We can survive longer without food than without sleep. We spend about 10 per cent of our lives eating and drinking, one per cent of our lives exercising, and almost one whole third sleeping. So why do we pay sleep quality and quantity so little attention? We all know about the importance of exercise and diet on our general health and wellbeing, yet the role of sleep in health and performance remains significantly underestimated.
Sleep matters. We know that it plays an important role in many areas including memory consolidation, learning, concentration and mood, as well as other physical functions, including the immune system. The effects of sleep deprivation are myriad, resulting in impaired learning and memory, irritability, anxiety, depression, and impaired attention.
In fact, being awake for 20 or more hours has the same effect on performance as being over the drink-driving threshold for blood alcohol, but there's currently no test to find out whether you're too tired to be on the road. Many physiological functions are also influenced by sleep deprivation, such as respiratory and cardiac function, appetite and caloric intake, immune response, and even factors such as pain threshold.
So how much sleep is enough? On average, people require between seven and eight hours a night, but many people in high-pressure careers struggle to get this much. In large population-based studies, mortality rates have been show to increase in people who sleep less than six hours per night, or more than nine hours per night. Long-term studies have also shown that a short sleep time is associated with increased weight gain.
Are you getting enough sleep?
As a rule of thumb, if you are lying in for more than an hour or so at the weekend, you are probably not sleeping enough during the week. People often view sleep deprivation during the week as a fact of life, that is made up for by sleeping more at the weekend. But there is significant evidence that doing this does not compensate sufficiently.
For many, there remains a sleep deficit on Monday morning, with the associated cognitive and other effects of cumulative sleep deprivation – catching up on sleep at the weekend may simply not be enough.
Yet getting enough sleep is fundamental to success at work – numerous studies have shown how much of an impact sleep has on productivity and overall work performance. By regularly going to work sleep deprived, you're hindering your chances of rising up the career ladder.
Think about your body
So, while you are watching what you eat, or pounding the treadmill at the gym, it is worth giving your sleep some thought. What you are doing at night may well be having a much greater impact on how you feel, how you perform, and how healthy you are than you appreciate.
Value your sleep, and ensure that the quality is good. Consider your sleep habits, and be aware that many things you do during the day will affect your sleep. A good night’s sleep can make all the difference.