Struggling to get a good night? In honour of Sleep Awareness Week and World Sleep Day this month, we asked caba counsellor and sleep specialist Miro Cansky for his advice.
One thing I’ve noticed is that in our society, it’s considered a bit boring to sleep – it’s not productive or entertaining. But it has so many physical and emotional benefits. Our whole wellbeing is affected by it, from physical aspects such as our heart, breathing and circulatory systems to our mental health. When we sleep well, we make better decisions. We can better manage our cravings and our weight. There is a proven impact on creativity, too: if you have a good night’s sleep, you have more energy and resources to think outside the box. If you are prone to catching colds or bugs, the culprit is often lack of sleep, because the body is not in a state of homeostasis, or balance. We need to rest to recover and repair. Physically we recover – our cells renew themselves – and mentally we recover as well, by memories establishing themselves and the mental space doing what it needs to do. I could go on! But it’s huge. It’s extremely important.
Again, it is so important. There was a piece of research done in the early 2000s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US where rats were hooked up to machines that measure brainwaves, then placed in a maze where they had to overcome obstacles and solve problems. At night, they were hooked up to the same machine while they slept – and what the scientists found was that the same brainwaves that happened while they were overcoming the obstacles were repeatedly triggering in the brain, but at about 20 times the speed. The brain was going over and over the maze again at night. The next day when the rats were put back in, they were super-fast because they already knew how to do it. This is why we need to sleep – when we sleep, we let the brain do what it needs to do with information.
Most of the research shows that seven to nine hours is about right for young adults, though some people might need more, and there may be some exceptional cases who need less. But it’s not just about quantity – quality is just as important. You might be getting the right number of hours, but something stops you from fully resting – maybe you had a couple of drinks just before going to bed, or you’re worrying about something as you’re falling asleep. Sleep tracking apps can be useful, as they monitor not only the length of your sleep, but also the four different phases – the REM cycle is particularly important for memory and learning.