In this third part of our four-part series on holistic healing with her, Sandhya gives us her personal take on dealing with the workplace to home transition, and capitalising on this time to become the best version of yourself.
If I’m ever asked if there’s a silver bullet to wellness, I always say it has to be sleep! As American aphorist Mason Cooley said, “Three meals plus bedtime make four sure blessings each day.” The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. It’s the underlying factor to almost every other aspect of our lives, whether it’s wellness, good decision making, focus, productivity, relationships or happiness.
Mysteries abound around sleep. Science still doesn’t have a definitive answer for why we would spend up to a third of our lives in an inert state where we’re potentially vulnerable to threat and attack and don’t seem to be achieving much. On the other hand, the effects of sleep deprivation are devastating – lethal even. We don’t truly know how long humans can go without sleep (one record stands at just over 11 days) but we do know that mice will actually die from a few weeks of sleep deprivation. But the non-fatal effects will start to be felt as soon as within 24 hours of wakefulness. Often, just one bad night can make us off kilter the next day, needing us to be propped up by caffeine and having to keep everyone else out of growling distance from us!
We’re only just starting to understand the processes that go on in the brain and body while we sleep. Broadly, it appears that all aspects of our human system require some uninterrupted housekeeping time, and this can only happen in a concerted manner when our body is dormant. I won’t elaborate on the specific effects of sleep deprivation as much has been written about it, except to say that it affects almost every major system of the body. Our growth, repair, mental processes (alertness, memory, moods, disorders, cognition), endocrine (hormones), metabolism, cardiovascular, neural systems, even our reproductive system and sex drive is impacted.
Once again, we have the industrial revolution, 24-hour workdays, electricity and lighting to blame – broadly. Simply put, if we were to follow the circadian rhythm (of light and dark), our bodies would automatically produce melatonin and slow us down and make us drowsy, such that we sleep. Now, our deadlines, distractions, social commitments, stress, blue-light screens and a hundred other things stand between our natural body processes and us.
We hear stories of people in excellent physical health dying suddenly of heart attacks, with the only detrimental factor in their lives being a 4-hour sleep night. We used to believe that 5-6 hours of sleep was good enough for most adults, but studies strongly suggest that we need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep for optimal processing of all our bodily functions. And, that very few adults actually fall outside this band, despite our beliefs that we’re doing just fine.
Yet, rather than going to the cause of sleep deprivation, we seek solutions to the symptoms. Make no mistake, sleep is big business! For just the mattress industry, estimates range from $27 billion now to over $114 billion by 2025 according to Infinium Global Research’s report published in May 2020.
In a sense, I am a part of this industry too…every time I get a client struggling with anxiety, stress, fears about the future, irritability, I find there’s almost always a connection to lack of sufficient or good quality sleep. And that’s another issue that warrants addressing. A night of fitful or shallow sleep will leave you feeling haggard, unfocused and prone to irritability and errors. This often happens with new parents, but just as often because of stress, constant disruptions from notifications and other noises, and poor sleep hygiene.
I was startled to read in Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ about how well the prisoners of war at concentration camps in Europe slept, despite not having warmth, mattresses, pillows and with the constant threat of death looming over their heads. It has convinced me that the ingredients for a good night’s sleep lie not in fancy memory foam or ambient sound, but in some basics.
Here are some fun facts about sleep:
1. Our bodies start to slow down with sundown and more or less follow a 24-hour clock (it’s not as obvious as it sounds). So the closer we stay to that rhythm, the more we can be in tune with our bodies.
2. During REM sleep (one of the 5 stages of sleep), there’s plenty of brain activity, akin to being awake almost. To prevent the brain from sending signals to the body to get up and go to work, our bodies are put into temporary paralysis during these phases.
3. Our exposure to light is just as important to our reaction to the dark. We need these signals to ‘rise and shine’ and move our bodies, so we’re not going like energizer bunnies by sundown.
4. We might believe that we are either an ‘early bird’ or confirmed ‘night owl’ and there does seem to be some suggestion that our genes may have a role to play, but above all else, it’s matter of preference and habit building. We do tend towards being early birds as children, become night owls as teens and edge back towards early birds as adults…but each of us is unique.
5. Consistency is key. Rather than maintaining very strict habits for the week and going gangbusters on the late nights and sleeping in during the weekend, it’s better to stay more or less consistent. Our bodily processes don’t understand the concepts of TGIF or Saturday Night Fever!
6. Just as with sleep, we haven’t fully understood why we dream. Rest assured that it’s a healthy process and not one to obsess over or try and interpret one way or the other. We don’t know enough yet, although there is a lot of research going on by neuroscientists around the world. Consider it your brain doing a bit of filing…processing all the information that it received during the day and didn’t get time to process. It is now accessing the relevant folders and memories to make connections with, and to store appropriately.
To end, I’ll reiterate that good sleep hygiene is key, and will contribute immeasurably to all aspects of your wellbeing. It’s worth investing time and effort (and with a professional’s help, if required) to ensure a good night’s rest. Consider it a few extra years added to your life, and several more of better quality to the ones remaining. A good night’s rest is the best gift of health that you can give yourself!