Sleep is Your Superpower

Willkommen, Happy Minds. For once, I hope that this blog post will put you to sleep. Ideally not mid-sentence, but hopefully it will encourage you to carve out a little more time for some serious Zzz’s. We’re talking about sleep as a superpower, inspired by the Ted Talk of the same name by Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at UC Berkely; Matt Walker. So pop those pyjamas on, snuggle down with a warm (caffeine-free) drink of your choice and let’s get proper cosy, ‘cause honestly, this might change your life.

Cat sleeping in its bed | HappyMind Training Blog | Sleep Is Your Superpower

Two Types of Morning People

I have to confess, I’m naturally an early riser. I tend to spring enthusiastically out of bed circa 6-7am, and once I’m awake my body fires up like a nuclear power plant. My partner, on the other hand, sputters into life like a steam engine. It takes him a good thirty minutes to muster the energy to pull back the duvet and claw his eyes open and left to his own devices, he naturally wakes around 9am. Clearly, some concessions have to be made, and we seem to have settled on an unspoken agreement that any significant noise or movement pre 8-ish is not to be tolerated. Now I’am actually starting to think he might be onto something.

Person sleeping on a bed wrapped in a duvet | HappyMind Training Blog | Sleep Is Your Superpower

Sleep is for the Weak?

What would you say if I told you that losing just one hour of sleep could significantly increase the risk of a heart attack. Sounds like hyperbole, no? Yet Professor Walker explains that each year when the clocks spring forward for daylight savings time, we record a 24% increase in heart attacks the following day. In the autumn, when clocks roll back and many of us gain an hour of sleep, we witness a corresponding 21% reduction in heart attacks. 

Alarm clock on the grass with yellow flowers | HappyMind Training Blog | Sleep Is Your Superpower

That takes a fair bit of the shine off those grimy late nights in your 20’s, doesn’t it? It doesn’t stop there of course, over the 20 minute Ted Talk, Professor Walker demonstrates the catastrophic effect that lack of sleep has on our immune system, reproductive organs, hormones and cognitive functions. In fact, the correlation between cancer and interrupted sleep patterns is now so high that in 2021 the National Toxicology Programme (NTP) in the USA released a report classifying night-shift work as carcinogenic. 

Kaffeine is Your Kryptonite

I have to admit, in my slightly more bullet-proof youth (that’s a band name waiting to happen) I used to proudly fly the flag of sleep deprivation. I burned the candle at both ends, strolling into work on four hours of sleep and pledging my allegiance to the sacred coffee bean. But caffeine turned out to be a paper shield, and as the ravages of time and the 9-5 set-in, I found myself battling insomnia, desperately unable to sleep and just thinking about all the things I had to do at work. In my despair I turned to powerful antihistamines that had a strong sedative effect. 

Annoyed woman wearing pyjamas, a sleep mask and a pillow on her head unable to sleep | HappyMind Training Blog | Sleep Is Your Superpower

But, as Professor Walker goes on to explain, sleeping pills of any kind just do not replicate the brain activity required to enhance our cognitive function. What we need is healthy, natural sleep. By getting at least 7 (ideally 8 or 9) hours of healthy natural sleep every night, we can observe a massive boost in our ability to make and preserve memories, as well as quantifiable improvements in almost every aspect of our lives, including fighting the effects of ageing. It’s no exaggeration to say that sleep is nature’s best attempt at an elixir of life.

You Gotta Fight For Your Right to (Not) Party

Cup of coffee with bubble depicting a sad face | HappyMind Training Blog | Sleep Is Your Superpower

OK, you’re convinced, so what can we do to get better sleep? Well, Professor Walker actually has a masterclass you can check out, if you have a membership for that platform, as well as a dedicated website providing loads of helpful info about the quality, quantity, regularity and timing of what makes good sleep, great. He offers a few general pointers that we could all do with checking in with: 

1. Caffeine and alcohol are going to mess with your sleep, and that’s just a fact. Consider moderating your intake. 

2. Have a “bedtime”, whatever night of the week it is. Consistency is key.

I also found an awesome resource from the good people at Calm, for those who want a bit more of a step-by-step routine. Their sleep hygiene checklist includes items such as:

  1. Lower the lights leading up to bedtime. 
  2. Keep the bedroom clean and clear.
  3. Maintain a comfortable room temperature – too cool is better than too hot!
  4. No more working in bed.
  5. Get outside and move in the morning, so you’re ready to sleep in the evening.

For those of us struggling to juggle the demands of work, life, family and sleep, it starts with resisting the narrative from external (or internal) voices that sleep is for the weak or the lazy, and pushing back on the expectation that you should sacrifice your beauty sleep. 

Happy woman with her arms extended | HappyMind Training Blog | Sleep Is Your Superpower

Better sleep is the superpower that’s going to allow you to become the best possible version of yourself. Until next time, sleep well, Happy Minds.

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