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Sleep? What's that?

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Image by Doğukan Şahin on Unsplash

Now, the title is something my younger self would say, giggling, as he stumbled late into school with darkened rings under his eyes. I saw sleep as my enemy, something that merely existed to detract from my day to day enjoyment. I loved my life so much, why would I want to spend eight hours of it, every day, unconscious?!?


A valid question, especially for young Tiago's standards. Let's answer it and discover why viewing sleep in this way is not only unhealthy but also how it hinders your ability to live your life to the fullest.


I'm basing this piece on my own experiences and the lessons that Matthew Walker taught me in his book, "Why We Sleep."


 

My relationship with sleep


Sleep and I have not always got along. You could say that we were at war.


Amidst my younger years, 13-15, I was taking my GCSEs, and my sleep schedule was non-existent. Most days you could find me in my bedroom playing my PS4, as with many kids. I'd often stay up until 3 AM, leaving me with only four hours of sleep time. My habits were unhealthy and since then I have grown, but today we will just focus on the effects that lack of sleep has on us, oftentimes without even realising it.


 

Information retention


In other words, memory. Considering I was having to prepare for exams that were pretty much wholly reliant on my ability to absorb and regurgitate information, it was not the best of times for me to be lacking in that one key ability. I simply assumed that it was my silly brain's fault or that I just wasn't good enough at this "school" thing that everyone seems to care about so much. Now I know that this wasn't the case.


During the months where I had control over my sleeping habits, maintaining the same wake-up and sleep times, and lowering all sounds and lights as much as I can, my memory has a noticeable boost. And for me, it seems like this boost comes from my increased ability to remain present in the moment and not get lost in my body's pounding desire for sleep.


Dreaming and REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) play a major role when it comes to one's creativity and ability to memorise. I wonder if this was another correlating factor with myself as I had not recalled dreaming during that portion of my life.


 

Focus


This links to the last point as I feel that the focus lost accentuates the lacklustre memory even further. My mind would wander, my thoughts would be a jumbled mess of everything and nothing at the same time, I had no control over my mind and I could not force it into remaining concentrated on one specific subject for any length of time.

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People would get the impression that I did not care for what they had to say as my body's primal requirement for sleep would overpower any thoughts about the conversation at hand. Teachers would brand me uninterested which, let's be honest, sometimes I was, but oftentimes I had simply lost track of where I was and was on my way to my very own little dreamland.


...I've actually ended up falling asleep during one of my maths lessons before! Sorry, sir...


 

Productivity


Now, your efficiency and effectiveness are the two major contributors when it comes to determining your productivity. You have to get your tasks done fast, but they also have to be done to a high standard. Even minor sleep loss can have a majorly negative effect on your ability to produce quality work, especially when this sleep debt is compounded over a long period of time.

You're able to get more done on a good night's sleep, not less.

The quote above is from Dr Matthew Carter, a sleep specialist. It highlights the silliness of the common phenomena where hard workers grind to fight their urge to sleep and work deep into their sacred sleeping hours. They believe that their "super-human work ethic" will be the difference between failure and success. I have to say, it is a noble and valiant hustle, however, unfortunately, it's also a misinformed one.


When you disregard the necessity that is sleep, your ability to produce your best work is slashed, on top of that, your rate of production is also diminished. Studies have shown that within tested corporations, fatigue-related productivity losses were estimated to cost $1967 per employee, annually.


A metronap sleep pod being used by major companies such as google and nasa
A Metronaps sleep pod - Image by Metronaps

Certain companies have noticed this and have spearheaded a new push for better sleep amongst their employees. Google has created "sleep pods " where their employees can go and privately relax and sleep, Nike has made quiet, sleep-friendly rooms where their workers can go to unwind. This is an amazing incentive as it increases the well-being of the staff members whilst also pushing up the company's profits.

A true win-win!



 

Traffic accidents


Now, I am most certainly not the man to be talking to if you want driving advice, so I'm merely going to pass on some very alarming information from the book. For context, there are roughly 122,000 accidents in the UK and 6,300,000 in the US annually. These accidents lead to many unnecessary deaths.

Hours of sleep vs Crash risk graph, Mathew Walker graph

In the UK, the likelihood of being in a traffic accident in any given year is 1 in 20,000 or 1 in 240 during your lifetime. So yes, the risks are low, but why increase them?


The figure to the left demonstrates the exponential rate at which crash risk increases with lack of sleep.


Stay safe.

 

You do not know how sleep-deprived

you are when you are sleep-deprived


Now, I shall pass you over to a snippet from the man himself, Matthew Walker.


When participants were asked about their subjective sense of how impaired they were, they consistently underestimated their degree of performance disability. It was a miserable predictor of how bad their performance actually, objectively was. It is the equivalent of someone at a bar who has had far too many drinks picking up his keys and confidently telling you "I'm fine to drive home."

You, as an outside observer, can clearly see that the drunken man is in no state to navigate the roads in a speedy metal box, but the man himself would happily and wholeheartedly disagree with you. This is the same as when you are sleep deprived! So proceed with caution when your sleep last night was not quite up to par.


 

To conclude


Your sleep is not to be taken lightly. Care for it and nurture it and it will take care of you.

Just to really drive the point home, sleep quality has proven to be a better indicator of mortality than both diet and exercise, so I tell you again, SLEEP!!!


Image by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Some benefits of healthy sleeping are:

  • Stronger immune system

  • Weight regulation

  • Emotional regulation

  • Reduced stress levels

  • Increased creativity, focus, and productivity

Now, after listing all that, sleep seems pretty miraculous. THAT'S BECAUSE IT IS!!!


Evolution has done a pretty great job at giving us this one-stop-shop for all our problems. So thank mother nature and use her tool wisely.


If you would like to dive deeper into this interesting topic, check out the book Why We Sleep.


Keep loving life!

-Tiago





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GO TO SLEEP!!!


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