Sleepless and proud… Really?

Image by MissTurner

Image by MissTurner

One of the most puzzling trends that’s emerged in the supercharged, super busy life of the modern man is the pride associated with sleep deprivation. “I didn’t get any sleep last night” is said with an air of bored superiority and translated as “I work so much more than you”. Are we really competing with each other based on how much (actually, how little) we sleep?

I’m not going to hit you with all the boring details of what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. Instead, I’m going to kick you where it hurts – sleeping less than your body needs means more pounds on the weight scale! That’s right folks! Sleep is brain food. If you’re not giving your brain enough rest time, it starts asking for chocolates and doughnuts and brownies. So unless you want to start loosening the notches on your belt, pay attention.

First of all, you know there’s something wrong with your sleep cycle if you wake up cranky every day, have strange cravings or can’t eat anything for two hours after waking up, have memory and concentration problems, and feel like napping in the middle of the day. These are all simple signals your brain is trying to send. When you don’t listen, you crash – literally and figuratively. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of road accidents, increased insulin levels and heart disease.
Second, lets debunk some sleep myths.

  1. There’s no magic number. There is no minimum daily requirement (its not a vitamin pill). Some people get along with as little as 2 hours a day and others need upto 9 hours. Find out what works best for you and then be consistent.

  2. Reading in bed is not a good idea. Your bed should be a place your brain associates with sleep. Read in the living room, read on a comfy couch in your bedroom, but the bed is a shut eye zone.

  3. Snooze marathons don’t help. Want to know the real cause of Monday blues? Sleeping all Sunday. No one has a perfect routine. There are times when we just can’t get enough sleep and our body accumulates “sleep debt”. If you’ve missed out an hour of sleep everyday in the week, you can’t pay it off by sleeping 6 hours extra on Sunday. Sleep debt has to be paid off in installments – sleep a little bit more every day of the next week.

  4. Working out before bedtime is a definite no. In fact, avoid any intense activities before bedtime (chill, this doesn’t include sex). Tiring yourself out before going to sleep is not the answer. Instead, gradually change your daily schedule to cover all mentally and physically intensive activities at least 4 hours before your bedtime.

This next part is really important. You may be busy as an ant the whole day, but are you really productive? We all tend to equate less hours of sleep with more hours of work. “If I sleep an hour late, I could finish one last article”. Not true. A productive sleep cycle means more work in less time because your body and your brain and both geared up and ready to go. So you might be packing up at 5 while your friends work till 8 but it does not mean they’re doing more than you – they’re just taking more time to do it.

By this time some of you should be wondering “hey, what are my options? Shouldn’t I just sleep 7-9 hours at night and get it done with”? The answer is no, you don’t have to schedule your sleep all in one go. For some people, this might not even be an option. Here are some of the widely accepted (if not commonly used) sleep cycles.

  1. Monophasic sleep cycle This is the one we are all familiar with. Sleep 7-9 hours at night and go go go the whole day.

  2. Byphasic sleep cycle Surprisingly enough, this is one thing that mommies and college students have in common. Sleeping 7-9 hours at a stretch is just not possible. Well then break it down baby! Sleep 5-6 hours at a stretch during the night and then take a 60-90 minute nap in the middle of the day.

  3. Everyman cycle Like the name implies, this alternative sleep pattern is for “every man” looking to try something different. Sleep 3-4 hours at night and take 3 twenty minute naps during the day. Sounds easy, huh? The key is to be very very consistent. The naps have to be scheduled at the same time every single day.

  4. Uberman cycle I like to call this the “Superman cycle”. 6 x 20 minutes naps every day, spaced at equal intervals. Quick, do the math! This is actually just 2 hours a day and is known to be a very effective sleep cycle! Side effects include VERY vivid dreams and missing a nap can leave you “hung-over” for quite a while.

Lastly, just like there’s no magic number, there’s also no “right way” to schedule sleep. You have to choose a sleep cycle that best works with your lifestyle. But remember, whichever sleep cycle you want to work with be consistent and give it at least 10 days so that your body can adjust to it.

Sweet dreams!

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