You will spend more time sleeping than doing anything else. It’s very important to recognise that you need sleep. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about how long people sleep, some of the problems of not getting enough sleep, and helpful tips for changing your sleep patterns.

Video transcript

No mater who you are, there’s one thing in this life that you’ll spend more time doing than any other single thing, and that is, of course, sleeping.

That’s what we’re going to be talking about in this video today.

Most people will need to sleep for about one third of their entire life. That’s a lot of time. More than you’ll spend doing any other single thing.

Up until 100 years ago, people tended to go to sleep when it was dark. There wasn’t a lot of choice. Candles didn’t provide a lot of light so when it was dark you went to sleep, and they’d probably wake up when the sun came up. It is estimated that the average American slept for about 9 hours at the turn of the 20th Century. At the turn of the 21st Century that figure has dropped to around 7 and a half. Now, it’s fairly unlikely that we suddenly need less sleep, but a modern world with electric light bulbs and various technologies has enabled us to get less sleep. The bigger problem, though, is that people see sleep as optional. It’s not optional.

So what are some of the problems with not getting enough sleep? Well, obviously, people are going to feel tired. People may get headaches. Sometimes they get nausea. Concentration and memory can be affected. People can get quite irritable and angry. There’s a whole range of other symptoms that can go with people being tired. The thing is that people may get quite used to being tired. You get a little bit adjusted and you get used to being angry, you get used to being fatigued, you get used to being a little bit grouchy, and accept that as normal. In actual fact, it may be that you are running up a sleep backlog and it can evolve over an extended period of time.

It’s really important to recognise that we need our sleep. Nobody would deliberately not breathe or not eat, except maybe for occasional hunger strikes, because you know that the body really needs it. Yet we deprive ourselves often of sleep.

So, step 1 is to recognise that sleep’s important.

There’s a lot that can be done to help people get better sleep and for those of you saying, “Look, I really have problems getting off to sleep,” or “I wake up early, what can I do?” As I said, step one is to recognise sleep is important. That means setting aside the time for it. It means making sure that you go to bed at a time that’s going to enable you to get enough sleep. Now, if you haven’t been sleeping well for a while it isn’t going to happen the first night, it may take a few months to get a new sleep pattern established.

Winding down before you go to bed is important. Simple things can help: having a warm shower or warm bath, some people find having a cup of herbal or chamomile tea can be helpful, some people like warm cocoa. For some people playing forest or tranquil music in the bedroom is helpful. Don’t have the TV on and don’t sit at the computer screen just before going to bed because that will keep the mind switched on.

Something to think about: when you’re asleep, all your body is continuing to work, except the conscious mind. Your heart still pumps, the liver is still working, the kidneys are still filtering the blood. Your whole body is continuing to work but your conscious mind is switched off. So to get off to sleep we need to slow the mind down. Again, some people like things like yoga or meditation, some people like tai-chi, some people buy guided relaxation CDs and slow breathing-type exercises can be helpful as well. Now, don’t expect all of this to work day 1. It is something you need to work at for a period of time to get your body used to a sleeping pattern.

Most people will need 8 hours per night. I know some of you are out there saying, ”Look, I can get away with 5 or 6” and I think ‘get away’ is the key term. Most people will need 8. For people who need 8 if they do get 7, by the end of the first week you are about one night sleep in the red and you’re on the road to being deprived of sleep.

Other forms of treatment: there are medications available. Sleeping tablets should only ever be used short-term, they’re not designed for long-term use and if used that way do become addictive. Very short term and particularly for people travelling, if they have problems sleeping they can be useful but, as I said, not for long-term use.

So to sum up, we’ve spoken about some of the things you can do to help yourself sleep better. There are also general things that are important through the day: doing regular exercise will help you sleep better at night; eating a healthy diet is going to help you sleep better as well; not eating a really big dinner is going to help you sleep better. So these are some general things that are good. Getting a little bit of fresh air each day is going to help as well and obviously managing your stress.

Sleep is really important for your health. If you make sure that you get enough sleep and follow some of the ideas that we’ve spoken about in this video your health is going to be better, you’ll be well rested and you’ll actually achieve more.

More information on sleep

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