So did everyone enjoy that extra hour of shut-eye on Saturday night?
Considering my new career, I am interested in anything to do with sleep. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I’m now a Sleep Consultant for babies and young children!
In preparation for my 3-day training in Vancouver (when I got that crazy cold!), I read 1000s of pages on the topic of sleep. I know more about Ferber, Weissbluth, Pantley, The Baby Whisperer and How to Become Baby Wise than I thought was humanly possible! I can tell you why babies have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. How parents can teach their children better sleep habits and finally start sleeping through the night.
But I also learned about sleep in general and was particularly fascinated by our sleep debt.
What is sleep debt? Imagine you are wearing a backpack. Every hour that you either go to bed later or wake up earlier, you add a brick to your backpack. If you are fairly consistent with the same wake-up and bed-times, you can usually “catch up” or get rid of your bricks by getting extra sleep over the weekend or going to bed a bit earlier during the week. But what if you are consistently depriving yourself of good, consolidated sleep? Your backpack is going to get incredibly heavy and crush you! Or you’ll walk around really slowly 🙂
One of the books I read for my pre-training was Sleep Thieves by Stanley Coren. This book was a very interesting read! The main premise is that we, as a society, are operating on a fairly substantial sleep debt, and it affects everyone. And most people don’t even know they have a sleep debt. He has stories about truck drivers, pilot, teenagers, college students, to name a few. And the stories are eye-opening, and many make you think about sleep in a whole different way.
One story highlighted pulling all-nighters in college. The student will stay up all night writing that 20-page paper or cramming for a final. He is applauded by his parents and professor for his efforts, perseverance, and dedication and rewarded with a good grade. But wasn’t the paper assigned a week ago (or longer)? And as for finals, those do tend to pop up at the end of every term pretty consistently! He was basically praised for procrastinating?! When you look at it that way, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…but that’s how our society operates. We are rewarded for output and results and if it compromises our health, so be it.
There were several ideas in the books like this…ones that made you think about a normal everyday situation in a different light. He also had some pretty dramatic statistics.
One that stuck with me concerned Daylight Savings Time. After the time change in the Fall (when we gain an hour of sleep), studies have shown a 7% decrease in traffic accidents?! And in the Spring, when we lose an hour, there is a 7% increase in traffic accidents!
I’m fascinated that one hour can have such a huge impact on our lives! If one extra hour of sleep can have that profound of an effect on our society, it’s pretty scary to think about how sleep deprived we are as a nation!
Do you think you have a sleep debt? Do you wake up naturally at about the same time every day without an alarm clock? If so, you are probably getting enough sleep! But if you rely on that alarm clock 100% to get you up and out of the house on time, your backpack is probably overloaded with bricks.
What can you do to fix your sleep debt? For at least a week, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, shooting for 8 hours of sleep each night. If you’ve got a huge debt, you may actually need an hour or two beyond that. Don’t bring your laptop and do work in your bed, or read that page-turner that you just can’t wait to finish. Watching tv in bed or talking to your best friend on the phone isn’t a great idea either. When you get into bed, you should relax and not think about work or your to-do list! Keep a pad and pen by your bed to write down anything that you don’t want to forget and then put it out of your mind for the rest of the night.
One final thought on the importance of sleep…Dr. William Dement, the leading sleep expert and author of The Promise of Sleep, explains: “Healthful sleep has been empirically proven to be the single most important factor in predicting longevity—more influential than diet, exercise, or heredity. And yet we are a sleep-sick society, ignorant of the facts of sleep and the price of sleep deprivation.”
I hope you’ll continue with your good sleeping habits, or change those bad habits ASAP! Sleep well everyone 🙂