Sleep has a huge effect on both mental and physical health. Sleeping in darkness is profoundly good for you, while shift patterns that mess about with your sleep are seldom good for a person. Sleep facilitates healing, learning and general bodily functioning. And yet… we have invasive street lighting so many houses are not dark unless you get blackout curtains. We have a noisy culture that makes sleep difficult in urban environments. There is pressure to work ever longer hours, and we create over stimulated environments that make it harder for us to settle and sleep. Many people do not get the recommended eight hours a night. I find it shocking that hospitals expose patients to light and noise at night in a way that makes sleeping there very difficult. I’m not going to go through and diligently source all of this, forgive me, but there’s nothing obscure here and google is your friend…
Not enough sleep can mean some or all of the following effects: Poorer metabolism function leading to weight gain. A few nights of poor sleep is enough to have a discernible impact. Tired people are also more likely to snack to try and maintain energy, which doesn’t help. Reduced learning ability. Particularly an issue for students, but we are all learning all the time, or we could be. Much sorting of information and consolidating of learning happens during sleep. The more sleep deprived you are, the less able to reason you become and the more unstable your emotions are likely to be, leading to higher risk of depression and other mental health problems. Impaired judgement and impact on decision making skills also a likely outcome. Not getting enough sleep puts stress on the body, so if you have higher blood pressure, that adds to the problem, and also makes it harder to get over illness.
There are specific ailments underpinned by poor sleep. Insomnia in and of itself counts as a medical condition, and turns up alongside depression and anxiety – often in a circular relationship, rather than linear cause and effect. I find there’s a direct correlation between how much sleep I get, and how much physical pain I experience. I notice that I am less emotionally functional when sleep deprived. My brain becomes so dysfunctional without sleep that after a while I start to hallucinate – which is not unusual, but dangerous for people who are driving, working heavy machinery and the like. People die on the roads all the time because sleep deprivation slows reflexes and impairs judgement.
Here we are, with an obesity epidemic, and with depression and anxiety such common ailments as to be becoming part of normal life experience. Yet no one seems to be talking about the simplest, cheapest, most available intervention capable of helping a lot of people. It won’t solve all problems, but a culture of good sleeping would make a lot of difference. But we don’t do that, we dish out pills, and adverts for yet more bleepy apps to put on your phone, and we play more games, and crawl into our beds too wired to sleep, only occasionally wondering what went wrong with our lives. I’ve lived with chronic sleep deprivation, with late night computer games and pressure to work all hours. It did hideous things to me, and yet we are showing each other images, all the time, of people living as normal in over stimulated environments, and we keep piling on the noise.
Seek now your blanket, and your feather bed… and let me point you at one of my favourite songs… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D_fJr12MYs with the lovely Emily Smith singing Bill Caddick’s classic song about sleep and dreaming.