Getting a good night's sleep is crucial to our wellbeing, yet many of us struggle to get seven or eight hours of shut-eye a night. Getting too little sleep can impact everything from our productivity levels to our health and mood. A new year can provide the perfect opportunity to reset our body clocks, so if you're looking for some tips and tricks to help improve your sleep this year, we've got you covered.
Eight steps for a better sleep
A good night's sleep. It sounds so delightfully simple, but as sleep sufferers know, it can be anything but.
Most of us need between seven to eight hours a night. Sleep less than that, and our productivity declines, our behaviour becomes more impulsive and we're less able to regulate our emotional responses. Too short a slumber can also negatively impact our blood pressure, cardiovascular systems and respiratory functions. And it can alter how our bodies process food.
With the pandemic meaning we're spending more time than ever before at home, there's never been a better time to reset our body clocks and get structure back into our lives.
We must stop trying to excel at sleep
Daily life has its satisfactions. The perfect reply to a friend's text message. The first after-work drink. The sound of another government U-turn. But do any really compare to the joy of going to sleep? That moment when the clutter of 21st-century existence disappears into the non-judgmental embrace of a mattress?
Somehow we have pushed this pleasure to the back of the queue. A third of American adults report sleeping less than the recommended seven hours. Many of us feel under-rested.
For some, the problem is modern life: emails, to-do lists and screens. Reed Hastings, Netflix's co-founder, said in 2017: "We're competing with sleep, on the margin." The rise of coffee-drinking probably hasn't helped either.
The mix of experiences has led us to take dropping off more scientifically. A century ago, we weren't aware that the brain's electrical activity changes during sleep. Now there's evidence that a lack of sleep is associated with higher risk of depression, cancer, Alzheimer's and obesity. Research published in the European Heart Journal this week reports that heart disease was lower among people who went to sleep between 10pm and 11pm, no matter how long they slept.
Such research is all well and good. But after the rise of step counters and microdosing, is sleep the next part of human experience that will become increasingly tracked, counted and compared? We sigh at LinkedIn users who claim to wake up at 5am and learn Mandarin while meditating. But the reverse, where people overcommit to sleeping well, can be just as off-putting.
Waking up to the new sleep rules
During lockdowns, when homeworkers were suddenly able to choose their own wake-up times, most slept later.
Before the pandemic, working life trapped most of us in a one-size-fits-all schedule. Dawn starts favoured people with the chronotype — or genetically determined sleeping propensity — of early birds.
Apple's chief executive Tim Cook claims to rise before 4am. Because of a silly association of early rising with virtue, the larks were regarded as conscientious workers. They became the bosses, and set the schedules for the rest of us.
Given that remote work is here to stay, is it time to let people start choosing their own start-times?