Are you a sleep cheat? Here’s why you need to change

There are people who erroneously hold that sleep and rest are for the weak and lazy


04 May 2018 . 2,674 Views

Well-being is about lives going well. About lives flourishing. But one must be motivated to live the good life. If you were to make a list of the items to include in the good life, what would they be? Would they include affiliation? Autonomy? Competence?

How well balanced are these three components in your pursuit for the good life? And are you enjoying both positive physical health and positive psychological health? We can always revisit these questions in detail (and engage in a more elaborate debate) at a later date.

For now, let us briefly focus on 5 areas of interest that raise many concerns and invoke heated debates during wellness sessions at the workplace.

Safaricom promotes 100 per cent wellness at the work place.

As part of Safaricom’s focus on wellbeing and in response to work-life concerns raised by staff in a survey, Safaricom partnered with Thrive Global, a wellbeing and productivity group founded and led by Arianna Huffington, and launched the Thrive Global Programme midway through the year. The Thrive Agenda seeks to make companies truly human organisations in the digital age and focuses on four main areas: Body (wellbeing), mind (wisdom), heart (wonder) and soul (purpose).

The questions we seek to answer here surround the question of sleep, stress, work-life balance, sobriety, and emotional intelligence.

Sleep: Sacred word mistaken for laziness

There are people who erroneously hold that sleep and rest are for the weak and lazy. They, perhaps, imagine that opportunities will pass by while you take your “eyes off the prize”, in sleep. This joke has been taken too far. I have overheard several “motivational speakers” (aren’t they too many these days?) talk about the immiscible nature of sleep and success. That all successful men and women are sworn enemies of sleep and while everyone else slept, sleep haters have the space and time to think and make it big in life. I find this argument offensive.

Note that we are not talking about going to bed to fantasise or daydream. For if one shunned a life of hard work for a life of laziness, poverty will come howling like a wild dog. But to equate sleep to laziness is to miss the point, perhaps even being ignorant. Sleep, like air and food, is a basic human need. It is a fundamental mechanism for human survival whose deprivation hampers our physical and mental functioning. Sleep restores us, replenishes us, enables us to adapt, and improves our memory.

This is how. Sleep helps in rebuilding our brains and our bodies after they get worn out or used-up by our day’s waking activities. That is why many of our cells show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins during deep sleep. Sleep offers neurons that are used while we are awake an opportunity to shut down and restore themselves. This prevents the neurons from becoming so exhausted or so polluted by the by-products of cellular activity that they begin to malfunction. This is to tell us that when we deprive ourselves of sleep in order to work extra hard to make it in life, we only are likely to end up exhausted, cranky and disillusioned.

From an evolution point of view the need for sleep may have come about as a result of animals’ need to protect themselves.  That is, during the day most animals are safe to search for food and water. At night, they save energy by sleeping, keep from being eaten, or falling off a cliff because of poor vision. And we know that, generally, animals that serve as food for other animals sleep the least. Is there anything to learn from this?

In addition, sleep plays a crucial role in the storage and maintenance of long-term memory. It is argued that sleep frees the cerebral cortex from its demanding task of processing sensory input, active awareness, and motor functions thereby giving it a chance to conduct activities that strengthen memory associations. This means that memories formed during recent waking hours are integrated into the long term memory – keeping our brains sharp and focused.

We also know that sleep is beneficial to the physical growth and increased brain development in infants and children. For instance, deep sleep coincides with the release of growth hormones in children. A tip to parents or caregivers: ensure that your child gets as much time to sleep as possible. One way to achieve this is to have a clear and adhered to routine. It is a bad habit for children to be soothed to sleep on the couch by the television and later have them dragged to bed.

Sleep cheat

Many of us cheat on our sleep in the name of work pressure, school pressure, family obligations, and social obligations. And the consequences are real. Consider. Struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Feeling irritable, tired, and stressed out during the week. Trouble concentrating. Trouble remembering. Feeling slow with critical thinking, problem solving, and being creative. Feeling drowsy while driving. And have dark circles around the eyes etc. It would be to your advantage to start taking your sleep seriously. And 7 – 8hours a day would be in order.

Behavioural strategies

If you have raised the red flags above, the following are some of the behavioural strategies that you might find useful in beating your sleep cheating behaviour. Learn to value sleep. Sleep is not for the lazy and nonthinkers. It is a biological need. Period.

Take a warm bath before sleeping. It will relax you. Avoid alcohol, especially near bedtime. Stop smoking. Reduce caffeine intake.

Engage in activities that keep you mentally stimulated during the day. Manage your time well.

Keep away electronic gadgets from your bed. If you have trouble sleeping, read a book. It will summon sleep. Exercise regularly but not just before you go to bed. Work towards reducing stress. Have a restful night.

By Mbutu Kariuki

Mbutu Kariuki is a consulting psychologist based in Nairobi


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