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Illustration by Maria Rodriguez

One of the first things I noticed when I moved upstate from New York City was just how much I enjoyed the stillness and the relaxed pace of life.

There are a million things I loved about the city, but I didn’t love the competitiveness; the need to be super busy all the time; the lack of sleep because of said busyness, and on top of that, the glamorizing of not getting enough sleep.

Of course, this unhealthy boasting isn’t limited to New York — and if there’s one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, it will hopefully be our collective embrace of slowing things down. Yet, with all those essays out there espousing less frantic lifestyles, we’re still pretty busy.

We virtually over-socialize and work longer hours now that we never leave our at-home offices. Personally, I’m a bit tired of hearing people humblebrag about how busy they are and how little sleep they get, as if this were a good or noble thing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. While in some cases, this is due to insomnia or other sleep disorders, most people don’t get enough sleep because they’re stretching their waking hours from early in the morning to late at night, often with the belief that they’re invincible.

There is overwhelming medical evidence, though, that good sleep is critical for good health, and that the opposite can lead to health conditions like diabetes and obesity.

Some researchers even question the effect daylight saving time might have on our sleep, enough so to consider getting rid of it entirely, because the extra hour of sleep, they believe, is that important.

A study came out last year called the Sleep-Deprived Masculinity Stereotype, in which the authors conducted 12 experiments with over 2,500 participants asking questions about their own sleep, their perceptions of sleep, and the way they judge themselves and others based on how much sleep they get.

The experiments found that society sees men who sleep less as more masculine and judges them more positively. (Note: They didn’t find the same was true for women.)

Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, physiologist, sleep expert, and London-based author, believes there are two types of sleepless braggarts. The first, she explains, is the “sort of machismo type” that you see in cities — corporate executives who think they don’t need sleep.

“The whole culture in the city is about just taking slices off your sleep at either end to get the job done and thinking… it shows that you’re committed to your work.”

And then there’s what she calls the “spiritual gurus” who don’t need to sleep because they’re so enlightened.

“I think there’s a reason why nature has designed us to spend a third of our lives sleeping,” she says.

“When we sleep well, we have more vitality and physical energy,” Ramlakhan says. When we feel good emotionally, we’re better able to connect to the people around us — loved ones, colleagues, clients — and to deal with life’s stresses.

“Mentally, we’re more sharp and laser focused,” she says. “Spiritually, we feel more inspired and more passionate. You wake up with that, what do the French call it, joie de vivre! That zest for life.”

Getting a good night’s sleep can lead to increased stamina and cognitive functioning, better performance at work, and physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual repair.

I’ve definitely found this in my own life. It’s no coincidence that when I started prioritizing sleep and a healthier lifestyle — drinking less, eating cleaner (less bagels, more veggies), exercising more — I began to take myself and my career more seriously.

Before that, I was in bands, playing shows on weeknights, and going out all the time. I certainly wasn’t getting enough sleep, and as a result, didn’t have the energy or stamina to put as much effort into my professional ambitions as I would have liked.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you might start to feel more irritable, rundown, less sharp, and less motivated.

“Whatever our particular ailment tends to be — for some people, it might be migraines, for some, it might be irritable bowel — whatever it is that we tend to get when we’re getting run down,” Ramlakhan says. “If we’re not getting enough sleep, that will pop up.”

Ramlakhan, who spent 10 years working in psychiatry, explains that she’s seen the impact not getting enough sleep has on people’s mental health, as well, often resulting in anxiety and depression.

Personally, I find that whenever I’m burning the candle at both ends, not limiting my commitments even when I know I should be, I immediately get a cold. My body just won’t let me get away with it.

Somewhat up for debate are the negative effects associated with daylight saving time.

A 2014 study showed a 24 percent increase in heart attacks the day following the start of daylight saving time in March when we lose an hour of sleep. It also showed a 21 percent reduction following the end of daylight saving time in the fall, when we gain an hour.

In 2016, a study showed that during the first 2 days after a daylight saving time transition, the rate of ischemic stroke was 8 percent higher. Research has shown a slight increase in car crashes, as well.

Ramlakhan believes that we place too much importance on that clock change, that human beings should be more resilient.

“I think it lends itself to talking about, ‘How are we looking after ourselves if a 1-hour shift in the time is going to have such a profound impact on our health?’” she says.

She presumes that these negative effects aren’t so isolated.

“I would suspect that those people who are so adversely affected by the 1-hour clock change have already got pre-existing medical conditions going on, or some limitations in their lifestyle habits which make them more vulnerable to the effects of the clock change,” she says.

The secret to being less vulnerable to the clock change, Ramlakhan believes, is leading a holistic lifestyle. In other words, getting enough sleep is just part of a complete breakfast, not the whole meal. You also need to:

  • eat healthily
  • move regularly
  • drink lots of water
  • not over-rely on caffeine
  • avoid drinking alcohol to excess
  • look after your relationships and your mind

“The way we sleep is a reflection of how we live,” Ramlakhan says. “From the minute we wake up, we’re preparing ourselves for how we’re going to sleep at night. All the choices we make during the day, that impacts our sleep.”

Unfortunately, some people need to burn out before they find a different way of doing things.

“That’s the sad reality,” Ramlakhan says. Often when people are referred to her for sleep coaching sessions, they come just before they reach that point.

Ramlakhan will work with those clients to improve their sleep (using the five non-negotiables for good rest), and only once there’s a noticeable difference in their slumber is she able to get to what she calls “the real work.”

The real work is uncovering the root of why people are opting to shirk sleep — that they don’t like their jobs, aren’t happy in their relationships, or have something else in their lives that’s getting in the way.

“Sometimes we choose unhelpful choices in relation to sleep because we don’t really want to look at the elephant in the room,” Ramlakhan says.

With adequate rest, we’re better equipped to deal with whatever challenges we may face, so that we can thrive rather than merely survive.

Ramlakhan believes the way to shift the conversation toward proudly reclaiming a full night’s rest is to raise awareness around the importance of sleep.

“Arianna Huffington famously talked about when she was so sleep deprived that she fainted… People like that who are very openly successful people speaking up about how important sleep is to them, that starts to shift the culture.”

Ramlakhan believes these conversations are starting to become more prevalent, but that countries like the United States and the United Kingdom still have a long way to go.

“There is still this macho culture like, ‘I can take slices off my sleep and I’m more effective.’ But, actually, we’re not. We become less productive,” Ramlakhan says.

The thing is, sleeping well has never been more important than it is right now.

“At the moment, with everything that we’re going through… we need to be prioritizing our sleep,” she says.

There’s also never been a better time to brag about getting a full night’s rest. I’ll start. Last night, I got 7 hours of sleep, and this morning, I had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and a cup of green tea, allowing me to focus on finishing this story. I feel great.