Sleep Hacking

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about this new thing called Sleep Hacking… Apparently it’s this new idea that’s taking city office workers by storm. The basic premise is that you cut down how long you’re asleep, by making sure you have better quality sleep over a shorter space of time.

The thing is, sleep is a natural thing. By trying to “hack” your sleep, you’re essentially trying to cheat nature; and that never ends well. Human beings need a certain amount of sleep in order to be fit and healthy. It’s true that you do need less sleep in Summer – as we wake up from hibernation mode, there is more sunlight, which keeps you awake, and more movement. But we’re not talking several hours less here!

If you do a lot of pranayama breathing, this brings a lot of prana, or energy, into your body. Some yogis who practice this need very little sleep because of the amount of prana they are bringing into their bodies each day – but these are professional yogis, who have devoted years to their practice.

I’ve just come back from some time in India. When I’m staying in Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas, I do tend to sleep less. It was here that many ancient yogis would practice, and this, coupled with the ancient Ganges, means that there is a lot more energy floating around. When I am staying there, I do more practice plus I am breathing in the fresh, untainted mountain air. This is what allows me to happily get along with only 6 hours of sleep per night; as soon as I leave Rishikesh and come back to my normal, every day life, I go back to needing 7 hours of sleep in order to feel energetic and fully functional.

There is also a gene present in some people that allows them to function well on only 6 hours of sleep a night… but that gene is present in only 3% of the population. The other 97% of us need to get regular, good quality sleep of 7-8 hours each night in order to be at our best.

We as humans seem to have become increasingly inclined to mess about with the natural rhythms of our bodies: caffeine and other stimulants, drugs, etc. We force ourselves to be awake during the day, and when we want to sleep we take something else to force unconsciousness. If we could just stop and reset our systems we would probably find that we all function a lot better when relying on our natural rhythms.

When you sleep well, your productivity increases. Research shows that if you have a set amount of time in which to complete a task, you usually do it within that time. If you’re given twice as much time to do the same task, you will – consciously or unconsciously – stretch the task out to take up all of the allotted time.

People who are using sleep hacking to increase the number of hours they can spend in the office worry me; wouldn’t they rather be spending more time with their family, their friends, or just sitting outside, enjoying life? The idea of sleeping less so that you can work more is, quite frankly, bonkers! But also – bearing in mind the research I’ve just mentioned, do we really believe that by spending more hours in the office, we will get more done? I sincerely doubt it.  For the most part, we fit our work into normal 9-5 hours. If society as a whole increased normal working hours to run from 9-8 for example, I sincerely doubt that those 3 extra hours a day would produce 3 extra hours worth of work!

The answer to “I need more time” is not to sleep less; it is to plan and schedule, so that you are using your available time more efficiently. I firmly believe that if you focus on your health, wellbeing and productivity, you will not feel the need to cut your sleep time in order to work more.

Onwards and upwards!!!