As today is World Sleep Day we thought we should look at why we sleep and what happens to our wellbeing if we don’t get enough sleep.
If we look across the animal world, we can see that sleep is a fundamental part of life for most animals. In fact, for some animals it takes up most of their lives…
This koala tops the chart of heavy sleepers clocking up an impressive 18 – 22 hours in every 24 hour period.
On average, we humans only sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night but that still adds up to spending around a third of our lives asleep – that’s around 27 years!
So, what’s going on? Why have we evolved to do something that leaves us highly vulnerable and is, on the surface, pretty non-productive?
In fact, although it seems like we’re doing nothing, certain areas of the brain actually increase their activity levels during sleep rather than shutting down.
There are of course the obvious benefits of sleep like rest, but it’s also a time for:
So there’s a lot going on, despite outward appearances to the contrary!
According to the HSE, fatigue has been implicated in 20% of accidents on major roads and is said to cost the UK £115 – £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.
But beyond the finances is the human cost – think of all those company car drivers, machine operators, shift workers, as well as all those working on the Pandemic frontline… lack of sleep affects anyone who has to make a decision of any kind in their organisation.
When we don’t get enough sleep our bodies can take over. Chronic lack of sleep can have consequences like micro-sleeping – short, unintended periods of loss of attention, lasting a fraction of a second up to 2 minutes. They manifest in:
…simply an inability to keep your eyes open!
Most of us have gone through periods when we’ve lacked sleep, whether it’s because we’re going through the new stages of parenthood – remember those 1, 2, 3 hourly wake ups for feeding, or when your child is sick and needs to be comforted? – or perhaps facing life changes that have interfered with your sleep patterns: anything from sitting exams, to going for interviews, starting a new job, moving house, or any number of other work or personal pressures.
We might recognise that our increased stress and anxiety levels are impacting on our sleep.
In most cases the event passes and our sleep patterns re-establish themselves, but if that’s not the case for you…
The first thing to remember is sleep is good – set your mind and body up to want to go to sleep!
You can nudge it along with:
Allow 90 minutes for your body to settle into sleep – dimming or turning off lights 90 minutes before you want to sleep to promote the release of melatonin (your sleepy hormone), have your last snacks/drinks so your digestive system can close down for the night, do relaxing activities that allow the mind to wind down
Allow 90 minutes for your mind and body to wake up – determine what time you need to be up and ready to leave home/work/etc and work back 90 minutes, that’s your wake up time… and sandwiched between them is your sleep time! You actually need anything between 4 – 11 hours, understand what works for you
In our modern lives, we have pushed sleep to one side, by-passing our natural biorhythms in favour of new learned behaviours, but there is a cost – if we don’t allow the body and mind to rest, recover, renew then we’re at risk of damaging our long term health and wellbeing.
When we sleep well, we perform well, we engage better – we live life to it’s full potential.
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