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Pillar 1 - Sleep

Okay so the first pillar that we will look at is sleep. I’m sure we’ve all heard the recommendations that we should get 8 hours sleep per night, which with the current UK life expectancy for 2021 being 81.52 years, means you will spend approximately 26.9 years of your life asleep!


For anyone who thinks this is a waste of a quarter of a century, I put this question to you, all life evolved from simple bacterium and yet through this extravagant evolutionary process from simple microscopic organisms to the array of life on earth from squirrels to dolphins to humans to eagles not a single animal has been observed to not sleep (at least in some form). So for you anti sleep warriors out there who fly the flag for the ‘sleep when you’re dead’ or ‘work while your opponent sleeps’ movements and boast of your 4 hour a night sleep schedule, I would just like to point out to you the glaringly obvious fact, google what a bacterium looks like, now think of any animal up to and including us, if over the last 4.5 billion years the evolutionary process has been able to produce such incredible results BUT it hasn’t evolved to not need sleep, I would hazard a guess that it is pretty important to us!


Dangers of not getting enough sleep:

· Memory issues

· Increased risk of car accidents

· Can affect your mood and lead to anxiety and depression

· Risk of diabetes

· Increased weight gain

· Weakened immunity

· Low sex drive

· Increased risk of heart disease

· High blood pressure

· Poor balance and coordination

· Increased risk of developing Dementia

· Increased risk of Stroke


My personal experience:

For anyone who finds the notion that we spend a third of our life essentially laying there doing what seems like not much a very irritating fact let me just say, I have been there, I have many times found this fact irritating. Read an article about Nikola Tesla or Leonardo Da Vinci and how they slept 2 hours a night and then I have been like ‘ah ha, the solution!’ Let me save you the time, it isn’t! It really isn’t!


If you are lucky you may feel somewhat okay for 24 or 36 hours on this schedule, but then very quickly the world seems to fall apart, your skin literally loses colour and turns a kind of grey shade, everything aches, concentrating on anything seems impossible, you have no energy, you are very irritable and just feel fed up, so to sum up the contrast it ends up either being a 22 hour waking day which feels like a never ending horror show, or a 16 hour waking day where you actually feel like a living functioning human being for at least 14 hours of it!


The science:

There are 1,000 page books on the science of sleep so I am reluctant to skim over the topic in case I don’t do it justice, but I will try to briefly outline it with the caution note that this is literally the very tip of the iceberg of the scientific explanation. If you do find the science explanation interesting I would recommend reading ‘Why we Sleep by Matthew Walker’ – which is an absolutely brilliant book!


There are two different stages of sleep Non REM and REM (Rapid Eye Movement), Non REM is further broken down into 3 stages of differing lengths. It’s during REM sleep where the body experiences paralysis which saves our lives virtually every night! Imagine your wildest, craziest dream, maybe you was flying or base jumping off a cliff now imagine if your body wasn’t paralysed during this dream and instead whilst you was asleep decided to act out this dream – I think a lot of us would find ourselves in very precarious situations very quickly!


There are many chemicals involved in the sleep process 2 of the main ones to be aware of are Melatonin and Adenosine. Adenosine builds up while we are awake and is what increases sleep pressure encouraging us to go to bed – CAFFEINE SUPPRESSES ADENOSINE AND THIS IS WHY WE SHOULD AVOID DRINKING CAFFEINATED DRINKS TOO CLOSE TO BED!


Melatonin also helps to promote sleep and increases in response to a decrease in light exposure – THIS IS WHY WE SHOULDN’T STARE AT A BRIGHT TV, COMPUTER OR PHONE SCREEN IN THE LEAD UP TO BED TIME!


Other hormones including but not limited to; Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine along with Leptin and Ghrelin (these two are why sleep deprivation can affect appetite and cause weight gain) all of these hormones also jump in to help regulate the sleep process!


I’m conscious of making these blog posts too long so I will leave you with these 5 tips for a better night’s sleep, which I hope some of the information above helps explain why these tips work:


1. Don’t drink caffeine after midday

2. Don’t look at electronic devices within an hour of when you want to go to bed

3. Try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day (this will help your body clock regulate the process easier)

4. Avoid alcohol (I’m not saying we have to become a world of teetotallers – but you should be aware that alcohol consumption affects both the quality and quantity of sleep and some studies show that this effect can last for several days after the consumption of alcohol)

5. Try to relax in the evening (this can be through a relaxing bath or shower or a night time routine, just bare in mind that relaxing before bed will help reduce sleep onset time and increase the depth and quality of the sleep – very few of us can go straight from reading about a stressful work problem to fast asleep and if we can I would hazard a guess this could be more due to exhaustion than healthy sleep onset)


I hope some of this helps to illustrate to you just how important Sleep is as one of the pillars of health. As always if anyone has any questions just drop me a message!


Next week’s topic: Pillar 2 – Stress Management