The Unfashionable Truth About Sleep

The numbers suggest you’re probably not getting enough sleep. In fact, the numbers prove, alarmingly so, quite how common sleep deprivation is. 

If you’re clocking six hours or less a night, if you’re struggling to wake-up to your alarm in the morning, or if you’re on ‘off-mode’ until your caffeine fix, then you’re not getting the quality or quantity of sleep you need. Deficient sleep is making you less productive, less creative,  less calm and less physically attractive. Not to mention that it is putting your health in serious danger. So, what are you doing about it?

Those numbers also suggest that the answer is – probably nothing.

Arianna Huffington’s short TED Talk entitled How to succeed? Get More Sleep, suggests that the way to becoming more productive, more inspired and more joyful is simply to sleep. What Huffington calls ‘one small idea,’ has, in fact, huge consequences.  Leading sleep scientist Professor Matthew Walker released a new book earlier this year called Why We Sleep: The new Science Of Sleep And Dreams. It reveals just how dangerous deficient sleep can be, making us more vulnerable to heart attack, cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes and mental illness.

Science aside, Maria Konnikova, puts it concisely in her article on the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation in the New York Times: “As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It’s clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking.”

Practising good sleep hygiene is pretty straightforward. We’ve heard the tips before: stick to a daily sleep schedule, avoid screen time before bed, reduce the temperature of your bedroom to 18 degrees, drink your last coffee in the early afternoon, dim the lights before bed, reduce your alcohol intake, do away with sleeping pills and give up trying to binge-sleep at the weekends.

Like we said, pretty straightforward. Yet, as a society, we continue to blatantly disregard these rules, binge-watching Netflix series and staring at our social media feeds into the early hours. We work too long, exercise too little, drink coffee throughout the day and alcohol in the evening. Our collective attitude toward sleep is at best nonchalant, and at worse, knowingly negative.

The uncomfortable reality is that the truths around sleep couldn’t be further removed from what we tend to associate sleep with; laziness, lack of ambition or a perfectly fine waste of time. We roll our eyes at anyone who suggests we ‘make time’ for more sleep, as if time were a baked-good recipe you found on Pinterest, we force a 9-5 work schedule on those who find themselves most productive late into the evening and we reprimand our teenagers for sleeping the morning away. And those overworked and overwhelmed individuals, who commute through time-zones, answer emails at 3 am and start their day again at 7 am, those who say they can’t possibly creatively rearrange their day to find time for more shut-eye – we praise! Our obsession with busyness has created an environment where sleep deprivation is worn like a badge of honour and we shame those who clock the recommended hours.

We must stop being complicit in a behaviour that is slowly killing us, and we must stop valorising sleep deprivation. That there is an entire workaholic subculture devoted to optimising productivity through the fasting of their brains is nothing short of implausible. If cognitive superiority is what we are after, then we must start with a good-old-fashioned early night.

The figures have to make you question, is it really worth staying up those additional few hours every night?