‘There is no such thing as hav­ing too much sleep’

Some 35% of us get less than six hours a night, even though most of us need seven to nine

The Irish Times - Business - - WORLD OF WORK - Olive Keogh

Acol­league tipped back in their chair with their mouth open snor­ing like a bull­dog is not an at­trac­tive sight. But be­fore you wrin­kle your nose at their power nap, bear in mind that 20 min­utes of early af­ter­noon shut-eye – ide­ally be­tween 2pm and 3pm, when the bi­o­log­i­cal clock is at its low­est – will have a pos­i­tive im­pact on their at­ten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion lev­els for up to three hours af­ter­wards.

“Time well spent,” ac­cord­ing to sleep ex­pert Els van der Helm, who is speak­ing at the Great Place to Work an­nual con­fer­ence next Thurs­day in the Round Room of the Man­sion House.

“Sleep de­pri­va­tion is a global epi­demic that’s hurt­ing us on mul­ti­ple lev­els,” she says. “Some 35 per cent of peo­ple are sleep­ing for six hours or less when most of us need seven to nine hours. This is af­fect­ing our men­tal, phys­i­cal and emo­tional health.

“Sleep de­pri­va­tion creates a higher chance of suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, burnout, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, stroke, di­a­betes and de­men­tia. It also makes us more emo­tion­ally re­ac­tive and more likely to lash out or ex­hibit very low lev­els of tol­er­ance and pa­tience.”

Hav­ing spent most of her life in academia among peo­ple who “get” sleep, van der Helm was sur­prised to dis­cover that sleep is not gen­er­ally a cor­po­rate pri­or­ity. Some com­pa­nies have cot­toned on to the ad­van­tages of hav­ing well-rested em­ploy­ees and pro­vide nap pods for 40 winks, but in van der Helm’s ex­pe­ri­ence the em­pha­sis is on how hav­ing a healthy life­style could sup­port strong work per­for­mance.

“Peo­ple were eating well, tak­ing ex­er­cise and do­ing things like yoga and train­ing in stress and time man­age­ment but were ig­no­rant of the fact that sleep is the foun­da­tion for good health and there­fore for good per­for­mance,” she says.

Van der Helm di­vides those with sleep prob­lems into two groups: those who know they have a se­ri­ous prob­lem and may need psy­cho­log­i­cal help to over­come it and those who de­lude them­selves about their sleep­ing habits.

Sleep de­pri­va­tion is rife and man­i­fests it­self as feel­ing lethar­gic, find­ing it hard to fo­cus, need­ing reg­u­lar caf­feine to get through the day, be­com­ing sleepy in meet­ings, fall­ing asleep the minute your head hits the pil­low, need­ing an alarm to wake you in the morn­ing and sleep­ing late on week­ends.

A lot of peo­ple worry about wak­ing up dur­ing the night, but van der Helm says this is nat­u­ral pro­vided you go back to sleep within about five min­utes.

Sleep hy­giene

Sleep hy­giene is about build­ing habits that en­cour­age rest such as main­tain­ing a reg­u­lar bed­time and not mix­ing an espresso with a high-oc­tane video game be­fore you turn in. Check­ing work emails and text mes­sages in bed is also a no-no as is watch­ing TV and surf­ing the in­ter­net, not least be­cause LCD screens emit a type of blue light that has a detri­men­tal im­pact on the body’s nat­u­ral rhythm. It makes you feel less sleepy and pushes out your cy­cle, mak­ing it harder to wake up next morn­ing.

“The fastest way to cre­ate a bunch of in­som­ni­acs is to let them loose with all of their de­vices at bed­time,” van der Helm says. “You have to cre­ate a buf­fer be­tween your day life and sleep. The bed­room should only be for sleep and sex.”

Van der Helm is no fan of that close buddy of the sleep-de­prived, the “snooze” but­ton. “Those who have suf­fi­cient good-qual­ity sleep wake up nat­u­rally when the body has com­pleted its cy­cle,” she says. “It is not good to have it in­ter­rupted by an alarm and then re­peat­edly by the snooze but­ton. Around 60 per cent of peo­ple use the snooze but­ton three times in the morn­ing.”

Up un­til 2013, re­searchers thought sleep was im­por­tant for rea­sons rang­ing

Sleep de­pri­va­tion is rife and man­i­fests it­self as feel­ing lethar­gic, find­ing it hard to fo­cus, need­ing reg­u­lar caf­feine and be­com­ing sleepy in meet­ings.

from boost­ing the im­mune sys­tem to reg­u­lat­ing the me­tab­o­lism. Then it was dis­cov­ered that the brain is ef­fec­tively be­ing “cleaned” dur­ing sleep and of­fload­ing toxic by-prod­ucts such as the amy­loid data im­pli­cated in the de­vel­op­ment of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

“Peo­ple need to work out what their sleep num­ber is – in terms of hours they need – and try and stick to that for 22 days out of 30 in the month,” says van der Helm. “You need to de­sign your life around your in­di­vid­ual sleep re­quire­ment, some­thing that of­ten causes fric­tion within re­la­tion­ships be­cause peo­ple need dif­fer­ent amounts, and [they] com­pro­mise in the mid­dle, mean­ing nei­ther of them are op­er­at­ing op­ti­mally.

“It’s bet­ter to get up and go to bed at dif­fer­ent times. There is no such thing as hav­ing too much sleep. Your brain will wake you up when you’ve had enough.”

Van der Helm has lit­tle time for those who brag about func­tion­ing per­fectly on four hours’ sleep.

“It is rare to find peo­ple who need less than six. In fact only 1 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion have the genes that make it pos­si­ble to sur­vive on min­i­mal sleep, she says.”

She is also scep­ti­cal about those who claim they sleep per­fectly af­ter drink­ing cof­fee. “I’d like to know about the qual­ity of their sleep. Ide­ally no caf­feine should be con­sumed af­ter 2pm as it re­mains in the body for a long time. How long varies be­tween peo­ple, but af­ter four to seven hours, around 50 per cent of it is still in the sys­tem.”

Sleep de­pri­va­tion creates a higher chance of suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, burnout, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, stroke, di­a­betes and de­men­tia Els van der Helm

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