Our busy 21st century lifestyles have led to us not taking the need for adequate sleep seriously – and we’re getting sick as a result.
We’re so busy trying to cram as much into our day as we can that we tend to sacrifice sleep. Combine that with the habit of using laptops, tablets and smartphones before going to bed, and you’re left with a recipe for sleep-deprivation disaster.
That’s the conclusion of experts from some of the top universities around the world, who’ve united for a project looking into our attitudes towards sleep, and how they affect our wellbeing.
The researchers from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey Universities found that on average, people get two hours less sleep a night than 60 years ago. But that can be harmful because our bodies need that time to recharge.
Neuroscientist Russell Foster, from the University of Oxford, says we need to change our attitudes and make sleep a priority. “We are the supremely arrogant species. We feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light/dark cycle.
“What we do is override the clock. But long-term acting against the clock can cause serious health problems.”
Medical conditions linked with lack of sleep include cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Too little sleep can increase cholesterol levels by nearly two-thirds, according to one study, while another has found evidence that sleep deprivation can lead to damage in the brain that results in dementia symptoms.
Not only are we staying up later, we’re using gadgets such as tablets just before bedtime that emit blue-tinged light and confuse our body clocks, making it harder for us to fall asleep.
Top five tips for getting a good night’s sleep
- Aim to get eight hours a night and try to go to bed at the same time each evening
- Keep your bedroom dark. It’s worth investing in blackout curtains or even an eye mask. Sleeping in darkness allows our bodies to produce melatonin, which helps us to sleep
- Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable. Don’t have too many pillows – your neck should stay flat
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar for at least three hours before bedtime
- Try not to use tablets, smartphones and computers for at least an hour before bed.
Being sleep deprived really does wreak havoc with your memory. While sleep experts have known for a long time that not getting enough shut-eye affects your ability to remember information, they didn’t understand the physical reasons for it. Now research has shown that lack of sleep causes the build- up of rogue proteins in the brain that weaken neural connections. You find it hard to remember details as a result. But getting a good night’s sleep has the opposite effect, and strengthens the brain connections.
Take a look at the health benefits of potassium here.
Images: John Paul Urizar/ bauersyndication.com.au, Paul Suesse/ bauersyndication.com.au