This New Year, many of us will be keener than ever to put the rollercoaster of the last year behind us, and to focus on becoming happier, healthier and more resilient.
So how can you set yourself up for success in 2021? If you’ve resolved to lose weight, quit smoking, or get fitter in the past with limited success, making exactly the same resolutions again is likely to have a similar outcome.
I’d argue that no matter what it is that you want to achieve, prioritising sleep is a great first step on the path to better health, happiness and peak performance.
Why Start by Protecting Your Sleep?
#1: You’ll be able to think and act more rationally
If you skimp on sleep, your brain assumes that you may be in danger. In response, the brain makes your threat detection systems more sensitive, which makes you more prone to stress. Your capacity for strategic thinking and self-control is reduced, making you more impulsive, and more likely to give in to unhealthy cravings.
#2: You can make it a team effort
Research has shown that support from others makes it more likely that you’ll stick to your new year’s resolutions. If you’re short of sleep however, you’re more likely to be short-tempered, irritable and less able to empathise. Protecting sleep makes you more sensitive to others’ needs, and better able to maintain your social support network.
#3: Mind & body boosters; sleep’s fringe benefits
A good night’s sleep not only makes us wake up feeling refreshed, but regular sleep patterns strengthen our body clocks and make all our internal processes more efficient. For example, we are better at fighting infections, repairing damaged cells, consolidating memory, controlling appetite, and managing our moods.
#4: Better sleep habits are easy, and rewarding
Better sleep is not usually complicated or expensive. It’s often a case of doing less, rather than adding more into your day. Changing your eating habits can take weeks to have an impact on your waistline, whereas it can take only a few days for new sleep habits to influence the quality of your sleep, making you more energised and upbeat.
Where to start?
If you have severe sleep problems which are impacting on your daily life, speak to your doctor. The first line treatment for insomnia is CBT, a talking therapy approach which helps to recognise and address unhelpful behaviours, and to cope with negative thoughts about sleep.
If you have less severe sleep problems, a change in attitude - seeing sleep as a priority, rather than an afterthought - can be a powerful driver to change their sleep habits. A simple prompt, such as setting an alarm on your phone to switch it off an hour before bed, or to wake up at the same time every day, can be a useful nudge to remind you to protect regular sleep patterns.
To find out how to select the right sleep habit for you, see Part 2...