The pervasive ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) culture of extraordinarily long work hours and busy social lives has Hong Kong taking the top (or bottom) of the charts as some of the world’s worst sleepers. Hong Kongers sleep an average of 6 hours 29 minutes per night. That’s an hour and a half sleep deficit from the ideal 8-hour sleep we are chalking up every night and it adds up.
The repercussions of long-term sleep deprivation
We’ve all felt the benefits of a good night’s sleep – better decision-making abilities, better mood, and more willpower to avoid sweet treats. The list of established repercussions of long-term sleep deprivation (less than an average of 6-7 hours per night for more than three months) runs long but falls generally into two major categories: increased risk of contagious and chronic diseases, and decreased mental abilities affecting performance in the workplace and increased rates of accidents. Believe it or not, sleep-deprivation has been determined as the cause of the 1986 nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl and the explosion of the NASA space shuttle, Challenger!
Shortcuts to a better sleep?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any shortcuts to better sleep. Researchers don’t know enough about pharmaceutical sleep pills to be able to confirm their effectiveness on sleep quality. Some studies have found that taking sleeping pills at bedtime has negative effects on memory and there are definite risks of addiction and next-day drowsiness.
Along with nutrition and physical activity, sleep is the third pillar of good health. Considering we spend a third of our lives asleep, it’s worth paying attention to our sleep habits.
Daytime habits for better sleep
- No caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for six hours after consumption.
- Eat foods that promote sleep. Food containing tryptophan, magnesium, vitamin B6 and calcium all help regulate your circadian rhythms.
- Use natural light to your advantage. Increase the amount of bright, natural light you are exposed to during the day. Your circadian rhythm manages your sleep-wake cycles and is activated by natural light. Exposure to natural light is associated with longer and higher quality sleep.
Nighttime and bedroom habits to get better sleep
There’s a general consensus across sleep experts that adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. How do we get this? The following is a list of suggestions but what we really recommend is working to find a routine that incorporates whichever of these are realistic for you.
- Set up a routine to ‘switch’ your brain into sleep mode. If you have children, you would never take them from running around in full energetic mode (the kid-version of adult minds thinking about work/family/money etc.) straight to bed and expect them to sleep. Like kids, once you have a routine firmly established, breaking it every now and then is not a problem.
- Sip some herbal tea or warm water before bed.
- Take a bath or hot shower before bed. The warm water initially warms your body, but after 15 minutes your body temperature starts to drop. This drop in temperature encourages a feeling of sleepiness.
- Try to sleep and wake at consistent times every day. Setting your ‘internal clock’ to the same schedule every day helps your body produce melatonin at the correct time each night. After a few weeks of regular sleep/wake times, you may not even require an alarm.
- Don’t make a nightcap a daily habit. Alcohol decreases the amount of time you spend in deep sleep. The sleep you have after even one drink isn’t nearly as restorative.
Make your bedroom a cozy, inviting sleep space. The following tips are a good start:
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
- Electronics do not belong in the bedroom. Give yourself at least half an hour of screen-free time before bed. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that the light that screens emit mimics daytime and causes releases of melatonin that tells your brain that it’s time to be awake rather than time to prepare for slumber. If you need something to ease into bedtime, try reading a physical book that is not associated with work.
- Beds are for NOT for working. They are for sleep and intimacy, that’s it.
Hong Kong, let’s reclaim the term ‘sleeping to the top’ to mean harnessing the power of a good night’s sleep to be more productive and happy!