According to Matt Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California and author of Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, there are numerous reasons why people need to be getting eight hours of sleep a night. Several stand out as being of the utmost importance to entrepreneurs and leaders of teams.
Sleeping enriches a diversity of functions related to learning, memory, creativity, decision making and emotional regulation. So basically, all the important stuff your brain does.
Sadly, two-thirds of adults throughout developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep (the odds say you’re one of them). Utterances like ‘I can perform well on six hours a night’, and ‘eight hours is a pipe-dream’ are common.
And I get it. I said the same thing for almost 10 years, willing myself out of bed at 5 am for an early-morning workout, after having slept somewhere between six and seven hours. I’d judge people who slept until 7 am and write them off as lazy and undisciplined. During my twenties and early thirties, I’d think nothing of waking up at 9 am on a Saturday morning after having gone to bed, drunk, at 5 am.
I’d venture out for a 10-kilometre run, thinking it was the best way to recover, and boast about it later. I couldn’t fathom how my fellow revellers would sleep right on through to mid afternoon.
However, the science suggests that routinely sleeping fewer than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system and more than doubles your risk of cancer. And the thing about thinking six hours is enough is that you don’t know you’re sleep deprived when you’re sleep deprived.
On the creativity front, Thomas Edison would famously nap at his desk with two steel balls in both hands when challenged by a daunting problem. On the floor, directly below his closed hands, he placed metal saucers. As he entered what’s known as ‘the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep’ Edison would drop the steel balls onto the saucer, effectively waking him up. He’d then furiously write down anything he was thinking about just before he was awoken by the loud crash.
So with all of this in mind, here are nine ways to get a better night’s sleep.
1 . Set your bedroom temperature at 18 degrees Celsius / 64 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Don’t look at devices or blue light (smartphones, tablets, laptops) within an hour of bed and keep light to an absolute minimum
A bedside lamp is 20–80 lux and a living room is 200 lux, suppressing melatonin by 50 per cent. Even 8–10 lux delays melatonin release, making it harder for you to fall asleep. If you must, wear blue-light suppressing glasses or ‘blue blockers’.
3. Journal: get thoughts out of your head and onto paper
4. Have a hot bath, a hot shower or a sauna before you hit the hay
Doing so will make it easier to fall asleep as your body begins its cooling down process.
5. Don’t drink alcohol before bed
You might be able to fall asleep on a glass of red or a glass of whiskey, but the quality of that sleep will be more akin to a sedated sleep than a natural one, and you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night as the alcohol wears off).
6. Don’t eat a large meal just before bed
7. Down a magnesium supplement before bed
Magnesium, dubbed by many the original chill pill, is an old home remedy for all that ails you. In 1968, a research paper by Wacker and Parisi found that magnesium deficiency could cause depression, behavioural disturbances, headaches, muscle cramps, seizures, ataxia, psychosis and irritability — all reversible with magnesium repletion. And it’s great for calming you down for a good night’s rest.
8. Don’t consume engaging content or media just before bed
9. Have more sex
Sex makes it easier to get a good night’s rest. A powerful orgasm to a male is equal to a 2–3 mg shot of Valium.