So when my colleagues in the CSR team arranged a lecture by Dr Vicki Culpin of Ashridge Business School on the topic of sleep I was one of the first to sign up. Quite simply, it was one of the best talks I've attended in a long time.
Culpin is a very engaging speaker, and as the string of letters after her name will attest, immensely qualified. This gave her a great mix of both style and substance. Speaking to the first of two "sell out" audiences in the lecture theatre at our Bristol office, the first part of Vicky's talk was a simply presented lecture backed up by artfully simple slides presenting eye-catching facts that enabled her to elaborate on her subject.
Adults who regularly sleep fewer than 6 hours per night may have a four times greater risk of stroke symptoms
Reduction of sleep by only 1.5 hours per night for only one night can result in a reduction of daytime alertness by 32%Perhaps the one that made a big impact on the group was the revelation that 17 hours of sustained wakefulness can lead to performance impairment equivalent to drinking two glasses of wine. To put it another way, if you've been on the go since 6am (easy enough when, say, commuting to London) by 11pm you're as good as drunk (even without hitting the FGW buffet carriage bar on the way home), so forget about working late to finish that report for the next day - you just won't be able to do it justice. In our context, financial services, this was considered a very real risk end-of-quarter or end-of-year results time when our actuaries/finance department can be working incredibly hard to get the numbers together.
The real value of Culpin's expertise, however, become all the more apparent in the the second half or more of her talk. She parked PowerPoint in favour of responding to questions from the keen, and unusually alert audience. I won't list everything she said, but here are a couple of key points that I scrawled down:
- The Tablet menace is real. The reported harm from blue light in flat screens is a very real phenomenon and, by virtue of its similarity to natural light from the sun, interferes with the melatonin production in our brains, making sleepfulness harder to achieve. Ditch your iPad, phone or even flatscreen TV at least an hour before bed. Related to this, if you do wake at night, try to avoid switching the light on for the same reason.
- Exercise does have a useful effect on improving sleep, but it should be done at least an hour and half before bed time. One way the body recognises the need to rest is a raised body temperature, which exercise of course achieves, but another way to fool the body into thinking it has exercised is to have someone blow on your cheeks. No, I didn't fully believe this one either, but Dr Vicky was quite adamant about it.
- With my son about to hit his teens, I perked up my ears when someone asked about teenagers and sleep. They can need up to 12 hours a night, but for other reasons, at precisely the same time they are likely to be going to bed ever later. In particular, phones, tablets and gaming can be very detrimental to their sleep patterns at a very important stage in their brains development - particularly in light of sleep's value in learning.
- A sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long, with a short period in light sleep, then a longer dip into deep REM sleep. If you are going to nap, try to avoid going in to deep sleep unless you have time to get a full cycle done, as waking during the REM cycle can be quite unpleasant and disorientating (you know how you feel when having to traipse out of a hotel after fire alarm goes off). One trick for getting a nap without going too far is to hold a set of keys. At just the moment you begin to drift from light sleep into deeper sleep, your muscles relax and you drop the keys. The noise should wake you up.