IS “sleep is life” among your dearly held beliefs? Or are you a genius/hyperactive type who can function perfectly with little or less sleep?
First Philippine Holdings Corporation’s Wellness Wednesdays webinar, “Success Secrets: Sleep” awakened participants with interesting facts about z’s—that thing we spend about a third of our lives doing.
Noel, 28, started reporting to the office at least three days a week when quarantine restrictions were loosened. If he has a work-from-home schedule the next day, the research manager would work on his presentations until early morning. He would then sleep for a couple of hours before logging into his team’s group chat for the 10 a.m. huddle that kicks off his virtual eight-hour shift. His work-sleep habits have left their imprint on Noel, as can be seen in his dark undereye circles and chronic cough. The late nights also make him short-tempered at times, he admits.
Graphic artist Liza, 49, has been home-based even before the pandemic. Throughout the day digressions, including errands, attending to her children and even an episode of her latest Netflix series, would oblige her to make up for lost time by working overnight once or twice a week. She notes that an all-nighter is usually followed by a more relaxed work pace over the next few days so she can shake off her lingering fatigue.
According to Mind You’s Kristine Felipe, RN, MAP, when we sleep, we are in an “active state of unconsciousness”—our body is at rest but the brain remains active, even reacting to internal and external stimuli.
The nonprofit National Sleep Foundation says seven to nine hours of sleep are ideal for young adults (18-25 years old) and adults, while older adults can get by on seven to eight hours.
Felipe shared two theories why we sleep. The repair and restoration theory explains that “sleep is essential for revitalizing the physiological processes that keep the mind and body healthily functioning.” REM sleep is essential in restoring cognitive functions while non-REM sleep restores physiological functions; REM sleep is also when our most vividly remembered dreams occur, Felipe noted.
The adaptive theory of sleep, meanwhile, posits that sleep and wakefulness “evolved as a means to conserve energy and for survival,” in the same way animals hibernate during the winter months and estivate when it’s hot and dry.
Lack of sleep or sleep deprivation can result in decreased productivity, increased mistakes, poor decision making, health problems and even reduced job satisfaction, Felipe said.
Our ability to fall asleep or to sleep well can be affected by external factors such as jet lag, shift at work, caffeine, alcohol, medication, sleep environment and physical activity; and by internal factors including anxiety, depression, stress and old age.
There are certain things we think we know about sleep. One is that you can make up for the sleep you lost or missed. This is true, but it’s not simply a matter of sleeping very early the next day after pulling an allnighter. Felipe noted that for every hour of sleep you give up, it can take as long as four days to “recover the deficit back to an optimal level.” In the case of Liza, her body makes her pay for a night of sleep deprivation, such that it sometimes takes a week before she feels like her old self. Sleeping in during the weekend will also not be enough to “reverse the effects of sleep debt” (the difference between the number of hours of sleep you need and the sleep you actually got).
Once you push your bedtime back by several hours but still wake up at the same time in the morning, you might begin thinking your system has adjusted to having less sleep. According to Felipe, there is no scientific evidence that indicates your body can “functionally adapt to sleep deprivation.” This not only affects your body’s ability to restore or heal itself, but you will be building up your sleep debt as well.
Another common belief is that it doesn’t matter what time you sleep. However, Felipe stressed while getting the minimum seven to nine hours of sleep is important, it is still best to do so at night to “help align the body’s circadian rhythm.”
What happens when you habitually miss your z’s? Going 24 hours without sleep leaves you feeling irritable, fatigued or sluggish. Aside from having tremors, puffy eyes or dark undereye circles, you will also find yourself craving certain foods.
Impaired memory, poor decision making, slow reaction time and impaired immune function kick in after 36 hours sans slumber, while hallucinations, anxiety and extreme fatigue result after 48 hours. An individual who has been awake for 72 hours, on the other hand, is likely to experience illusions, delusions, hallucinations and disordered thinking.
After 96 hours or four days of going without sleep, the person descends into psychosis.
Getting enough quality sleep makes for a good first step to helping restore or boost one’s mental health and should start way before you actually go to bed.
For a good night’s sleep, incorporate regular exercise, an improved diet and a set bedtime into your routine, Felipe said.
Exercise at least an hour before bedtime; exercising when it’s almost time to turn in will actually energize and wake you up. Doing meditation and breathing exercises can also reduce stress and boost sleep quality.
A way to eat better is to add whole grain foods or food that use or contain vegetable oils (olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and others) into your diet, and to consume more fruits and vegetables. Don’t overeat but don’t go to bed on an empty stomach either.
Blue lights at night
Cut down on caffeine—if possible, don’t have any more coffee beyond a post-lunch java. The same goes for alcohol, as you might end up lingering in the “lighter stages of sleep” and disrupting your rest.
Remote or hybrid work, coupled with our being hooked on mobile and video games and social media, means more time in front of computers and mobile phones or tablets even at night. For older folks, TV remains a major source of information and entertainment. All these, plus fluorescent lights, emit blue light that can keep us awake. Turn gadgets off an hour before retiring.
Try going to bed at more or less the same time every day. Avoid playing, reading or using your gadgets in bed to condition your brain to associate it only with sleeping. Limit the number and length of your daytime naps as these can mess up your body’s circadian rhythm.
Lastly, when you can, manage external factors by minimizing noise (use earplugs or make your room soundproof ), keeping the room at a comfortable temperature and ridding it of stimulating scents, replacing pillows and other bedding every five to eight years, and taking a warm bath 90 minutes before going to bed.
Felipe concluded by offering words of encouragement, quoting English dramatist Thomas Dekker: “Sleep is the golden chain that binds our mind and body together, so let us indulge.”