We spend an incredible third of our lives sleeping – clearly it’s vital for our health and wellbeing. We’ve also been sleeping for hundreds of thousands of years so clearly it’s also a natural, innate ability. But in today’s chaotic, technologically driven world we’re driving ourselves at such a pace that for many, getting more sleep has become an obsession.
One way in which this ‘sleep obsession’ has manifested is in measuring our sleep. As you may know, I do a bit of media and brand work. I was recently approached to do some work for a well-known ‘smart sleep/activity recording device’ company. You know the kind you can wear on your wrist? I categorically refused. Actually, I like the device – I think it is smart and can really help those who like monitoring and measuring their activity levels and need a bit of external motivation. However, in relation to sleep – it’s a no no.
Why? Well in my sleep categories – and I first introduced these five years ago in my first book Tired But Wired – I describe two extreme sleep types. On one extreme you have the Martini sleepers – so called because they can sleep ‘anytime anyplace anywhere’ (OK I know I’m showing my age). Martini sleepers don’t know why I have a job because they sleep so well. Simple as that. At the other extreme are the Sensitive sleepers. OK all you sensitive sleepers, pay attention – this is especially for you. Sensitive sleepers are sensitive to sights, sounds and smells. They wake at the slightest noise. They will fight for their side of the bed, they can’t sleep on planes or in hotels, they might even travel with their own pillow or blanket, they need things to be just so before they can sleep. I used to be a sensitive sleeper but not so much these days and just in the last couple of months I’ve slept in a noisy central London hotel, spent a week in a tipi on a hill in Portugal, and a weekend in a tent in the chilly Peak District on a slope! I slept well in all three places. You can learn how to become more Martini-like. This is important because these days I’m seeing too many people who are becoming sensitive sleepers although they might once have been Martinis. Stress, speed, excessive caffeine and over-exposure to technology all sensitise the nervous system giving rise to sleep sensitivity.
This brings me to the point of this blog. Are you measuring your sleep with a smart device attached to some part of your anatomy? And are you a sensitive sleeper? If the answer to the second question is yes then please stop measuring! It won’t help you – it just creates more anxiety about how much sleep you are or aren’t getting. And, at the end of the day (‘scuse the pun), in order to sleep well we almost need to not give a damn. We don’t need to turn our bedrooms into sleep laboratories. And besides….
These highly ‘accurate’ devices don’t measure:
- The sleep you’re getting when you’re eyes are open and you’re in a hypnagogic trance
- The beta intrusions – the interference in your deep sleep that can arise from spending too much time staring at screens
Most importantly, don’t measure ‘impure’ sleep.
In a nutshell – unhelpful, inaccurate, anxiety-provoking. For the sensitive sleeper, that is.
The best measure is how you feel in the morning. Waking up with energy, looking forward to the day ahead. Filling spare time with meaningful, juicy activities and not just staring numbly at screens and surviving. The best measure of good sleep is to ask yourself ‘How much fun am I having in life?’
Now, if you’re a curious, geeky (in the best possible way) Martini sleeper then keep measuring away and have fun with it. You’ll be none the worse for it.
And the same applies to clocks, by the way. If you’re sensitive please stop checking the time when you wake up during the night (notice I say ‘when’ because it’s normal to wake during the night). Checking the time will send you into a spiral of calculations (‘How much time until I need to get up?’), extrapolation (‘If I don’t get 3.177777 hours of sleep how will I feel tomorrow?!’) and worry. Stop checking the time. If you don’t trust your alarm, then put 3 clocks in your room!
Martinis – keep checking the time. You’re allowed to J
Please don’t feel bullied by my forthright tone – it comes from my heart. You know I want you to get the best sleep imaginable. I want you to live with extraordinary and amazing energy. And this is what we get when we sleep deeply and purely…
And in case you missed my 8 minute slot on ITV’s This Morning last week where I put Phillip Schofield to sleep, here’s a chance to catch up:
Yours in amazing health and energy