When was the last time you woke up feeling rested? If it takes a while to answer, this article is for you. Are you someone who checks their smartphone last thing at night, and first thing in the morning? Getting a regular good night’s sleep is a cornerstone of basic health, and essential to our long-term wellbeing. With some helpful tips, we can reverse unhealthy trends, and prioritise a restful routine.

Just as with mental health, there is stigma around sleep. Some see it as a necessary inconvenience, and others as a sign of laziness. It is imperative to develop a culture where negative perceptions around sleep are broken, and sleep and holistic well-being are encouraged. This will lead to happier and healthier individuals that are consistently productive, engaged, and satisfied. 

Many of us are sleep deprived without even realising; if you sleep less than seven hours a night, you may suffer some of the insidious impacts of sleep deprivation, including reduced energy, happiness, and productivity. In a recent TED Talk ‘Sleep is your Superpower’, sleep expert Matt Walker explains how sleep is essentially our life support system, impacting all areas of the human condition, from mental health and physical activity, to nutrition and general wellbeing. 

Mawlana Hazar Imam, during an address on healthcare in Islamabad in 1981, referred to the access to basic health as “crucial stepping stones in the process of personal and national self-realisation and growth.” Although the complexity of life today means that we have many competing priorities, sleep is one of the most basic needs for any of us, whatever our age.

The measure of adequate sleep

Sleeping fewer than seven hours a night can lead to a range of negative health conditions. It diminishes our immune system and can increase the risk of cancer. Just as with smoking or being physically inactive, sleep deprivation can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

If you’re sleep deprived, you’re also less likely to be physically active, and therefore more likely to miss out on the many benefits that physical activity brings, such as better quality sleep, improved productivity and engagement at work, better mental health, and numerous other physical benefits. 

Impact on nutrition

On average, people that sleep fewer than seven hours a night are 30% more likely to be obese than those who sleep nine hours a night. It hinders weight loss, as when sleep deprived you lose lean body mass (which is important to keep), rather than losing excess fat mass. Without adequate sleep, we tend to feel less full when eating a specific portion of food compared to when we’re rested. As such, being sleep deprived can lead to unhealthy eating habits. 

Impact on mental health

Stress and anxiety are among the most common mental health issues. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, either at work or in your social life, you’ll know that when you’re tired, you’re probably more likely to feel anxious than when rested. Conversely, you may have also found it harder to fall asleep when feeling anxious, forming a vicious cycle. 

The impacts on our mental health are further brought to light when observing the data at psychiatric practices. According to a study by Harvard Health, sleep deprivation is observed in 50-80% of patients, compared to 10-18% of adults in the United States. It has also been shown that people suffering with depression benefit less from treatment when sleep deprived - the lack of sleep increasing the chances of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

Benefits of getting enough sleep

Successful public figures such as Warren Buffet, Ellen DeGeneres, Jeff Bezos, and Halle Berry prioritise a full eight hours of rest. There are many benefits of being well-rested, both to our personal health and happiness, and to our professional lives. According to a study carried out by Deloitte Insights, these benefits can be divided into three categories - mind, body and spirit. 

Mind - We’re more likely to be focused and attentive in the tasks we’re doing, thus improving productivity and quality of work. We also become significantly better learners with better memory function.

Body - Our physical appearance is enhanced, our immune systems get stronger, and we gain more energy.

Spirit - We’re more emotionally stable and less erratic. We think and act more ethically and gain more willpower.

Some tips to obtain better quality sleep, and setup a regular routine:

  • Enact a regular sleeping schedule and practice it on weekends too. If you have an irregular schedule or travel across time-zones, try to get back to a routine as quickly as possible.
  • Dim the lights when preparing to sleep, and keep the room dark when sleeping.
  • Maintain an optimal temperature - 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) is ideal for a bedroom
  • Keep screen time to a minimum in the evenings, and make your bedroom a screen-free zone.
  • Practice calming techniques such as meditation, yoga, or reading a novel.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Instead, sip on camomile tea, or another herbal infusion.
  • Keep it natural - avoid sleeping pills, as they can create dependency.