Why do we need sleep?
In a world where it used to be popular to brag about catching less sleep than everyone else, more and more people are waking up to the idea that good sleep is connected to good productivity. Of course, a lot of us would do away with sleep if we could but we need sleep, why else would we keep a habit where we are in literal coma for hours instead of hunting or mating. Like a sleep researcher quoted in The Atlantic piece “Why Do We Need to Sleep” tells us: “What is so important that you risk being eaten, not eating yourself, procreation … you give all that up, for this?”.
There is still a bit of a mystery as to why we need sleep but research seems to point to part of it being “cleaning out trash from the brain” and also learning and consolidating memories. The damage a lack of sleep can cause ranges from the negative repetitive thoughts you get from anxiety and depression, to cognitive impairment similar to drinking enough to get you DUI:s, as well as reduced muscle growth from lower testosterone and higher cortisol levels brought on by sleep deprivation. There are a numerous benefits to getting enough sleep (a few of them are listed here).
The basic mechanisms behind why we need sleep is still bit of a mystery but with the kind of effects sleep have on our performance it is definitely something you should prioritize. Here are a few quick hacks to help you improve that invaluable downtime of yours.
Rituals and routines are important for us humans and by having routines that help you wind down the right way you’re more likely to wake up rested. Sleep hygiene involves a lot of things. Brushing your teeth is usually the basis for dental hygiene but it is far from the only thing that helps keeping your teeth in good condition and there are even more things that can help us get a good night’s sleep.
Examples can be:
Regular routines and times:
Your body does have an internal clock and likes regularity. By using activities that help you get into the right mood (for example Tim Ferriss swears by his warm bath, I myself love to meditate for a few minutes and solve sudokus) you will get to dreamland in a comfortable manner. Just don’t do anything that exposes you to intensive light (watching TV, browsing Reddit etc).
Herbal teas and extracts:
Chamomile has been used to help people to a good night’s sleep for ages. It is a mild tranquilizer known to induce sleepiness and can help you fall asleep easier if you drink it about 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Another sleep aid used since ancient times is ashwagandha, which can reduce anxiety and help you to not wake up in “the hour of the wolf”. Depending on where you have trouble in the sleep cycle you can find different solutions to help you get fully rested.
There are numerous organizations and universities that give advice on how to sleep better, two of our favorites would be Harvard University and ASA but as always, everyone is different so use an open mind and try different things that fit your habits and work for you.
The 10-3-2-1-0 rule:
This is a memory rule developed by fitness coach Craig Ballentyne for how to time things to have a good night’s sleep.
10 is for caffeine. As the half-life of caffeine is 6 hours you should make sure you don’t drink anymore coffee 10 hours before you’re hitting the sack. 3 is for when to have the last bite of food or drink of alcohol. 2 is for when to stop working. 1 is for when to stop watching any digital screens. Finally, 0 is the number of times you should hit snooze.
Experimenting methodically to find what works for you (except for the times when you want to sleep and get up) is bound to help you improve your quality of sleep, and with it your alertness, wellbeing, and overall performance.