The truth about getting 8 hours of sleep
Let me start off by saying:
Hello, my name is Amilia and I am not a sleep addict. Unfortunately.
I have been prioritising everything in my life above sleep and a very scary realisation hit me. Sleep actually needs to be your number 1 priority above everything else. Period.
I have been getting 4-5 hours of sleep for a few years now and then I try to catch up on sleep during weekends. Resulting in a very bad relationship with sleep that I can definitely compare to an eating disorder. I developed some health problems that are all related to sleep, or my lack thereof. So I decided to start investing in myself by buying a book all about sleep, called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (Takealot link for the book: ) and reading it into the early morning hours (insert laughing emoji; insert facepalm emoji).
Reading the book started off very counterintuitively as I would stay up late to read, but as I progressed with the book, my sleeping schedule drastically changed where I started putting down the book to go to bed. Early!
The book covers everything about sleep and as a result I like to call myself a reborn sleeper. A sleep advocate if you will.
Let me begin by taking you through my journey of the time I only got 4-5 hours of sleep each night.
Tired by day, "night-owl" by night.
I put night-owl in inverted commas because this is a common misconception a lot of us have. Sure it is a fact that some people have a circadian rhythm that starts and ends later than normal. This means your sleep hormones get released later at night and your waking hormones get released later at day. (Instead of getting naturally drowsy by 9PM and waking by 5AM, a night owl will only start feeling sleepy by 11/12PM and wake up by 7/8AM)
But I have been using this excuse because it was easier than breaking my bad sleeping habits.
Bad sleeping habits
Eating dinner late at night
Exercising right before bed
Giving in to the night owl that resides in my brain (aka watching endless tv shows late at night)
Too much screen time before bed (queue the tv shows)
Never sticking to a sleep schedule
Sleeping in on weekends
These habits all contributed to me not being able to fall asleep early enough. This resulted in me always napping after work, which you guessed it, caused greater difficulty falling asleep at night. A VICIOUS CYCLE.
How I felt during my lack of sleep (aka my motivation for breaking these habits)
Obviously habits are only bad if they cause negative consequences. And let me tell you, these habits do:
Without proper sleep, I felt tired and fatigued during the day. This causes productivity to slow down, which inadvertently plays a role in declining mental health.
Without proper sleep, I began obsessing over sleep quality, which is called orthosomnia. This leads to a decline in mental health.
Without proper sleep, I had an increase in hunger and cravings, leading to binging on carbs, which lead to a decline in mental health.
Without proper sleep, I struggled to control my emotions, which lead to various social difficulties, which contributed in my mental health declining.
Do you see a pattern?
Lack of sleep leads to poor mental health.
Now I will address my physical health problems related to a lack of sleep:
Sleep deprivation causes excessive inflammation, because the body releases inflammatory markers in the blood. This definitely played a role in my recent gastrointestinal issues. Long story short, I have chronic gastritis, which is painful inflammation of the stomach. Why? The doctor could not establish a reason through any tests. My conclusion - poor sleep.
High BP and cholesterol.
Blood tests show my cholesterol is high. And every time I go to the doctor my blood pressure is high. I am relatively active and healthy. Also I am young. How is this possible?
A lack of sleep causes your sympathetic nervous system to go into hyperdrive. This means your fight/flight response is heightened and your body struggles to regulate your stress. So anything small can spike up your blood pressure and it won't be able to go down for quite some time because your body is sleep deprived. Your level of stress also raises your bad cholesterol.
Increased risk of injury
In March of this year, I sustained an ankle injury during a netball game. I twisted my ankle and tore ligaments, as well as fracture one of the bones in my foot. How does this correlate to sleep you may ask? Well, a lack of sleep causes your reactions to be slower, it reduces your concentration and leaves your muscles tired and slow. Also, studies have shown that the likelihood of injury in athletes increases when the amount of sleep decreases. So there's that.
I was referred to a cardiologist because my heart rate is abnormally high, called tachycardia. Now my reason for a high heart rate is because I have a condition called POTS and I have been given medication to lower my heart rate. BUT, a lack of sleep does increase blood pressure which leads to increased risk of cardiovascular and coronary disease.
Now enough of all the negativity around too little sleep. Let me tell you some of the wondrous benefits of actually obtaining 8 hours of sleep a night:
Benefits of 8 hours of sleep
Increased immunity - an important one these days.
Maintain or lower body weight because your body craves less and needs less carbohydrates. This is all because when you sleep enough your hunger and fullness hormones start to do their job more efficiently.
Higher concentration and productivity.
Better physical performance in terms of activities of the day (like sport) or activities of the night (if you know what I mean)
Better mental health.
Success at social interactions and emotional control. This has to do with the brain's ability to read facial expressions and regulate emotional responses.
How to sleep
Now that you are aware of the consequences of sleep deprivation and the benefits of 8 hours of sleep, the question is, how do we sleep?
The answer is not easy and not an easy fix. You will have to continuously work on it.
You can start by following these 10 tips:
Make a sleep schedule and stick with it - even on weekends (waking up early everyday means falling asleep easier at night)
Avoid Nicotine and alcohol as much as possible
Don’t exercise later than 3 hours before bed
Don’t eat or drink late at night (digestion can lower sleep quality and getting up to go to the bathroom lowers sleep quantity)
No napping after 3 PM
Take a hot shower or bath before bed to lower your core temperature
Use night shift on all your devices at night
Decrease the temperature of your bedroom if possible to 15 to 20 degrees Celsius
Get natural sunlight at least 30 minutes per day (this helps the circadian rhythm regulate our sleeping patterns
Unwind before bed and don’t stay in bed if you are not sleepy, rather get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy