How are you feeling today? A bit grouchy? Thinking more about a double espresso than the work on your screen? You didn’t get enough sleep, did you? These days it’s not even a question that needs to be asked - the assumption is no, because let’s face it, who does get enough sleep?
A 2016 Survey carried out by Intuit Research for AIA found that Hongkongers get the lowest amount of sleep of 15 countries in Asia Pacific, with just 6.5 hours. Even worse, we had the highest gap between how much sleep we get and how much we want (eight hours - just imagine...).
But you’ve heard all this before, haven’t you? And you’re familiar with the symptoms of sleep deprivation: from irritability and weakened immunity to more serious concerns like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. But what about how it affects other parts of your life? We asked Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert of 35 years, for his thoughts. Here’s what he said: ‘One of the most overlooked ways that poor sleep can affect your life is in terms of your relationship. After poor sleep you’re much more liable to argue or fight with your partner, you lack empathy and are much less likely to resolve the conflict.’
But Dr Stanley wasn’t finished: ‘Poor sleep also affects the part of the brain that is responsible for high level executive functions such as planning; decision making, problem solving, et cetera, and it’s these functions that are important in business.’
In fact, while many of us skimp on sleep because of work (in Japan the word inemuri describes the exhausted drones who catch some Zs whenever they can), we’re not doing our jobs any favours: across several countries studies have shown that sleep = lack of productivity, for the exact reasons mentioned by Dr Stanley.
And sorry ladies, but you have it even worse. In Arianna Huffington’s hit new book The Sleep Revolution, inspired by her own collapse from exhaustion, she writes: ‘It turns out that women need more sleep than men, so the lack of sleep has even more negative mental and physical effects on them. Duke Medical Center researchers found that women are at a greater risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and depression. “We found that for women, poor sleep is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression and anger,” said Edward Suarez, the lead author of the study.’
So what to do?
Start by engineering your bedroom environment for good sleep, says Dr Stanley.
‘Your bedroom needs to be a sanctuary for sleep - if you’re asleep you should be in your bedroom, if you’re not asleep you shouldn’t be in your bedroom. It’s not your office, games room or cinema, so nothing that isn’t to do with sleep should be in the bedroom - no phones, no TVs, no computers. Your bedroom needs to be dark, quiet, cool and comfortable.’ (We think comfy pyjamas and bedding wouldn’t hurt either.)
Think about your senses - sleep sounds and smells can help. ‘Some people find particular smells like lavender or orange blossom help, whereas others may dislike such aromas. Some people use pink noise generators to help them sleep whereas some people prefer the sound of silence.’ (Pro tip: if you don’t want to buy a generator, you can find pink noise, white noise or brown noise playlists on Spotify or YouTube - the colours signify different frequencies.)
Supplements can help too, though according to Dr Stanley, those of us with a well-balanced diet don’t need supplements (our take: if you’re one of the two or three people in Hong Kong that applies to, congratulations and feel free to skip this part). The four most common supplements are chamomile tea (brew it strong to get the oils out and probably go easy on the honey - all that sugar before bed can’t be a good thing), melatonin, valerian and kava. Some have side effects and shouldn’t be combined with other treatments (though chamomile tea is generally safe unless you’re pregnant, nursing or allergic), so if you’re considering them as options you should see a doctor first.
So forget the double espresso - sleep well and we’ll see you bright-eyed tomorrow!
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