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Sleep – The elixir we need but don’t appreciate

Sleep is a process that eats up almost a third of our lifetime. In an ideal world, some might want to sleep all the time, while others may wish to do away with sleep and enjoy doing what they do. This highlights the superficial understanding of the importance of sleep and the lack of awareness behind the actual benefits of sleep. On the other hand, some of us take sleep seriously enough to track it via a wearable device. Despite this increased interest, quality sleep still eludes a large proportion of the population. This article intends to unwrap the topic of improving sleep quality in a four-part series, each of which deals with a unique perspective that cumulatively aids in understanding the depths of sleep.

Let us start by addressing some interesting questions about sleep.

Sleep – The sacrificial lamb? 

We are no strangers to the constant nag from our close ones to sleep and wake up on time, as if the fatigue that followed a poor night’s sleep did not serve enough of a reminder. A more nuanced description of the implications of acute and chronic sleep deprivation is brilliantly collated in the book “Why we sleep” by Dr Mathew Walker. Do consider tuning to “The Lex Fridman Podcast,” where Dr Mathew talks all about sleep and provides a pedagogical overview of experiments conducted in sleep labs. Ironical enough, I was listening to this episode, way past my usual bedtime, which of course, resulted in a very tiresome day. This incident, much similar to most of your cases out there, highlights the fact that our problem is not one of lack of awareness on the broader implications of sleep deprivation but that of sleep deprioritization and sleep procrastination.  

Sleep deprivation – A problem of inherited poor planning and acquired laziness

Let’s engage in a simple thought exercise… How many of you have pushed your regular sleep time due to an important work deadline or for a less critical event like entertainment in the last month? I am sure 99% of us would have done it. The rest are either lucky to follow a perfect schedule or unfortunate insomniacs who’d trade anything for uninterrupted, good-quality sleep. Part of the problem lies in the lack of formal education on the opportunity costs of sacrificing sleep. We are asked to sleep on time without being urged to plan well in advance to enable compliance to schedule. The other apparent reason is our laziness, in abundance, no less.

The Infinity War

Here is another simple thought exercise… What do we do when we are asked to give a deadline for a specific task? We typically give ourselves a buffer time after our actual estimate if we overshoot our initial assessment. Similarly, it is essential to provide ourselves with a “sleep buffer” to enable a smooth and timely transition into sleep, which aids in better sleep quality. But, most of us end up browsing through our phones or working on our laptops as we lay on our beds. 

To truly understand this, it is imperative to realize that sleep punctuality and compliance with good sleep practices take precedence over work and entertainment. We need to know how a night of poor/no sleep affects us in the short & long term. After all, the collective attention span of our race has been rapidly reducing post the dawn of the internet. Enter wearable sleep trackers. This is usually the part where I display a cool image of a sleep hypnogram, which tells you which stage of sleep you are at. However, from a utilitarian perspective, the hypnogram alone is rather of less value to a common user. The real answer lies in the gamification of the experience of tracking one’s vitals to make the whole affair less of a chore. 

Now is a good time to take a break and reflect on these subtle yet critical behavioural traits as you await the next article in this series, which talks about how wearable sleep trackers can aid in this process by providing behavioural nudges to prioritize sleep and help maintain sleep punctuality.

Sricharan Vijayarangan

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