Well-Being//

Sleep Your Way to the Top with Vitamin ZZZ

It is one of the basic, yet the most underrated, needs. Find out how it (or the lack of) affects our wakeful moments.

Photo by Tracey Hocking/ Unsplash
Photo by Tracey Hocking/ Unsplash

“You can practise sleep deprivation on someone in just a matter of hours… and they lose all sense of time, and they lose all sense of hope — without ever laying a hand on them — it’s the very definition of torture,” said an American interrogator who was under a military contract at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. 

Known popularly as “torture lite”, this interrogation technique does not leave any physical traces on the body of the victims but has proven ‘devastatingly effective’ in leaving deep psychological scars. In fact the damaging effects of sleep deprivation, widely documented by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and advanced for application purposes by disgraced APA (American Psychological Association)  psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who developed a “menu” of 20 other such “enhanced techniques”, are proven beyond any scientific doubt. So much so, that as early as in 1989 the Guinness Book of World Records deleted the category of sleep deprivation from their books altogether. Even they found it to be too perilous with menacing psychological repercussions. 

Do you know that over the course of the last 100 years the number of minutes recommended as “ideal” has fallen by an average of about 70 minutes (including for children)? 

Human beings as a species are active during the day and asleep at night. Your body starts to naturally produce the hormone melatonin when it gets a “lights out” signal from your external environment. It is then released into your bloodstream and regulates your body clock. The body goes into a “repair and restore” mode and regulates cardiac activity as well as the metabolic processes in adults while in children it promotes healthy growth. 

One of the things that I learnt during my PhD in the Netherlands is that Dutch parents swear by the three Rs as pillars for parent and child sanity. They are rust, reinheid, and regelmaat, meaning rest, cleanliness and routine. This means that if you want to Carpe Diēm (seize the day) you need a balanced Circa Diēm (around the day — biological rhythm) aka Circadian Rhythm.

When this does not happen you elevate your risk of heart attack and stroke, weaken your  immune system, jeopardise any “getting fit” or weight loss plans and, in other words, put yourself through “torture lite” — the signs of which might not be visible to the eye, but your body keeps the score. It is also one of the greatest public health concerns of the 21st century. 

Popular media advertises and applauds the sleep mantras of persevering, passionate and powerful people. An energy drink “gives you wings” and it takes an ultra caffeinated drink to be “unstoppable”. Just the same, we also need phones with a “sleep mode” programmed into them. We glorify replacing sleep with hours of work and this is romanticised by lifestyles of celebrities like PepsiCo’s former CEO Indra Nooyi, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Fiat’s former CEO Sergio Marchionne or former Yahoo CEO Marissa Ann Mayer. And then there are current world leaders who wear their two-by-four packed schedules with pride, downplaying the need for Vitamin zzz. 

What we see, however, depends on what we look for. Take for example some of the most ultra-successful people in the world Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, LVMH’s Bernard Arnault (Moët Hennessy — Louis Vuitton), Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett or for that matter Alibaba’s Jack Ma, NBA star LeBron James, Thrive’s Ariana Huffington, the great Albert Einstein and my personal favourite, the Dalai Lama. They all advocate a good night’s sleep. Who then, do you want to be your personal sleep mentor? 

Historically, it is interesting to note that Thomas Edison who believed that sleep was a tremendous waste of time and who invented the light bulb was good friends (and neighbours) with Henry Ford. 

Somewhere around then, with the advent of industrialisation and modernisation, the need for night-shifts and increased productivity occurred. Gradually, “ideal sleep” recommendations by scientific bodies started falling every year. Do you know that over the course of the last 100 years the number of minutes recommended as “ideal” has fallen by an average of about 70 minutes (including for children)? 

Let us pause for a moment, and turn our attention to one of my favourite pieces of Hindu mythology. The holy trinity of three Gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world, named Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively, are the “supergods”. Vishnu is the “preserver” and keeper of life. He and his avatars are responsible for upholding the order of the entire cosmos. It is during his cosmic sleep cycles, submerged in the cool underwater that he begins to breathe deep and regular breaths, thus creating time. And it is during this deep cosmic sleep that he creates all new life….

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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