“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama
Many times during my medical training I heard people say: “I will sleep when I die”. I spent years suffering from sleep deprivation being on-call and having babies thinking there must be something wrong with me. I have always felt best with 7 ½ to 8 hours of sleep per night. Pulling an ‘all-nighter’ was not a strategy I ever used yet during my 10 years of university, medical school and residency, it appeared to be almost trendy and expected. Unfortunately, sometimes no matter how much I might crave sleep, know how much I need it and devote the time to it, I toss and turn and lay awake a good portion of the night. When I am rested, I feel more confident, attentive and patient.
If sleep is so beneficial, how much do you need?
The National Sleep Foundation sums it up by saying that there is “no magic number”. Having said that, experts provide a range depending on your age. For adults, it seems to be around 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. The variability comes from individual sleep needs which accounts for a person’s basal sleep need (the amount you need for optimal performance) and sleep debt (the sleep we lose when we don’t achieve our optimal amount in a night).
Why is sleep so important anyways?
A lot of research has focused on why we need sleep, and more importantly, the harmful effects of consistently insufficient sleep on our health and well-being. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to many health problems including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and a shorter life expectancy. Even short-term sleep insufficiency can impair your judgment, ability to focus and mood. Since completing my residency training, limits have been placed on the maximum amount of on-call hours residents are allowed to work in an attempt reduce the risk of both professional accidents with patients and personal/public accidents when a sleep deprived resident gets behind the wheel of a vehicle after their shift.
Is sleep really linked to success?
If you look at the benefits of sleep – without question. Arianna Huffington’s article How to Sleep Your Way to the Top – Literally points out that “there’s practically no element of success that’s not improved by sleep”. When we are rested, we are able to focus and work/learn more efficiently.
What steps can I take to try to achieve a good night’s sleep?
Experience has proven that “sleep hygiene” as we call it, is not universal nor always possible. Despite a general consensus about what may improve our chances of sleeping well, you have to focus on what works best for you. As someone who struggles with consistently insufficient sleep, some of my top recommendations include the following:
1) Exercise to help you sleep – try to do it earlier in the day to avoid being “revved up”.
2) Be aware of the impact of caffeine consumption after a certain time of day – I have adopted 3 p.m.
3) Make your bedroom as dark as possible – our family uses “room blackout blinds”.
4) Develop a bedtime ritual that you associate with sleep – mine is a hot bath with aromatherapy.
5) Try to “switch off” work or anything else you may start thinking about in the middle of the night at least an hour before bed.
6) Mask external noises – we use a white noise app beside our bed.
7) Keep the temperature of your bedroom on the cool side – we use a ceiling fan.
8) Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekend – sleeping in all weekend just makes Monday morning even harder to face!
I know I am not unique in my difficulties in achieving sleep consistently. What tricks have you tried to improve your sleep?