Not getting enough sleep? Don’t fear

It's been billed as the supreme “arrogance” of our species. A group of eminent sleep experts recently criticised our willingness to ignore our natural body clocks and to get by on too little sleep. In particular, over-exposure to the blue light from smartphones and tablets is disrupting sleep patterns, leaving us exposed to illness. Even calling for government intervention, Oxford professor Russell Foster said people were getting one to two hours less sleep a night than 60 years ago.

This will be familiar to many. Earlier this year, Oxford sociologists showed that, after falling for all categories of workers for decades, the total number of weekly hours worked by the highest educated has risen from the 1980s. And a 2009 study of civil servants found that those who worked more than 55 hours a week were nearly twice more likely to be short on sleep than those on just 35 to 40. So how can you deal with this apparently toxic combination? Here are some ideas:


If you find yourself scanning those blue light devices late into the night, you may be suffering from what Microsoft calls Infobesity – information overload. It argues that we need to rethink how we use technology to enhance our ability to work, with its research finding that 52 per cent of us check our mobile within 15 minutes of going to bed. Given the inevitable pressure to stay on top of everything – especially if you have responsibility across time zones – this is easier said than done.

But ironically, one of the principles of inbox zero (the maligned practice of fanatically clearing your inbox of unread messages) may be useful. By creating a structure around your use of email, neatly filing messages away into folders to be dealt with at a pre-determined point, you may tackle one of the central causes of obsessive inbox surfing – the fear of not responding to something in a timely fashion.


Some argue that the sleep habits of history’s greatest have taken on cult status – that knowing that the likes of Thomas Edison and Margaret Thatcher slept only four hours a night has become a damaging aspiration, with serious health implications for those not naturally a member of the sleep elite. This is partly true. Loughborough University’s Kevin Morgan has argued that you can’t just suddenly become someone who sleeps this little. But his colleague James Horne has noted that how much you need depends on mood: “It all depends if one gets a buzz out of what one’s doing. If you’re despondent, you tend to sleep more; if you’re excited you need less.”

So while it’s advisable not to mimic the hyper-successful, if you are truly enthusiastic about your work, you may not need so much sleep. And in any case, Horne says, we don’t know how much sleep Thatcher got at the weekends – she may, in fact, have been normal. Fellow sleep warrior Marissa Mayer, for example, reportedly makes up for typically short nights by taking a week-long break every four months.


And technology may not have murdered sleep after all. There are now a host of devices able to monitor your sleep patterns – useful for pinpointing worrying trends. The Basis smart watch, for example, can measure the percentage of deep sleep you gain in a night, how often you toss and turn, and you’ll receive a weekly newsletter showing your sleep trends. And the Aura alarm clock goes beyond basic analytics. Fitted with a mattress sensor and a multi-coloured LED, it glows blue like daytime light, signalling it’s time to wake up based on your body’s movements.

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