 2013 study reported that men who slept too little had a sperm count 29% lower than those who regularly get a full and restful night’s sleep.
■ Sleep deprivation increases risk of accident. If you drive a car when you have had less than five hours’ sleep, you are 4.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash. If you drive having had four hours, you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
■ Sleep deprivation increases emotional reactivity. Sleep loss shuts down the prefrontal cortex’s communication with the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is the brain region that acts as a break on the gas pedal of your emotions, offering support to the "Pause and Plan" aspect our nervous system.
■ Sleep deprivation can interfere with the quality of our relationships. Insomnia amplifies the "Fight or Flight" aspect of our nervous system making us more reactive, more emotional and contributing to the snowball effect of emotional conflict in our internal self and relationships.
The amygdala (a significant emotional region of the brain) is 60% more reactive under conditions of a lack of sleep.
If you are thinking about pulling an all-nighter before a performance, don't do it.
Get as much light as you can during the daytime.
Avoid caffeine midday.
Get enough exercise throughout the day.
Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly.
Don't drink or use marijuana before bed. It may make you fall asleep, but it interferes with sleep processing during the REM cycle.
Pay attention to your diet and nutrition and track any foods that may disrupt your sleep. Excess sugar and salt are common culprits. Foods that cause indigestion can also contribute to disrupted sleep.
If you have a high pressure lifestyle, add in 5-minute stress reduction breaks throughout the day. Tools like meditation and HRV Breathing Coherence Training assist with deactivating your nervous system throughout the day.
A hot bath, earlier in the evening, can assist sleep by dilating blood vessels which helps radiate inner heat. This inner heat drops your core body temperature. To successfully initiate sleep, your core temperature needs to drop.
Keep your bedroom cool. Ideally, 63 to 69 degrees F.
Keep a consistent sleep schedule, nightly. Go to bed and wake up at the same time, daily.
Reduce exposure to light as you move toward your bedtime routine. If you are addicted to night television or your smart device, at minimum dim the screens. Use the sleep timer on your television to turn it off while you sleep and use the night shift feature on your smart device to warm the color temperature of the screen.
Do what you can to reduce sleep interference. Get black out curtains or an eye mask. Use ear plugs.
Let your partner and loved ones sleep. If your partner has a unique sleep quality that differs from yours (snoring, requiring white noise, watching tv or reading to quiet the mind), do what you can to negotiate and work with one another to support sleep necessity and healthy habits for both of you. If necessary, sleep in separate beds. Contrary to popular myth, supporting your partner to get quality sleep in a separate room does not reflect on the quality of your relationship.
Sleep deprivation can interfere with the quality of our relationships. Insomnia amplifies the "Fight or Flight" aspect of our nervous system making us more reactive, more emotional and contributing to the snowball effect of emotional conflict in our internal self and relationships.
If you wake up with insomnia, get out of bed. Find a soothing activity and surrender to using that time for yourself. Do something that feels more rewarding than abusing yourself for being awake. Reading, listening to a relaxing podcast, journaling and drawing are all good options.
If you have night waking insomnia, consider observing if you are eating enough, or the right food before bed. Blood sugar may be the cause and a healthy "midnight snack" might help. Choose food combinations that work for your body. Nutritionists recommend food combos that contain tryptophan, complex carbohydrates, calcium and lean protein, but always defer to your specific needs. Know your body.
If you struggle with poor sleep and after consistent effort, none of this has helped-- get a check up with your doctor.