Thanks to the widely publicised success stories of start-up entrepreneurs who supposedly don’t sleep, we now think it’s desirable to work 24/7.
But “brain plasticity,” or how our brains adapt to new situations by creating new neurons and pathways, depends on how rested we are. Sleep is one way the human body rests, so it’s part of how we learn and remember.
Lack of sleep might lower the body’s production of human growth hormone. HGH keeps the body’s physiological processes humming along, and supposedly keeps us ‘youthful’. So not getting enough “beauty sleep” is popularly associated with the ageing process.
But what are the objective facts? Here are 8 things about sleep from this and other studies that you need to know.
1. Between 7 and 8
This is supposedly the optimal number of hours for you to perform at your best the next day. Less than seven, or more than eight, is said to negatively affects the ability to reason and for self-expression, among other mental skills.
2. Hypersomnia is the opposite of insomnia
But just as bad for you. It’s also known as oversleeping and is implicated in depression and weight gain, among other conditions.
3. Consistency is underrated
A consistent sleep routine is the single most significant step you can take to protect and improve your daily performance, as well as your health. The body is regulated by something called a circadian rhythm, which syncs to the cycles of sunrise and sunset, among other things. It releases sleep and wake hormones at the same times, daily, so try to sleep and wake up at the same times, too.
4. There’s no magic number
Of sleeping hours, that is. How much sleep we need changes as we grow older, but this varies widely, even for people of the same age. So don’t worry too much about the exact number of hours you’re getting, provided you feel rested enough. The relationships between age, sleeping hours and performance is still under-researched.
5. Exercise so you can sleep well
Regular exercise during the day (not towards bedtime) aids the body’s circadian rhythm, which tracks sunrise and sunset. Similarly, the more natural light you get during the day, the better you sleep at night.
6. Eat, drink, sleep
You can mess up your body’s natural cycles with too much stimulants or sedatives such as caffeine and alcohol. Or just by eating too much, too close to bedtime; your body shuts down when you’re asleep, leaving the meal undigested. You’ll wake up feeling inert and heavy. Leave at least three hours before bedtime.
7. Screen time is not down time
Mental tiredness is as real as physical tiredness. Staying “switched on” 24/7 ingesting video streams, trawling your social media feed or gaming during the day or night consumes a lot of energy and leaves you needing more sleep.
8. Rest isn’t something you do only at night
No, don’t sleep at your desk. But think of sleep as rest. How restful (rather than restless) you are during your waking hours determines how much sleep you’ll need at night. Rest and activity are part of a single dynamic process that keeps the body in equilibrium. (It’s called homeostasis).