Sleep on it


Sleep on it

By Sally Evans

We’ve talked about the benefits of sleep before but did you ever wonder where the phrase ‘Sleep on it’ came from? Well, we are never told to stay awake with a problem!

In fact, this simple, but very pertinent phrase exists in every culture and in France this translates to ‘sleep with a problem’ (which perhaps says more about the French way of dealing with life!) Well, there is more and more evidence now of the benefits of sleep; I suspect many of us actually know that if we go to bed with a problem, by morning you may have thought a way through it, but why is this?

Well, there are four phases of sleep and depending on the depth of our sleep, we ensure brain repair time which inspires renewed creativity and dream inspired insight. Indeed, it is now well known that sleeping brains can solve our problems because during dream sleep we collide old information with new information and the brain tests novel connections and new associations and you awake up with a new web of capacity. This is where the brain searches to help or repair areas where it feels you have a deficit of information. How amazing is that?

But let’s think about that for a moment, during our waking hours its also doing that, preserving energy for new learning. This is called automaticity – whether its tying your shoe lace or driving a car, once learned, your brain shifts from conscious to automatic. Initially it’s not a fluid change but eventually it flows and you’re doing things automatically.

But back to sleep – did you know that a lack of proper darkness is keeping lots of us awake. Whether its artificial lights or technology, this light interference in our homes and seeping through our windows is a real problem. Experiments have shown that those sleeping in countryside areas with only natural light and the moon means they’ll get better sleep. Invasion of light such as incandescent light bulbs, suppress melatonin which helps us know when it’s time to sleep. And did you know that one hour iPad reading versus one hour of reading a book, can delay by 2 hours your R.E.M. sleep (that’s the best quality sleep) and ultimately without REM sleep you won’t feel as refreshed or restored.

And finally, a warning! Shortness of sleep has recently been found to predict mortality. Importantly, if we accept the now proven theory that wakefulness is like low level brain damage and that the job of sleep is to repair our brains, it is not good to go with too little sleep for too long.

The brain isn’t like a bank - you can’t bank sleep credit! The fat cell is though... the body stores the fat and accesses when it needs it. And don’t we know it!

But there’s no safety net for a lack of sleep. Indeed, we are the only animal that allows ourselves sleep deficits and a lack of it means our cognitive ability nose dives, our impulsivity increases and our alertness and reaction time changes to the equivalent of someone who is drunk. When we have less sleep, there is a beta ameloid build up, which are little proteins and a good night’s sleep is like a really great, deep clean, which rids the brain of this rubbish. Sadly, beta-ameloid build up is the main cause of alzheimers.

So what can we do to ensure we get a decent night’s sleep?

1. Regularity! Go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same day. This is what the brain needs and that consistency is crucial. You cannot bank sleep. You can’t sleep longer one night, in the hope it stores benefit for the night you decided to party!

2. Stay away from screens and switch off half the lights in the house. Light and temperature are triggers for sleep so you must pay attention to the light in the house (keep it low) and the temperature (keep it low).

3. Keep it cool! Our brain needs to drop its temperature to go to sleep, so sleep with less clothes on (its proven to be good for you!), but ensure you have warm feet and hands. This optimises your body temperature. Another way to manage your temperature before bed is to have a hot bath, but possibly not for the reasons that you think! A hot bath creates phaso-dilation which dumps heat away from your body and it actually cools your core body temperature down….sounds a bit counter intuitive, but a hot bath cools you down ready for bed.

So now you know a bit of science behind the phrase ‘sleep on it’ (because your brain is clearer and more alert), test yourself. What can you do to increase your sleep and get on track for a brain that is firing on all cylinders?

Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy. She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.