It is a question asked often. Or some variation of it. "Are you able to sleep?" "How are you sleeping?" "How much sleep have you been getting?"
I have asked that question of people in my circle a fair bit the last while: someone fighting a bad cough, a woman dealing with the stress of a demanding job, and a friend whose mother died unexpectedly. It was a question posed out of concern, with the obvious underlying message that getting adequate sleep might be helpful in these difficult circumstances.
It's true. Getting sleep is indeed helpful. In fact, lack of sleep is linked to weaker immunity, poorer cardiovascular health, impaired judgement, slower reaction time, inability to cope with stressful situations and on it goes. On the flip side, sleep promotes good brain health, boosts the immune system, and increases energy levels.
Have you heard someone joke that they are so busy they don’t have time to sleep? It might be a bit exaggerated but make no mistake, not sleeping is no joking matter. Many variables are involved, to be sure, but it's not something we should ignore.
The theme for this year's World Sleep Day, to be held March 17, is "Sleep Is Essential for Health." Essential; a word meaning necessary. Vital. Crucial. Imperative. Can it be any clearer than that?
The co-chair of World Sleep Day 2023 Dr. Fang Han said, “Just because sleep is a natural behavior does not mean that sleep should be taken for granted.” But we seem to be taking it for granted, or worse, underestimating its importance. A recent survey found that Canadians aged 35-64 are not getting enough sleep and fully 61% said they have cancelled plans because they are so tired. We're not alone. Canadians and Americans are some of the most sleep deprived people in the world bested only by those in the United Kingdom and Ireland who are worse off when it comes to sleep. So the question we need to ask ourselves is what are we going to do about it?
For some it is a serious medical and physical issue requiring professional help. For others, it might be taking a look at how we approach our waking hours. Are there things we are doing during the day that are preventing us from getting some decent rest at night?
Experts remind us of the importance of proper diet and regular exercise and its impact on sleep, yet those responding to the sleep survey said their schedules don't allow time for healthy meal prep and there certainly aren't enough hours to exercise daily.
We're also told we need to stick to regular routines and a consistent bedtime (including weekends.) How are we doing with this? Well, the majority of responders said their lives are so chaotic they can't possibly predict what time they might fall into bed each night.
There's something else as well, and it might be the biggest obstacle of all. We’re told we need to avoid using electronic devices before going to bed. Notice the vocabulary used by the experts: avoid. Not limit. Not reduce. Avoid. Yet almost three-quarters of people report they are on their phones or computers right before trying to sleep.
We no longer shut down distractions and focus on sleep. Instead, phones beep and bing all night with incoming messages and alerts, creating a culture that demands we always be accessible and that whatever is coming across the screen is more important than anything else. More important than sleep. More important than our very health.
Our TVs, computers, and yes, even our phones, have 'off' buttons, but regrettably it seems to be the least used feature of all. And it's costing us our physical and mental well-being. The price we are paying is too high.
We’ve created a construct in which we have erroneously determined our value is in how overloaded we are, our need to be available to everyone at any time, and declaring ‘I’m too busy to sleep’ like it’s a badge of honor. It’s not. No one is impressed. We’re just hurting ourselves.
It's time to make sleep a priority. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But if we do nothing, nothing will improve. It starts with demonstrating that our health is more important than our screens, and our well-being means more to us than our activities. Too much depends on it. So go and take a guilt-free nap. Doctor's orders. That's my outlook.