Sleep: why we need it and tips for better zzz

Why do we need to sleep? Surely we’ve got better things to do than spend an average of a third of our lives asleep? Especially as most of us say we’re ‘crazy busy’. If you’re thinking, “If I’ve got so much to get done, surely cutting out an hour or two of sleep each night won’t hurt?” Oh yes it will. Here’s how:

Your leadership won’t inspire
The ‘tireless leader’ may be a myth, as a sleep-deprived manager will struggle to inspire others. What’s more, if the leader’s behaviour prompts followers to cut their own sleeping time, the followers are even more likely to be uninspired. No wonder the research (reported by BPS) was titled ‘Too Tired to Inspire or be Inspired’.

You’ll be on an emotional roller-coaster
The amygdala is particularly affected by lack of sleep. Given this part of our brain processes emotions, it’s no surprise that our sleep-deprived self seems to get overly emotional, even about trivial things. To make matters worse, our willpower wilts, and we’re more likely to make poor food and drink choices. More on this research via The Brain Flux.

Your brain won’t do its housework
Neuroscientist Jeff Iliffe’s TEDMED talk gives convincing reasons why we need to sleep; basically it solves the brain’s ‘waste disposal problem’. As Jeff says, the way sleep works is both “genius and beautiful”, as his brain imagery convincingly demonstrates. Watch this if you want to get the lowdown in about 11 minutes (and thanks Andie for this link). Also recommended, this longer TED talk from Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist.

Your long-term health will suffer
If I’d read that, “regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions […] and it shortens your life expectancy” on some websites I might have been sceptical – but this is from our dear old NHS.

You’ll be a risk on the roads
According to UK statistics provided by THINK!, almost 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep related, with peak times being the early hours and just after lunchtime. Sleep-related accidents are more likely than others to cause serious injury or fatality.

Convinced now? Good!

Try these tips for more and better sleep:

Get into a routine. It seems that getting up at a similar time every morning (yes, even at weekends) is the best place to start, and over time will help you go to bed at roughly the same time each night.

Write down your priorities for tomorrow. Recent research reported by BPS Research Digest suggests spending 5 minutes noting the next day’s tasks can help you fall asleep more quickly.

Observe a tech curfew. Dr Mark Rowe’s tips include keeping digital devices out of the bedroom and avoiding blue light (emitted by our devices) for at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Nap if you can. But not after 3pm and not for too long – it will upset your sleep cycle. Here’s Your Brain Health’s Dr Sarah McKay on the benefits of naps.

Try an app. Seems a tad counter-intuitive to me that an app via a digital device is going to help, but Sleepio is recommended by the NHS.

For more tips, you might want to check out The Sleep School.

You may find this blog post useful: Mental Health at work: 7 resources

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work

Image credit: @Nenochka/DepositPhotos

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