When was the last time…
When was the last time you woke up from a nights sleep, without an alarm to wake you, feeling refreshed and ready for your day, without the need for caffeine or sugar to fuel you and without feeling like you could do with a nap by midday?
Was it this morning? Was it recently? Was it last month? Last Year? Can’t recall..?
If you answered any of the latter 3, then you are not alone. It is estimated that more than one third of people fail to have the recommended 7 – 9 hours sleep each night.
Whilst that may not be a huge surprise to you, what might surprise you to learn, is…
…the impact that this lack of sleep is having on both our physical and mental health, and in effect on our personal resilience and performance, both at home and at work.
Why we sleep
As humans, we have a number of fundamental biological drives: we are driven to eat, drink, procreate and sleep!
Whilst the reason behind the first three drives is well understood thanks to science, even though sleep consumes significantly more of our lives than the others combined (about one third of our lives – that’s about 25 years for the average human), most of us understand very little about this state that we spend so much of our time in.
The question of why we sleep has been explored and debated by scientists for many years and from many angles, and whilst many theories have been presented over time, in reality…
…we’ve only really come to truly understand and appreciate the essential role that sleep plays in our wellbeing, in recent years.
So what is sleep and what is its role in health?
If we look at it from an evolutionary perspective, and consider what is was like for our ancestors, whilst being asleep might have kept them safe during night-time hours, it also meant that they couldn’t fulfil their fundamental drives: they couldn’t gather or consume food, or water, or procreate, or protect their children, and being in a state of sleep for extended periods would have left them vulnerable to predators.
We could be forgiven for wondering if spending extended periods of time sleeping, is sensible.
However, we know that mother nature is far too wise, to instil a fundamental drive without good reason, and so considering the very obvious survival benefits of eating, drinking and procreating (all of which we understand), it makes sense that sleep also has a function that is essential to our survival.
But what is it?
There was a time when we might have considered sleep to simply be a period of rest and therefore of relative inactivity. It may be that this is how you perceive sleep currently and you wouldn’t be alone.
In the modern world, the ability to forgo sleep is sometimes considered a strength, or an asset. Perceived by some as a luxury, it’s often the first activity that gets sacrificed when life gets busy.
And in some peoples opinion, sleep is a waste of life, a view that’s often coupled with the statement “I can sleep when I’m dead!”.
However, whilst it may seem that the hours spent sleeping could be better put to more productive activities, we are discovering that whilst sleep may be about rest (and that is true), it isn’t the period of inactivity that we might think.
In fact, the state of sleep is…
…a highly functioning and productive state: one that involves a cooperation between the body and brain and the environment and our behaviour.
During sleep, we cycle through five stages of sleep and our brain remains active during these stages, with each stage serving a specific purpose, for processing and both rest and restoration.
During this process, our body and brain are working on many essential processes and functions to establish strength for the coming day.
Sleep regulates almost every system in the body from the brain, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other and establish pathways that enable us to learn, create new memories, and concentrate well and respond quickly, the heart, lungs and metabolism, the immune function and disease resistance (it removes toxins in our brain that build up while we are awake) and even our mood.
A Life Support Function
When it comes to our health and wellbeing, sleep is the foundation upon which everything else is built. It is as vital to sustaining life as breathing, eating, and drinking is.
When you compare it to other things we can do to impact our health positively, sleep is arguably the most important thing we can do for our brain and body.
We can skip exercise for a day or a few days
We can consume alcohol every evening for a week
We can consume a poor diet for two weeks or more
We can be sedentary for a month
We can have little downtime for a couple of months
We can not have a relaxing bath or a massage for a year
We can spend a whole lifetime never meditating…
And whilst we will of course see some impact on our health of these things, over time, nothing will have, as detrimental an effect on the body and brain, as a lack of sleep will.
Sleep is essentially a life support function (there’s a reason we run an entire workshop just on sleep), and yet, throughout the last 3-4 million years of our evolution, we have come to, to some degree, dismiss its importance.
As a result, we are seeing problems in our health.
Research has shown that a chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of life-threatening disorders like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
The truth is that good duration and quality of sleep is not a luxury.
It is an essential aspect of health, and in the context of looking at our mental and physical health, prioritising ample duration and quality of sleep is arguably, the most impactful improvement we can make…
We believe that it is vital that people are able to take responsibility for their own mental health and that employers who provide access to the information that enables them to do so, will ultimately benefit from employees who are resilient to change and able to perform at their optimum and contribute their best.
Are your people equipped to do this?
To discuss how we can support your people to improve their mental and physical wellbeing, get in touch.