All round the world, including Macau I am sure, many people suffer from poor sleep quality/quantity, resulting in many health, economic and social issues. For example, a 2013 study showed that more than 65% of the US adult population regularly failed to get the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended for each night. Studies in other countries have found similar results and it is estimated that half the people in the developed world will not get the sleep that they need this week.
This chronic lack of sleep is said to cost US companies about $2,000/worker/year because of reduced productivity and poor quality decision-making – everybody knows that when you are tired you cannot work hard, you cannot think creatively and you inevitably make poor decisions! To counter this problem, progressive companies like Nike and Google include relaxation areas with “nap pods” in their work sites.
Similarly, researchers are beginning to suspect that the rising rates of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) among school children may often be mis-diagnosed sleep deprivation. Biologically, adolescents naturally go to sleep very late and to get the 8 hours of sleep that they need they should not start school until after 9am. However, most schools start at 7:30 – 8:30am, so that many school children regularly do not get enough sleep – chronic tiredness, irritability, lack of concentration, and so on are the result, which are similar symptoms to ADHD. Progressive schools are beginning to recognize this problem and are delaying their school starting times, with dramatic results. For example, after school starting times were delayed until 9am in Minnesota, student Math-SAT (Mathematics Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores rose by about 20%.
Tips for getting better sleep include:
– Stick to a regular sleep schedule (sleeping and rising times) and ensure you allow for a good 8 hours of sleep every night
– Exercise regularly but not in the evenings – exercise raises your body temperature which makes falling asleep more difficult so avoid it for 2-3 hours before your bedtime.
– Avoid Caffeine and nicotine because they interfere with your body’s sleep signaling mechanisms.
– Avoid sleeping pills and alcoholic nightcaps – sleeping pills and alcohol are strong sedatives which can render you unconscious but only give you very poor quality sleep. They prevent the proper REM and NREM sleep cycles, thus interfering with your memory.
– Avoid large meals and beverages in the late evening because they can lead to indigestion and needing to rise during the night to use the toilet which disturbs your sleep.
– Don’t take naps after 3pm because they make it harder to fall asleep at the normal time; nonetheless daytime naps are often good for you to “catch up” on missed sleep.
– Relax before bed to get you in the mood for sleep.
– Take a hot bath before bed because getting out of the bath lowers your body temperature making it easier to fall asleep.
– Have a very dark, cool and gadget-free bedroom. Even small amounts of light, especially blue LED light, tricks your body into thinking it is daytime making sleep more difficult. To fall asleep your body reduces its temperature by about 1 degree and this is difficult if you have too many bed-covers or the bedroom is too warm.
– Go out into the sunlight in the mornings to help your body regulate its circadian rhythm.
– Don’t lie in bed awake – if you find it hard to fall asleep, get up and do a relaxing activity (eg reading) and go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
We should be doing much more to extol the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep in Macau. Everybody needs it.