Thursday, January 18, 2007


There are many theories about why we sleep. We do know that we cannot function for long without it.

The longest recorded stint of deliberate sleeplessness was a science experiment by seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner in 1965. He managed to stay awake for 11 days without the use of stimulant drugs

Towards the end of the time, he was experiencing hallucinations and feeling faint. Researchers then attached EEG monitors to his head as he went to sleep, which took less than four seconds. He awoke after sleeping for about 14 hours, and said that he felt fine.

Humans are (in the main) robust, resilient creatures who can survive under less than perfect conditions for extremely long periods of time, however, there is a wide body of evidence that shows many of us are not getting enough sleep.

A wide range of studies on sleep have come to overlapping conclusions on the benefits of sleep:

Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.

Safety: Sleep debt can lead to a greater tendency to spontaneously fall asleep during the daytime.

Mood: Sleep loss can contribute to irritability, inability to concentrate, and mood swings.

Cardiovascular health: Sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

Disease: Sleep deprivation depletes our immune functions.

Of course, there are times of life when the luxury of sleep is simply not on offer (babies anyone?). And some people find getting to/staying asleep a problem. However, if you know that you are spending too much time aimlessly TV channel- or web-surfing, it might be a good idea to try a few weeks of supplementing your sleep quota, and seeing whether it makes you feel any better.

One big side benefit of going to bed early is that many people get the desire to snack on 'comfort food' after 9pm (for me it is red wine and chocolate). If you're asleep, this isn't an issue!

On a personal note, I spent last year making a concerted effort to increase my sleep quota (from 5.5 hours to 7 hours a night). In the interests of full disclosure, I fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply, however, the results were very positive, including greater alertness and energy throughout the day (especially in mid-afternoon), and getting up in the morning now takes MUCH less effort than it did.

Getting organised #2

This blog entry is particularly applicable to students, but it can be applied to just about anybody who is in the position where they have so much to do that they don't know where to start.

If possible, find a quiet place, and sit yourself down with pen, paper and a cup/glass of your favourite (non-alcoholic) beverage.

Write a list of all the things you think you need to get done within the next two weeks, including apologies to people, thank yous, telephone calls that need to be made, and emails/letters which should be written.

If you have missed deadlines, or if you are certain to miss them, make a separate list of the people you have/are going to let down, along with a REALISTIC estimate of when you are going to be able to get the task done.

Then contact the people you are going to disappoint. If possible do this face-to-face. Failing that, by phone. A last resort is sending a letter/email, along with a number/place where you can be contacted. Do not put off doing this.

When talking to these people, you will often find that they are willing to renegotiate deadlines. This is great, but having gained a stay of execution, it is essential for your future credibility that you meet this revised deadline.

Some of the tasks may actually no longer need doing, or the person you are talking to may offer to relieve you of the duty. Hurrah!

Once this has been done, go through your list, and number the tasks according to priority (not preference). Any that are not essential, cross off, or move to a ‘to be done sometime’ list.

Then cancel any non-essential engagements, and begin completing the tasks. Cross each item off as you go, refusing to avoid any of the listed activities. If you do you will break the power of the list to clear your backlog. It should be obvious, but don't take on any non-essential commitments until you have worked your way through the existing list!

When all items are completed, take the list, crumple, tear or otherwise mangle it, and triumphantly toss it in the bin.