Why I’m learning about sleep

There are many mysteries in life and many great unanswered questions. One of them surprisingly is, ‘why do we need to sleep?‘ No one really knows. There are all sorts of theories but no conclusive answers, yet one thing is clear: need it we do. Take a look at this from John Hopkins Medicine

So increased risks of heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression, and if you happen to be driving: death. These things we do know and the science seems undeniable.

There have been Christians in the past such as John Wesley or William Law who have railed against excessive sleeping but most people today in developed nations suffer not from too much sleep but from too little. I recently noted my own struggles not with sleep itself but with the decision to get to bed in the first place and why staying awake can be a sin and going to sleep is a gift.

A couple of years ago I adopted a simple habit that transformed my mornings: I started drinking a pint of water as soon as I woke up. It gave me energy, I felt more alert almost instantaneously and I have more energy throughout the morning. Over the past year I’ve become convinced that I need to do better at getting the right amount of sleep and not building up sleep debt.

So my first step, as so often, was to get a book on the subject. I chose an audiobook, Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep by Richard Wiseman.

I’m still learning how to listen to non-fiction audiobooks where I’m hoping to retain the information. My listening got spread out over quite a long period and I found I forgot quite a lot. I’m still a bit of a novice with the audiobook format but my early feeling is I think it fits fiction better than non-fiction.

But a good narrator makes all the difference and this was an entertaining listen. I found the first half about the health benefits of sleep more interesting than the second half because I’m not that focused on dreams and their meaning. However nearly every chapter was full of fascinating anecdotes from sleep science that ranged from the ridiculous to the remarkable.

I think the book is a little bloated and would have been better by being 20% leaner but considering how much time we spend asleep learning to make sure you sleep well and sleep enough is crucial. In an age with always on entertainment and mobile devices learning the importance of a good night’s sleep is one of the key skills to teach our kids and helpful in cutting our teenagers some slack when their circadian rhythm changes.

There were definitely some practical ‘take homes’ for me (about the amount of sleep, the perfect time to take a nap, the key to learning etc) that are the sort of insights that make a non-fiction book like this well worth the read.

As I reflected on 2017 I realised that in order to make the progress I hope to make in 2018 I need greater consistency. And very simply if I’m more well rested, I’m far more likely to work more effectively, have mental energy for reading and for making the decisions to get out and run or exercise. I’ll have greater resources for the leadership challenges. I simply cannot afford to skimp on getting a good night’s sleep.

Nearly all of us need between 7-9 hours sleep a night and I’ve zero evidence that doesn’t mean me. Only my arrogance and laziness says otherwise. The stage of life we’re in as a family and when my children wake up also set boundaries and so I know without any doubt that I need to be asleep by 11 pm in order to get the sleep I need. I’m also going to start throwing in the occasional nap because that sounds like it will do me the power of good.

A third of my life will be spent snoozing but if I try to reduce that then the other two-thirds will suffer immeasurable harm. I want to make the most of the time that I have and I won’t do that by skimping on the sleep but instead on making sure I get the rest that I need and that’s why I’m learning about sleep.

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