Arianna Huffington says she learned about the importance of sleep the hard way. In 2008, as co-founder and editor-in-chief of one of the world’s most successful online media brands, the Huffington Post, she was riding the 24-hour news cycle and surviving on as little as three or four hours’ sleep a night.
It wasn’t until she collapsed from exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone and cutting her eye in the fall, that she resolved to take her health more seriously – beginning with getting more sleep.
“When I began the journey of rediscovering the value of sleep, I met with medical doctors and scientists and I’m here to tell you that the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep,” Huffington says in a 2010 Ted Talk entitled “How to succeed? Get more sleep”.
“Poor sleepers rarely understand how much they are impacted by not having enough sleep. They believe they are fine, but their thinking rapidly deteriorates throughout the day.”– Nick Glozier, Professor of Psychological Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Sydney’s Brain & Mind Research Institute
‘Wired but tired’
But how much is enough? And how can we collectively tackle the insomnia epidemic which, according to a Harvard Medical School study, costs the US economy alone $US63 billion per year?
At the University of Sydney’s Brain & Mind Research Institute, Professor of Psychological Medicine and Psychiatry Nick Glozier is charged with understanding how much sleep we need, and what we can do to get more of it.
“Poor sleepers rarely understand how much they are impacted by not having enough sleep,” says Glozier. “They believe they are fine, but their thinking rapidly deteriorates throughout the day.”
The result is poor sleepers end up “wired but tired”, Glozier says. They are unable to focus on detail, are easily distracted, and can be snappy and irritable with co-workers. However, he says the focus needs to be on getting the right amount of good quality sleep, rather than simply getting more.
Quality over quantity
“It turns out that a lot of people get poor sleep because they believe they need eight hours, so they go to bed too early, get distressed about not sleeping and the quality of their sleep is quite bad as a result,” Glozier says. “Often the most effective approach is to get less sleep, but better sleep.”
Glozier says most research into adult sleeping patterns suggest working adults require between six and eight hours’ sleep in a 24-hour period to remain healthy, although this can include napping during the day, and catch-up sleep.
“Insomnia is rarely a pathology, it is usually a collection of symptoms,” Glozier says. “There are ways to address those symptoms and get a good night’s sleep, but you have to put them into practice.”
Media proprietor Ariana Huffington and Professor of Psychological Medicine Nick Glozier have a few key recommendations for improving sleep:
- Focus on quality not quantity – don’t worry about how many hours you’re sleeping a night, rather, create an environment where you can get deep, uninterrupted sleep.
- Change your sleeping patterns by having a regular, early wake-up time rather than going to sleep early.
- Create a sleeping ritual that you look forward to: good quality pillows and sheets, silk pyjamas, and a bath or shower before bed, chilled chamomile tea or hot chocolate.
- Remove all distractions from the sleeping environment, including bright lights and digital screens.
- Exercise for half an hour every day: walking is good but sweating and getting “puffed” are better.
- Cut out caffeine after 2pm, and alcohol after 8pm; even if they don’t prevent you from getting to sleep, they will reduce the quality of your sleep.