As a nation, we are often lambasted for overeating, drinking to excess and smoking. These addictions have long been seen as extremely hazardous to our health and yet we are skimping on sleep to manage the many pressures of daily life and this is apparently normal. People seem to accept that it’s just the way it is while sipping on a coffee or an energy drink to start the day. But should that be the case? Do we really enjoy burning ourselves out?
A 2018 survey by Chemist4U shows that adults sleep an average of 6.5 hours a night. NHS recommends 7 – 9 hours per night for adults. However, I know people who admit to regularly sleeping 5 hours each night.
According to this article by Independent, a Department of Health report (July 2019) has been leaked which suggests that the issue of sleep deprivation is about to be tackled, with the government set to advise the public on the recommended daily amount of sleep required by each age group. While this might be a great idea in theory, it’s only a recommendation and don’t we already know about that? Haven’t we heard for years that we should be aiming for 8 hours a night? A recommendation cannot be enforced and neither should it be. We all have an idea of the things we ‘should’ be doing to feel healthier but (medical conditions aside) it’s down to personal choice. People need to choose to sleep more. But, sleep is just not sexy. It’s an unpopular topic because people see sleep as a secondary consideration. They could stay up and watch another hour of a Netflix show rather than sleeping. Sleeping is lazy. Sleeping is a waste of time. That’s exactly how I used to think. I spent nearly 10 hours out of the house each day for work and then had a family to look after – feed, run to clubs, put to bed, sort lunches for next day. Then, there’s not much time left so I needed some ‘me time’. If only I had considered sleeping ‘me time’ I might have saved myself from burnout on a few occasions. I am trying now to stick to a bedtime routine as much as possible and it does help. As an early riser, I cannot make myself sleep longer in the morning but I can go to bed a little earlier in the evening to avoid burning the candle from both ends.
I was first inspired by Shawn Stevenson’s book ‘Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success’. Shawn’s book advocates improving sleep quality rather than sleep quantity. He highlights the best times to sleep, in accordance with restorative sleep cycles and suggests things like a caffeine curfew, cutting back on alcohol and eating healthily alongside other tips. These are all sensible strategies but strategies most of us probably overlook. Shawn also has a podcast called The Model Health Show which can be found on iTunes or other podcast platforms and covers a variety of health and fitness topics.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a British doctor, author, broadcaster and podcaster whose book ‘The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life’ also discusses the importance of sleep as one of the four pillars to a healthier life. Dr Chatterjee’s book has chapters on using natural daylight and night time darkness to your advantage; following nature’s cues. He also hosts a podcast called Feel Better, Live More in which guests discuss sleep, diet and other health-related topics.
Both of these authors provide detailed reasons for sleeping more or better, backed by scientific studies and results and it all makes sense. We should sleep better because we want to and because it has been proven to be good for us. It is much healthier than popping pills or guzzling carbonated, caffeinated drinks constantly. It will be interesting to see how the government presents their information. Will it be like the recommendation that we all think of (and probably disregard) about eating five (fruit and veg) a day? People know the recommendation but ignore it. A 2017 NHS study cited in this Telegraph article shows that only one in four adults adhered to the recommendation.
What could be the reasons for the government wanting us to sleep more? Reducing the NHS bill for sleep disorders? Increasing workplace productivity? Something to distract from Brexit? I would like to see an emphasis on the health benefits and the successful people utilising sleep to inspire people to look after their health more rather than telling them that they ‘should’ or ‘must’ sleep more. After all, it’s our modern culture that makes it hard to squeeze everything into a day. Maybe there is a much wider issue here but that’s the subject of another blog post.
I am in no way an authority on sleep but I am enjoying learning more about it. This piece is riddled with opinion so in the interest of fairness, I welcome the opinion of others. Please feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading – sleep well 🙂