Sleep shouldn’t be a full-time job. It shouldn’t be something you spend your day stressing about. You shouldn’t do it only because it’s a burdensome necessity, one that allows you to conquer your day. It’s not meant to be a means to an end. Sleep shouldn’t be about strategies or game plans. Yes, you can use them to get the restful sleep you need, but sleep should be enjoyed on its own, independent of all the worries and concerns and plans that will creep in tomorrow.
It’s generally agreed upon that most adults need roughly eight hours of sleep a night. New research has shown that not only will this make you more productive, it will lower your risk of missing work because of sickness. We have to find a way to sleep longer (Americans average 6.8 hours of sleep a night, 1.1 hours less than we did in 1942) and better, so all these new apps and devices designed to help you sleep better might seem like a good thing.
I know some people have insomnia and genuinely struggle to sleep well. I’m not trying to belittle your disorder by any means, but I think for others, problems associated with sleep arise from two main issues: Either we don’t treat sleep as something important and only sleep enough to get through the day, or we worry about our sleep (or lack thereof) so much that we can’t actually sleep well.
This week, I’d like to talk about why sleep is so important and better inform you of how much your sleep affects the person you are every single day. We should all take it seriously, even though we might need to change our approach.
Why sleep matters
There are a lot of reasons why sleep deprivation is hurting you on a daily basis. In the short term, it makes you more prone to accidents by slowing reaction time, and it restricts your ability to process and retain information, causing you to make rash decisions, thus negatively affecting your daily life. In the long term, you’re more likely to gain weight and become obese, have aged and unhealthy skin, and die prematurely. Your productivity declines as well as your attention span, and lack of sleep can either cause or worsen your depression symptoms.
Why enough sleep matters
You may think you’re fine when you don’t get your recommended amount of sleep, and you’re not alone in feeling this. However, research has consistently shown that you are, in fact, performing at less than your best, and the effects compound upon themselves if you continue not sleeping enough, getting worse by the day. Telling yourself you’re fine or having an extra cup of coffee is not a substitute for a proper night’s sleep. Yes, a small percentage (estimated at 5 percent) of you can get by on five hours of sleep without any ill effects, but are you absolutely sure you’re one of them?
Separate stress and sleep
For a lot of people, sleep has become closely associated with productivity. Proper sleep is valued because of what it can offer your professional or personal life, not necessarily because it’s something to be enjoyed. That may explain why nearly 9 million Americans use prescription sleep aids, and usage is more common with those who are older and better-educated. You’re having trouble sleeping because you’re stressed about all life’s challenges, and you’re less successful at combating them because you’re not sleeping enough.
Basically, if the gadgets, routines and tips help you, by all means use them, but make sure you’re doing it for a better night’s sleep and not because it allows you to check another thing off your never-ending life list. It’s OK to allow sleep control over you, not the other way around. There are some things in your life that you shouldn’t try to bend to your will. You just have to let them happen on their own. So relax, let go, and enjoy your rest. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.