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You Should Never Feel Guilty About This

WE’RE NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP AND IT’S MAKING US SICK

Parallel Vision Productions | Michelle Melles

The headline reads Donald Trump sleeps 4-5 hours each night; he’s not the only famous ‘short sleeper.’  Word is, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Elon Musk, Marissa Mayer (the former CEO of Yahoo), Indra Nooyi (who sits on the board of directors of Amazon) and Jack Dorsey, (Twitter’s co-founder and CEO) all, miraculously, need half the amount of sleep as the rest of us (aka all of humanity throughout history).  Jack Dorsey is apparently so busy managing two companies (Twitter and Square), spending 8 to 10 hours a day at each company, that he has no time to sleep.  What little sleep he manages to grab is “enough” Dorsey is on record as saying.

The thinking goes: sleeping 8 hours a night is a luxury reserved for people on vacations.

We’ve all heard a variation of the ‘successful people need less sleep’ story because, let’s face it, we live in work-obsessed, business-minded culture that tells people that if you ‘need’ to sleep 8 hours a night, you are weak, lazy, indulgent, wasting time, or worse – you’re unwell.  The thinking goes: sleeping 8 hours a night is a luxury reserved for people on vacations.  In the meantime, grab a coffee and get to work.  Who knows what sleep is for anyway?  What’s the point?  All you do is lie there and do nothing.  How boring.  How can we ever compete in the 24 hour economy if we indulge in sleep?

And now, the world-renowned, bright-eyed and brilliant neuroscientist Matthew Walker (who looks like he’s related to Ron Weasley – Harry Potter’s friend) has burst onto the scene to change everyone’s perceptions about sleep.  He’s sharing an explosion of scientific discoveries in the last two decades and telling us all that we are doing serious damage to our health and our lives by not sleeping enough.  Walker is remarkably lucid and intelligent and looks refreshed, mentally sound and physically healthy.   His book, Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams is a New York Times Bestseller and his recent TED talk on the importance of sleep has inspired numerous people including Wired Magazine’s Emily Dreyfuss who wrote an article entitled “You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep and it’s Killing You” after hearing Walker’s talk.

It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic.  It’s fast becoming one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century

Dreyfuss, who was on deadline for “a bazillion stories,” was sick as a dog from a virus she caught from her 3-year old, pregnant and unable to take cold medications or drink too much coffee, felt that Walker’s TED talk was aimed right at her.  She’s not alone – “the whole world is exhausted,” she says.

“The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our wellness, even the safety and education of our children.  It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic.  It’s fast becoming one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century,” Walker tells us.

I believe that we are living in a sleep-deprived culture not only because of the stresses imposed on us from an overly-demanding workforce and the angst we all feel from living on our troubled planet right now, but because we are also made to feel guilty for sleeping too much.  We’ve been made to think that sleep is a “guilty pleasure” when it’s a pleasurable necessity (no different than our need for air, water, food, exercise and love).

So, let’s set the record straight.  Sleep will make you smarter, age-less, live longer and be happier.  Among sleep’s many functions, it profoundly enhances our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions while lack of sleep makes us dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, and more vulnerable to dementia.

“You need sleep after learning, to essentially hit the save button on those new memories so you don’t forget,” Walker says.  “But recently we’ve discovered that you also need sleep before learning.  Almost like a dry sponge to suck up new information.  Without sleep, the brain becomes essentially water logged.”

Sleep is critical in stabilizing our emotions and is essential to our mental health (every single mental illness as well as suicidality is associated with a lack of sleep).  Sleep strengthens our immune system, enables us to fend off sickness and less likely to get cancer or die from a heart attack.  It also fine tunes our metabolism and hormones – so men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.  Sleep also regulates our appetite, so a lack of sleep will make us gain weight.

I love sleeping.  I’m obsessed with sleeping and the ritual leading up to sleeping.  I love choosing what I will wear to bed, I enjoy dimming the lights, putting on a soy-based, delicious-smelling candle, and choosing what book I’m going to read before I turn out the lights (and blow out the candle).  I love my soft, luxurious sheets, my mattress that was made in heaven (aka the Casper factory) and I savour the quiet “me-time” before I go to sleep.  And before I sleep, I put on my night mask (don’t judge), put a dash of lavender oil on it, and then I let myself fall into sweet, life-giving, life-sustaining, dream-inducing sleep.  And if I don’t get a minimum of about 7 hours of sleep at night, watch out!  I am grumpy, overly emotional and my brain feels foggy.  (Now I know, it’s actually soggy).

“Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body health each and every day,” says Walker.  “It is not an optional lifestyle luxury.  Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.”

Someone, please, send a sleep mask (with a dab of lavender oil on it) to Donald Trump (et al).

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