I’m not sure exactly when it all began…
The sleepless nights…
Days spent as a porridge-brained zombie trying desperately to make it through a 2-hour lecture (which felt as if it had lasted three lifetimes) without passing out in my coffee.
Let’s face it, it’s probably time to update that Facebook relationship status…
You know how the story goes. Excusing yourself from addressing the never-ending and ever-accumulating list of ‘to-do’s’ by claiming that you need a nap to be productive. But you know the truth of that nap -the one that got away. Allowing yourself “just one more episode” was never a good idea, and a blatant lie. Between the late-night snacks and Facebook breaks, you’ve successfully streamed 6-hours of your latest addition, which so happens to be more than your average night’s sleep.
Will you ever be like your friend who’s up before the sun to work-out and who’s successfully crossed off five things from their ‘to-do list’ before you’ve even dragged your lifeless form from your bed? How have they paid their bills when you can’t even remember when they’re due? How do they get their assignments in a week before the deadline all the while babysitting the neighbour’s kids and managing to eat a balanced diet? (Chocolate comes from trees and therefore counts towards a serve of fruit right??). No matter how many times you ask yourself “HOW???!!!” there’s one important factor you always overlook –the fact that they never stay up past 9pm.
The secret to success is so simple it seems almost stupid. But hey, not all heroes wear capes.
The Magic of Sleep
If you don’t already know it, sleep is pretty magical. It is complex and beautiful, consisting of multiple stages, each with their own benefits.
|Stage 1||Light stage: easily awoken – note feelings of falling and/or foot jumps.|
|Stage 2||Still light: brainwaves slow down, heart rate and body temperature decrease. For a powernap, you would wake up after this stage.|
|Stage 3&4||Restorative stage: beginning of deep sleep (harder to wake up). Processes for growth and development, bodily repairs, immunity and energy boosting.|
|Stage 5||REM (rapid eye movement): usually occurring 1.5hrs into sleep. One REM cycle lasts around an hour and the average person will experience 5-6 cycles per night. Hence why solid blocks of prolonged sleep are recommended. This is also where most dreaming occurs, and when the brain is most active – processing and consolidating information from the day to be stored as memories. Plus, feel-good chemicals such as serotonin are boosted!|
During these stages, your body is doing some incredible stuff:
- Flushing out waste: toxic waste builds up throughout the day and the brain cleans itself while you sleep. Without sleep, it can’t get rid of the nasty gunk, contributing to many neurological diseases. The. Fuzzies. Are. Too. Real.
- Mental health, memory and learning: feel-good hormones are released, keeping those sleepless blues at bay. You have to give it to your mum for keeping her sanity through those stolen nights. Memory and learning are consolidated so if you want to optimize your study, don’t skimp out on the Zzz’s.
- Regulating hormones: during sleep, hormones which regulate appetite are released, along with growth hormone which restores stressed muscles and joints. Without sleep, your body can’t repair itself and you’re more likely to over-eat when the munchies hit at weird hours of the day (yes 1 am is a weird hour for Cheetos).
- Heart health: sleep lets your ever-busy heart take a break from keeping you alive 24/7. As the load is reduced on the ol’ ticker, blood pressure and risk of heart disease go down.
- Improving immune functions: signals responsible for ‘long-lasting’ immune responses peak as you sleep. Without enough shut-eye, you get sick easier, stay sicker for longer, and your recovery abilities decline… Which totally explains why we get sick so easily during exam period… (I knew studying was harming us!)
- Keeping you beautiful and youthful: you’ve probably heard of collagen, it’s what keeps the quality of your largest organ, the skin, in best shape. Immune responses affected by sleep also affect your collagen production –so to keep it supple and sag-free, remember to get your beauty sleep!
If you’re reading this and have concluded that you surely must be dying, then OH BOY can I relate. With five assignments due in a row (some even falling on the same day) I decided to try my luck with ‘No-Doz’ to get me through a span of three days on a total of 6-hours sleep. Let’s just say it certainly wasn’t pretty: a constant head-ache, upset belly, and I kid you not – I could physically feel my skin sagging from lack of restorative sleep.
Maybe this relationship with caffeine isn’t healthy. All I get out of it are palpitations, sleepless nights, and what I naively thought were butterflies in my stomach. My parents never approved of the relationship anyway, and my friends always said that they preferred sleep. Looks like it might be time for a new bae…
Do you need a dose of ‘Zzz’s’?
If you thought “that’s me” to any of the above points, you’re probably sleep-deprived. On top of what’s been mentioned, numerous studies into sleep-deprived subjects have found that lack of sleep causes blood pressure to rise and increases the release of stress hormones. Sleep debt also mirrors and exacerbates the effects of aging. If you want to get really serious, insulin resistance may even occur, taking you one step closer to diabetes.
Heck, sleep deprivation could even help explain Trump’s erratic behaviour, as Egan points out:
“His judgment is off, and almost always ill informed. He has trouble processing basic information. He imagines things. He shows a lack of concentration.”
If you don’t want to end up following Trump’s footsteps, you should probably head to bed… Like… NOW.
Unless of course, like Trump, you claim to form part of the elite ‘short sleepers’ club who are said to possess a gene mutation allowing them to thrive off minimum sleep. It’s as if all the aforementioned processes work in double-speed for them, and they claim to wake up from a mere four hours “feeling great.”
Not just me right? This ‘DEC2’ mutation is sounding a lot like real-life x-men, and as someone who turns into a zombie with anything less than 10 hours sleep (aka. erry-dang-day) it’s not too much to ask you to please transfuse me with your superhuman blood, is it?
Steps to Success
You’re not broken, you’re just sleep-deprived. But how are you even supposed to meet the recommended 8-hours of shut-eye a day? Well, you could start by eliminating factors that impede on sleep, like screen time and stimulants. Tried and trusted ways of securing those sweet Zzz’s include:
- Gwyneth Paltrow swears by a ‘Clean Sleeping’ routine, aiming for a solid 8-hour sleep block and sticking to a routine bedtime/waketime to regulate your body clock.
- Improve your sleep hygiene (habits to improve quality of and ability to sleep) – Sleep Disorders Australia has some great tips on how to do this!
- Avoid using technology an hour before sleep: blue light can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin (natural sleep hormone) causing nighttime wakefulness and daytime sleepiness. P.S Flux is a great add-on which mimics natural light cycles and I swear I’ve seen an improvement since down-loading it.
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon – it isn’t rocket science that caffeine stimulates your brain, keeping you buzzing even when the sun goes down!
- Squeeze some exercise into your day: timed appropriately, exercise wears-out your body, preparing it for a good night’s sleep.
- Join a nap gym and get some ‘napercise’ (this is a legit thing).
- Download a sleep-tracker app -some have additional functions to help you unwind beforehand.
- Petition your uni/workplace to install some nap-pods, the University of Sydney has them, so why shouldn’t we?
We all know ‘humblebragging about how you physically don’t have time to sleep and how your time is in-demand 24/7 is not a valid excuse. It might justify your inability to get things done, but sleep debt as the new black aint a healthy trend -we see you on Netflix Susan, don’t try to hide it. Sleep really does dictate how energetic and successful we’ll be in our waking lives. So next time you think “sleep is for the weak” and decide to power on through, remember that some shut-eye could be the very thing to get you to your goals.