• Kylie van Gelder

The Importance of Sleep and Why We Still Aren’t Getting Enough

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Sleep deprivation is becoming more important than exercise and eating right, because without sleep, our entire system fails.


Exercise and eating healthy fall closely in second place, as these two strongly support quality sleep. But sleep remains the most important factor in our life for optimal functioning and for developing healthy habits. Without sleep, our brain and organs quickly fail as a result.


So why are we not getting enough?


We’ve all heard the recent and not so recent science on the importance of getting quality sleep every night. Most research assumes the average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Although


some people like to think of themselves as not belonging to this average and feel they do well on five. However, in the long run it will likely take a toll on their life – physically and mentally.

In her book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington writes that if we want to take back control of our life – health, wellbeing, personal relationships and career – we need to renew our relationship with sleep.

The odd thing is, however, no matter how much information we have access to on the replenishing benefits of sleep (better decision making capabilities, sex life, weight control, plus less prone to dementia, generally healthier, happier and higher job satisfaction), when it comes to sleep, for one reason or another, we simply don’t make the cut on what’s required.


In 2016, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 out of 3 Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. In the United Kingdom the numbers appear to be as low as 6 hours per night.

Why do we continue on this vicious path of self-destruction? Plainly put, poor habits.


When my kids were born, my goal was to, of course be the best possible mom, but also to get my kids sleeping well. My son is now four and my daughter is two and a half. Neither sleeps well, waking anywhere between 2 and 8 times per night. For a long time, 50% was my optimal level of functioning (and there are some days when this is still the case).

However, knowing this, you'd think I would have prepared better by developing proper sleep habits like no television one hour before bed or going to bed early to give myself at least 8 hours of actual in bed time (minus all the waking moments putting the kids back to their beds). Yet, for a long time, I didn’t. I tried, but with little success.


My brain was, and actually still is, so sleep deprived it made it difficult to develop a new habit. Not to mention the pure enjoyment of relaxing on the couch without having to get up.

After doing a little research into sleep habits and how to develop good ones when kids don’t sleep, I came across an abundance of information about why people struggle to get enough of good quality zzz's .


The first, mentioned above, is sleep deprivation makes it twice has hard to implement self-control and develop proper habits. It becomes a cycle of wanting to do something, but you’re simply too tired to do it.

Another key influencer preventing us from getting enough sleep is blue light. Our electronics are blocking our melatonin – the sleep inducing hormone – making it harder for us to fall asleep.

The third culprit that has long been known for its negative effects on sleep is stress. Stress can cause us to ruminate about past events or upcoming events, keeping us awake longer, but also affecting the quality of our sleep when/if we do get some shut-eye.

So what can you do about it? Here are 4 tips to help you get more sleep.

1. Go to bed at the same time every night. If you can somehow manage to implement a fixed bedtime every night (including the weekends), it will allow you to at least get 8 hours of rest. Our brain loves habits. Creating a new one is initially difficult, but once you do it a few times, and your brain likes the result, in this case sleep, it will get easier.


2. Set a bedtime alarm. We set an alarm to wake up in the morning. Why not try setting an alarm to go to bed. If you stick with it, you’ll be like Pavlov’s salivating dog when he heard the bell. Your alarm will go off and your brain will eventually respond with sleepiness.

3. Turn off electronics and dim the lights. Researchers recommend switching off our devices (yes, for me, television included) at least 1 hour before bed. You can also start by lowering the brightness on your screens. When possible, we should dim our lights and use red tinted lights in the evening. This includes the summer months when our days are longer. Try leaving your lights off or closing the curtains during these months.

4. Meditate. Meditation has numerous benefits, such as reducing negative emotions, increasing self-awareness, stress management and, most importantly, for the purpose of developing positive bedtime habits, as a tool to help you fall asleep.


You can start with just 5 minutes a day (or 5 minutes several times a day) and gradually build up to longer periods of meditation. To help manage your sleep, try a guided meditation specifically for sleeping.

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Changing our existing sleep habits and developing new ones may initially seem difficult. Plenty of factors can disrupt the quality and length of time you sleep. Exercise and eating healthy can significantly improve the quality of your sleep, but it’s sleep that also helps us form these positive habits in the first place. If you give yourself the gift of a bedtime routine, dim lighting and quiet guided moments of meditation, you might find that the hours of sleep you do get are much more rested. With each positive sign of sleep, developing your healthy habits further will become much easier until you can reap the replenishing benefits of sleep, exercise and a healthy diet.


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