This is an account of a talk I gave at my local Toastmasters club last night. The intention of the talk was to incorporate facts and research.
Thank you Mr Toastmaster. Good evening Toastmasters and special guests.
I’d like to you raise your hand if typically sleep less than 6 hours per night (a few people raise their hand). Raise your hand if you sleep six to less than eight hours per night (almost all of the audience raises their hand), finally if you sleep eight or more hours per night (one person raises their hand sheepishly – there are a few giggles and looks).
Sleep deprivation is defined as anything less than seven hours of sleep per night1.
Research by the WHO has shown typically sleeping less than 7 hours per night is as bad as smoking2.
The AAA has found that driving a car on less than 4 hours of sleep means you’re eleven and a half times more likely to have a crash. 3
An adult sleeping only six hours and forty-five minutes a night would only be predicted to live to their early sixties without medical intervention. 1
It wasn’t until I had kids that I realised the importance of sleep. Suddenly I became fascinated with it.
Both from the kids point of view: they don’t sleep and they’re so grumpy. And from the parent’s point of view: they don’t sleep and we’re so grumpy.
Why are we grumpy when we don’t sleep? Brain scans have shown a 60% amplification in the reactivity of the amygdala1 which is the part of your brain which causes the fight or flight response. So we’re more angry, anxious and stressed when we don’t sleep.
But why don’t we respect sleep? Kids are so cute when they’re sleepy. You can’t not smile looking at a cute little sleeping child. But if an adult is sleepy, or sleeps a lot, we look at them like they’re a sloth. They’re lazy. Hero’s don’t sleep. The CEOs of multinational organisations are applauded as heroes who survive on a few hours of sleep a night.
And we don’t sleep. In 1942, less than 8% of the US population survived on 6 or less hours of sleep per night, now it’s one in two. 1
It’s a huge economic problem too. Sleep Scientist Matthew Walker at the University of California has showed sleep deprivation costs the UK economy alone 30 billion pounds per annum, 2% of the GDP of the United Kingdom.1
So why don’t we sleep like we used to. There’s a number of reasons. The most obvious is electrification of the night: 24×7 electricity has made the world less dark, and we need darkness to sleep well. Also work. The grey lines between work and home, for example, I work at home, mean we’re working more and working more in our homes: checking emails on our phones all night. Not only that, we desire larger more expensive houses with longer commutes which means we have less hours to do other things. And we all suffer the modern phenomenon known as FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. We’d rather miss out on sleep than anything else.
This talk has been pretty bleak and depressing so far. So what can you do?
The first thing you can do to improve your sleep is sleep more. Try to stick to regular sleeping hours every night. We set alarms to wake up: why not set one to go to bed so you know you can sleep for eight hours that night? Every iPhone in the world has this feature built in.
Avoid sleeping pills, they delete your memory.1 Limit alcohol and caffeine – they are enemies of sleep, much like light. And do things like reading (paper) books at bedtime, or take a hot bath which helps you get to sleep1.
On sleep, Heroclitus said “Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.”
President Donald Trump proudly declares he has 3 hours of sleep a night4, which raises the question: do you really want to be like Donald Trump?
audience erupts in loud and sustained 👏