Is there one thing you can do to make a significant change in your health with little to no effort? Yes. Go to bed an hour or two earlier and get your average sleep times up to 7-8 hours per night.
Sleep, that thing that we do without being aware of, is not just something that is an inconvenient part of life. It is life!
Sleep is a matter of life or death. Dramatic statement? No, it's a fact!
Sleep is the "lazy" person's way of improving their health. No aspect of your body function is untouched. Mental, physical and immunological well-being are dependent upon sleep. Your weight, digestion, and capacity to learn and store memories and information. Your mood and even your personality.
“Not sleeping for 7 hours a night has profound and life-altering effects. All are detrimental. ”
Clearly, sleep is essential because if you think about it spending seven to eight hours asleep means that we spend approximately one-third of our lives in a vulnerable state. You are unable to defend or protect yourself while sleeping. If we and other organisms place ourselves in this defenceless state, there must be a significant and crucial biological reason for us to sleep.
Sleep touches every aspect of your body functions
There has been a great deal of research over the last ten years, and our understanding of the role of sleep has improved enormously.
We have now discovered which parts of the brain are responsible for making us sleep and keeping us awake, the neural pathways that link sleep to overall health, both physical and mental—the role of sleep in memory and learning.
Once we wake and our brain kicks into daytime overdrive from nighttime restoration mode, we start to store products of energy production. Although the brain weighs about 3 lbs, it uses 20-30% of the body's energy production per day.
But it's not that simple. Many consider seven to eight hours of unbroken sleep to be critical. However, is that really correct? The simple answer is probably no.
Indeed until artificial light became widespread- a very recent occurrence in evolutionary history, people went to bed with sundown and the dying embers of a fire. In many places, that meant somewhere around 6 to 7 pm until 6 to 7 am! Twelve hours in darkness.
Get your 2 blocks
The concept of two periods of sleep disappeared early in the twentieth century. However, until then, the evidence seems to support the idea that individuals fell asleep shortly after dark (and dinner). Four hours later, they woke up and spent two to four hours thinking, chatting, praying or having sex. Somewhere in the early hours, they fell back to sleep for a further three to four hours, waking at dawn with the arrival of a new day.
Why do I mention this here? Because I meet so many people who anxiously tell me they wake for a couple of hours at night. I tell them that's fine as long as they go to bed early and get their two blocks. It's OK if you fall back asleep after waking from the first sleep.
Indeed my rural living friends in Africa know that this is entirely normal!
You can be very productive at 1.00 am if you stop fretting that you are awake—an excellent opportunity for some self-contemplation, Me-Time.