Sleep. Are You Getting Enough?

"In the past week or so I've been reading about the importance of sleep. I wouldn't say it has been keeping me awake - but certainly it has me troubled." Account director, Daniel, wonders if it's time to 'open his eyes' when it comes to closing his eyes for longer

I'm someone who routinely manages on around five or six hours sleep - and I have done for all of my working life. I may wake up a little tired, but nothing that a shower and a coffee cannot remedy. And there's usually time to catch-up at the weekend if need be.

A night owl and an early bird

None of this seems odd or unusual, or dangerous. I've grown up in an era where leaders - politicians, business people - boast or are noted for their lack of sleep. From Thatcher to Trump these are people who, though they can provoke a strong reaction and divided opinion, are known for being driven leaders, staying ahead of the game, and needing little sleep. And I've felt quite naturally in that camp: not just a night owl but also the early bird that catches the worm.

Attributable risks

Yet my eyes have been drawn to a newly-published book that's achieved a lot of media attention in which an esteemed Californian professor points to a long list of health risks that are attributable to not getting enough sleep on a routine basis: missing out even once or twice on even small amounts of sleep means we begin to invite a wide range of clinical issues to cross our threshold: increased blood pressure, increased stress hormones, increased hunger and desire for sugar and fat, leading to increased Type 2 diabetes risk, and increased risk of the furring of the arteries.

There are also negative effects on the hormones affecting our reproductive health, the odds on cancer shoot up, just as it does for Alzheimer's Disease, and your immune system is likely to be dampened down, leaving you prone to illness. Most of these are longer term problems, but the more immediately relatable facts seem to be that in the short and immediate term, one's everyday ability to work, to be creative, and remember important things are all likely to be compromised.

Less than seven hours

I'm pretty shocked by this. I hardly saw myself as Keith Richards of the corporate world, but felt that my lower need for sleep was something I was blessed with. Apparently, I am not alone though, and stats show that some 39% of British people average less than seven hours sleep a night, with the number getting just five or six having risen dramatically over the past decade. In the US, the average has fallen from nine hours to just six and a half over the past fifty years, with the obesity rate rising in the same period from 13% to around 35%.

Contributory factors

I am not sure that this can all be down to lack of sleep; increased food and less exercise in the same time period must also be contributory factors. And now there is the curse of not just more TV but also more screen time of all kinds. In an ideal world we would have a day divided neatly into say three eight-hour periods: eight hours sleep, eight hours work, and eight hours for other stuff, which might include exercise, relaxation, socialising, eating and pottering about. The reality is that for many of us it seems to look more like twelve hours out of the house, and only six or seven hours sleep, and I am not sure what happens in the rest of the time, but a lot of it seems to include looking at emails and thinking about work.

White-light night lights

There are obviously a number of factors that play into this. Many years ago when I first went to the US, I saw their prime-time TV shows. These were chat shows hosted by the likes of David Letterman and Conan O'Brien (these days, it's the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert) and they only started at ten o'clock at night, and so that's why people had televisions in their bedrooms; prime time didn't seem to finish until midnight...the middle of the night!

Some years on, and yes, we also have a television in our bedroom at home; but a more pernicious evil seem to be the small screens: the white-light, night lights. It's so easy to have these in the bedroom though: not only because they can serve up social media highlights but because they can act as audio book for getting you to sleep, alarm clock for waking you up, and jump starter on the day with news from the markets, or the latest thing Trump has gone and said overnight. Importantly, you can also fire off the emails or messages you need to before your coffee and commute.

So yes, less sleep is almost inevitable for me, one way or another. And I know it's not just me: according to The World Health Authority, this lack of sleep - however caused - is such a big problem that it's declared a sleep loss epidemic throughout industrialised nations.

Decision time

So what is the solution? A curb on replying to emails - and sending them, late at night, I suspect. Also a self-inflicted ban on phones in the bedroom, and the same with the TV. Do you do this already? Maybe you do, but It's something that I'm going to try. Along with no more caffeine after midday, perhaps. Who knows, that might cure the need to even be watching Netflix late at night.

I'm coming round to the idea that binge-watching episodes of an exciting drama series is as unhealthy as binge-eating, and potentially just as likely to have serious health implications.

Given the warnings - this is one decision I suppose I really don't need to sleep on.

Daniel - banning Netfiix from the bedroom; will watch instead on his commute.