Mind over mattress?

Posted on 29 March 2017

By the time we reach 30 years of age, we’ve spent about 10 years of our life sleeping. Sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise in terms of our wellbeing. Does it, therefore, make sense to get up an hour earlier to join the ‘5am club’? We look at the pros and cons of cutting pillow time to increase your activity levels.

There are many highly successful people who wake up between 4 and 6am to focus on personal development or exercise. Leadership expert Robin Sharma calls it the ‘5am club’ and claims the ‘holy hour’ between 5 and 6am is prime time for focus.

One convert is Vuyiswa Mutshekwane, CEO of the SA Institute of Black Property Practitioners. She hasn’t always been an early riser, but since reading about the benefits five years ago, it’s become a habit.

‘Early morning is my favourite time of day because my mind is at its clearest and there are no external distractions. It’s the best time to reflect on my goals and to do work that requires uninterrupted focus. I also believe in getting as much done as early as possible because it gives me a sense of accomplishment, which energises and motivates me for the rest of the day,’ Vuyiswa explains.

However, media mogul and author Arianna Huffington has hailed sleep deprivation as a major public health issue of our time. Neurologist Dr Kevin Rosman of the Morningside Sleep Centre agrees, adding that there are as many as 80 different sleep disorders, and as long as people work crazy hours this will not change.

Why is sleep so important?

Good things happen while we’re asleep – our bones grow, memory is consolidated, immunity is boosted, tissue is repaired and hormones are controlled. Although scientists don’t know exactly what sleep does, they do know it’s a sequence of two different states: non-rapid eye movement sleep and rapid eye movement sleep, or dreaming sleep. We need both to wake up feeling refreshed – the sign of good-quality sleep.

‘Sleep is essential for life,’ says Dr Rosman, and anyone who thinks they can do without enough sleep is kidding themself. However, he has no problem with people getting up earlier in the day – as long as they are naturally a ‘morning lark’ – because our sleep patterns are genetically determined and something we can’t change.

Some people prefer to work late into the night – like Sir Winston Churchill, who only went to bed at 3am and would take naps throughout the day. In fact, many famous people are ‘night owls’, including Barack Obama, Richard Branson and Elon Musk who, according to a Forbes report, all go to bed after midnight.

How much sleep do we need?

Not being a morning person may have a sound scientific basis. According to Dr Rosman, if you function best late at night you are never going to become an early bird. We need to get into sync with our own particular sleep patterns and be consistent. You could try to reset your clock and see if you function better, for example by exposing yourself to sunlight when you wake up. This regulates your natural body clock by suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin.

Neil Steyn, a biokineticist at Mediclinic Gariep and Kimberley, advises his patients to sleep 7 to 8 hours per night, but still make time for exercise. Exercising in the early mornings is good for mental health as it gives one a sense of achievement early on in the day. Other benefits, says Neil, is that one is less likely to skip breakfast, and testosterone levels are higher. This improves performance as well as overall productivity and creativity. The converse is also true: some researchers have found that exercising at night is best for weight control because you are more inclined to push yourself at night, and you can burn off more calories before bedtime.

The bottom line: If you can manage your individual sleep needs and get to bed earlier at night, then the early bird routine or ‘5am club’ might be suitable, but if you’re a night person, don’t skimp on your sleep in order to fit in. You can still do exercise and work optimally at other times in the day.

Published in Healthy living

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