There was some seemingly good snooze news last year when it was announced that Kiwis are the world’s best sleepers, notching up an impressive 7.5 hours, on average, per night, slightly more than Australia, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK. However, the study was conducted by sleep app, Sleep Cycle, meaning participants may already lean toward leading health- and wellness-conscious lifestyles for other studies have shown Kiwis—and much of the world—to be sleep deprived, and an overreliance on online platforms is partly to blame.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reports that 88 percent of adults admit to sacrificing sleep in order to binge on TV shows, with the figure skyrocketing to 95 percent for 18-44-year-olds. A quarter of the respondents expressed frustration at their inability to stick to bedtime routines.
“Choosing to binge on entertainment at night instead of sleeping has serious ramifications,” says Dr Kelly Carden, AASM president. “Sleep is essential to health, wellbeing and safety, and chronic insufficient sleep can lead to an increased risk of health problems, mood disorders and motor vehicle accidents.”
The Journal of Clinical Sleep concludes binge-watching to result in greater fatigue, greater insomnia, and even poorer sleep quality once folk have finally drifted off. The use of electronic devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops in bed affects our circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock), their short-wave, artificial blue light inhibiting the release of sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.
“Sleep is God. Go worship!” – Jim Butcher, Death Mask
The Sleep Foundation recommends that we should be ideally digitally disconnecting two hours before bed, but certainly no less than 30 minutes. And don’t think you can simply ‘catch up’ on that lost shut-eye at the weekend. Research has shown that you need as much as four good nights’ rest for every hour of sleep lost, so a substantial ‘sleep debt’ soon accumulates over an inconsequential period of time.
A 2016 study revealed a third of Kiwis to be sleep deprived (figures in keeping with similar research in other countries like the US, the UK, and Australia), with women and those aged 35-49 years likely to suffer most, while stress and electronics-use are cited as the most common causes of sleep disruption.
“The reality is poor sleep patterns can have a negative flow on effect, if you’re tired, you’re less likely to prioritise exercise and healthy eating,” says Dr John Mayhew, chief medical officer of life insurer Sovereign, author of the study. “If you sleep well, you’ll feel both mentally and physically energised and alert and more likely to make better decisions about your health, including fitness and diet.”
A study published last December by Science Direct looked at the links between sleep depravation and mental health, with nearly 40 percent of Kiwi participants reporting that they get below the recommend minimum of seven hours kip per night. Study leader Carol Lee of Auckland University says that it’s of particular importance to develop target interventions for Māori and Pacific peoples as they often sleep less while “persistently found to exhibit poorer mental health outcomes and lower health care access”.
Other known consequences of continued sleep deprivation include heightened risk of developing diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. According to Professor Matthew Walker, director of California University’s Centre for Human Sleep Science and author of Why We Sleep, ongoing sleep deprivation—which he considers anything below seven hours per night—is at “epidemic” proportions. Walker says that just one night of 4-5 hours sleep sees our cancer-fighting defence cells drop by as much as 70 percent.
Sleep physician Dr Neil Kline of the American Sleep Association calls sleep “a restorative process and a basic biologic need” and tells CNN: “When animals, including humans, are deprived of sleep, there are many body systems that fail.”
So, what can be done to combat it?
Aside from ditching the digital devices in the bedroom, those struggling to slumber should consider some of these snooze rules:
Tempting as those weekend sleep-ins are, it’s far healthier to adopt a regular sleep pattern seven days a week—just make sure it’s within that 7-9-hour sweet spot.
This may sound obvious, but far too many of us retire to the sack stressed out. Take at least half-an-hour to read, practise some yoga, or meditate to quieten the mind.
Look online or get a CD of the sounds of nature like a rustling forest, running stream, birdsong or whale calls.
Those who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer insomnia. A no-brainer all round.
Ban the button
We’re all guilty of hitting snooze for a few more minutes’ extra rest, but better planning means a later alarm and an uninterrupted sleep.
Embrace the darkness
A sleeping mask, heavier curtains or blackout blinds can work wonders for light sleepers.
Few of life’s simple pleasures are as rewarding—or relaxing—than sliding into a steaming tub. Not only does it feel—and smell—great but alters your body’s core temperature to induce a more restful state.
Warm milk, cocoa or chamomile tea have all been proven to help some folk fall into a deeper slumber. Steer well clear of coffee, obviously.
Cut back on the booze
Sure, it might send us to sleep faster, but alcohol is more likely to cause a restless night’s sleep, and that’s before the hangover…
Though no-one has ever died directly from not sleeping, the human body can function for longer without food—and possibly even water—than it can without the need to nap.
Regularly sleeping too much—termed ‘oversleeping’—can be just as bad as sleeping too little, with many of the same health implications.
The human mind and body are most likely to feel most tired twice a day: at 2am and 2pm.
Shift work is bad for your health, not only does the body never adjust to the change in sleeping pattern, but workers are more likely to suffer chronic illnesses as a result.
On average, we will sleep for a total of 26 years during our lifetime.
Around 50 percent of all people will suffer from (or their partners will) snoring at some point in their lives. It’s often hereditary, and more common in men than women (40 percent versus 24 percent).
A Southern Cross survey found that 80 percent of Kiwis would rather get a good night’s sleep than have a good night out, though it doesn’t always work in practice—a worrying 11 percent have fallen asleep at the wheel.