Sleep like you’re paid to do it.
I heard this advice a few years ago, and it now lives rent-free in my mind. In fact, it’s become one of my favourite pieces of advice. When people come to me seeking wisdom (which is not, admittedly, all too often!) this is generally the first thing I dispense.
I was asked recently what advice I would give to my younger self. Sleep like you’re paid to do it was my reply (I also said you won’t regret time spent with family … and invest in Tesla!).
What does it mean to sleep like you’re paid to do it? The advice makes the most sense when compared to our normal approach to sleep. Lots of us see sleep as a chore, something that gets in the way of what we really have to do – work, family, leisure, admin. Or we see sleep in a positive way, but because it’s at the end of the end (usually) it naturally gets pushed into a narrower and narrower margin of our life.
Sleepless in Seattle … or wherever you are.
If you’re old enough to remember the movie Sleepless in Seattle, then good for you. We are kindred spirits. I want to talk about the phenomena – the sleep crisis in modern society – rather than the film, though. As a rule of thumb, most adults need around eight hours of sleep every night. Do we generally get that amount? I think you and I already know the answer to that.
The fact is, the modern world is not geared for sleep. In an age of light pollution, distraction, shift work, electronic media, and stress, it’s unsurprising that up to 30% of people in the developed world get less sleep than they need. Compare this to 1.5% of Hadza people in Tanzania.
In Australia, around four in ten people struggle with inadequate sleep. The personal, societal, and economic impact is enormous. A report from the Australian government shows that insufficient and low quality sleep leads to:
- Increased risk of chronic diseases and illnesses
- Negative impacts on overall wellbeing and mental health
- Detrimental impact of personal and professional judgement
- Heightened mistakes that can lead to damaging mistakes
- Challenges to productivity
A serious health crisis
Let’s focus on the health impacts of insufficient sleep. Unfortunately, they are significant, which might explain the increasing popularity of products like Swisse sleep tablets.
To understand the health benefits of sleep – and the damage caused by insufficient sleep – we need to understand the purpose of sleep. For a long time, this perplexed scientists and researchers. Sleep was first thought to be necessary to keep us immobile and away from predators during the night. This early theory can be debunked in two ways. Firstly, it is far better to be conscious and alert when a predator is around than asleep and immobile! Secondly, even apex predators – those with no danger in the night to worry about! – need sleep.
We now know more about crucial biological processes that occur when – and only when – we hit the hay. Most importantly, our brain cells flush out toxic build-up, and our body cells produce important molecules. No wonder we feel mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually refreshed after a good night of sleep, and it’s no wonder that we feel so terrible after a night without sleep.
Consistently getting insufficient sleep has serious health consequences. Insufficient sleep can:
- Weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to illness
- Decrease your overall mental wellbeing and leave you susceptible to serious and ongoing mental health issues
- Increase your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
- Can have ‘wide-ranging effects on the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems’
- Can lead to fatigue
Healthy sleep habits
So, how do can you get enough sleep? Is it as simple as adding Swisse sleep supplements to your routine, or having a glass of honey and lemon tea before bed?
Here are a few tips to help shape the way you sleep:
Reject sleep scepticism. I have noticed a concerning cultural trend, especially among young professionals. It’s the idea that sleeplessness is somehow a badge of honour or a perfect picture of productivity. I call this sleep scepticism, and it’s frankly dangerous. Not only does it negatively impact your health and our society for all the reasons I’ve outlined above, but it also gives the impression that your identity is based solely on your productivity. Here’s a liberating truth: you are more than what your boss thinks of you, or how much revenue your business takes in, or how often you get promoted. Sorry to get preachy on you!
Limit technology use before bed. We live in an information economy. But perhaps we could better describe it as a distraction economy. All our devices are designed to harvest the most valuable resource in the world: our attention. This means that our technology – especially our phones – can disrupt the natural processes that help us sleep well. In addition to this, the unnatural blue light from the phones can lead to poorer sleep quality and greater difficulty in getting to sleep.
Avoid caffeine for four to six hours – or even longer! – before bed. This point probably surprises nobody, but it might be the gentle reminder that you need. A flat white at sundown might feel like just what you need … but you will still be feeling the effects when you climb into bed.
- Build a healthy sleep routine. Routine helps your brain relax and creates the psychological cues that can help you get to sleep in an easier manner. This might include showering, brushing your teeth, reading, taking a Swisse sleep supplement, meditating, etc. It doesn’t matter so much what the components are, so long as they are consistent each day.
What about supplements?
People often ask me about supplements. Will they help? I always tell people that the answer is built into the name: such products are designed to supplement good sleep habits rather than replace them.
The Swisse Sleep Ultiboost, for example, can help to calm you before sleep and reduce tension, restlessness, and the other things that stand in the way of a good night of sleep. Of course, always read the label and other instructions, and consult your doctor if symptoms persist or if you have other ongoing concerns.
Sleep like you’re paid to do it
Sleep like you’re paid to do it takes seriously the restorative power of sleep. This might sound a bit tacky, but the sleep like you’re paid to do it means that you see sleep both as a gift to enjoy and as serious business. You wouldn’t cancel or an important meeting at work, so don’t cancel on sleep.
The truth is, advice is easy given than taken. That’s something Shakespeare was very aware of: it’s Ophelia’s point in Hamlet when her brother Laertes dishes out trite words of wisdom, and it’s Portia’s point in The Merchant of Venice when her servant Nerissa gives her some tips on how to live well.
I’m guilty of this. Sleep like you’re paid to do it, is what I say … sleep when you can is what I do. I often live as though sleep is a) a necessary evil, b) an optional extra, or c) a luxury that I can enjoy at some later point in life.
I have to fight this temptation, and so should you. Sleep is one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing, and it is well worth the investment.