Sleep: the amazing wonder-drug we are all too busy to take

Feeling tired? We hear you. Learn about the benefits of good quality shut-eye and the amazing things that happen while we're asleep....

Humans are battling biology… and we are losing horribly.

We need more sleep.

Ask most 21st century humans how they are feeling and they are likely to answer “tired”, “exhausted” or “huh… what was that?… Sorry, I dropped off for a moment there… I think I need another coffee.”

For millennia humans were early to bed, early to rise creatures, then came along Mr Edison with his electric lightbulb and we all thought we could cheat on sleep. No longer would we go down with the sun. Instead, we’d stay up and have fun.

We now routinely push past tiredness, trying to squeeze ever-more into our overflowing days. At the time of night when our ancestors were all dribbling into the hay, many modern-day humans are now up binging Netflix, studying for exams, driving Ubers, banging out reps at 24-hour gyms or doing all the household chores they couldn’t get to while they were at work.

Yes, going to bed early sounds horribly sensible and boring. When all through your childhood you have had to battle against parents telling you to go to bed, it’s very natural to want to rebel, stay up to the wee hours and learn the latest Korean dance craze on TikTok (or whatever else is your thing). The sad thing is that your parents were right – you should definitely go to bed.

Amazing things happen while we are asleep. Every night when we drift off to dreamland it is basically like a whole team of tiny internal mechanics go to work, making repairs on your brain and body. Give them enough sleep time and they do a splendid job. You can wake up looking good, feeling fresh, with a switched-on mind, high levels of energy and a fighting fit immune system. Rush these micro-mechanics however and its like picking up your car when the wheels are still off.

While we all know sleep is good for us, few of us appreciate just how fundamental it is to our physical and mental health. Good quality shut-eye is simply more powerful than any other elixir known to man. Review the research and you will have plenty of good reasons to get to bed:

  • Good quality sleep is one of the best protections against common serious diseases. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of physical health problems, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health disorders that have been linked to sleep deprivation. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that people who suffer from insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop anxiety.
  • Another study, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, found that sleep deprivation can cause changes in the brain that are similar to those seen in people with depression and anxiety. The study found that lack of sleep can lead to an increase in the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating our mood and emotions. During sleep, our brains process and consolidate the events of the day, which can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • Sleep also plays a crucial role in memory consolidation and cognitive function, allowing us to think more clearly and make better decisions. A study conducted by the University of Notre Dame found that people who had a good night’s sleep were able to solve problems more effectively than those who were sleep-deprived.
  • Sleep also helps to boost our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Research has shown that people who are well-rested are more likely to come up with innovative solutions, which could just make you a star at your job and better at all those annoying life management tasks.

Knowing the benefits of sleep, chances are you may like to get a bit more of it. Below are a few tips which we hope will help:

  1. While you may like to be wild and unpredictable, your body is not so fond of it. As much as possible, try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Create a relaxing sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature. If you have a cat, position it so it is not lying directly on top of your face.
  3. Avoid screens and bright lights before bedtime. Lighting a candle instead may do wonders for your natural sleep-wake cycle, whilst also making your abode feel super romantic.
  4. If your mind keeps racing while you are attempting to wind down, try a relaxation technique. This guided mindfulness exercise should help you to refocus your attention, deeply relax and peacefully drift off.
  5. While caffeine and alcohol can bring about feelings of alertness or relaxation, they also disrupt our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try to avoid them in the evening and if you wish to feel naturally alert in the morning, step out into the sunshine.

For many people getting enough good sleep can be a challenge, particularly if you are a shift worker or parent. If you feel you need further support to improve your sleep, be sure to reach out for professional assistance.