Warning: this post is likely to amuse many of us who feel hitting the recommended sleep targets are but a wishful utopian ideal. I hear you, I do, but I’m going to stick by the following research nonetheless.
If there is any subset of working society who struggles to achieve and sustain healthy sleep hygiene, actors and artists would have to be close to the top. Our irregular hours performing in theatres every night, or shooting with frequently ruthless early call times, can often make it seem utterly impossible to catch those zzz’s. Add to that the nature of our 21st century lifestyle – our truly addictive social media feeds, those ever-present 24-hour news channels, the guilty temptation of another Netflix binge etc. – and we have a dangerous cocktail that directly correlates with an increase in stress levels, anxiety and depression. None of which help when it comes to getting quality sleep.
I think we all – theoretically at least – understand the importance of rest, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to our lives in practice.
I’d like to encourage us to think about why it should, and how it could even turn out to be our ultimate secret weapon.
Why is rest important?
As we spend roughly a third of our lives in bed, it would make sense to optimise this time as best we can. It may be interesting to note – for example – that elite soccer teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Real Madrid now employ sleep specialists to do just that for their players.
Sleep gives our bodies the time to replenish our cells, build and repair muscle, release necessary growth hormones, and on a mental level, improve our memory and concentration. Additional fun and compelling reasons include: enriching creativity, maintaining a healthy weight, and enhancing libido. Desirable benefits for anyone – actor or otherwise.
How can we get more rest?
According to The National Sleep Foundation, teenagers (between the ages of 14-17) require eight to ten hours of sleep each night, while adults (18+) should be looking towards seven to nine.
Most medical professionals and sleep specialists will also advise sticking to a consistent cycle (ie. waking and retiring at the same time every day) including weekends, to help foster a strong routine. “Catching up” on sleep with a weekend lie-in, it seems, is a myth, and one that could actually prove to do more harm than good. Sorry guys.
However, you may be pleased to hear that naps have demonstrated surprisingly positive results – with NASA even endorsing taking power naps of 10-20 minutes. To implement effectively, keep to 20 minutes maximum, and opt for a late-morning or early-afternoon siesta.
To then facilitate the most restful rest imaginable, studies suggest we should set the room temperature at an average of 16-19 degrees Celsius, keep light and sound exposure to an absolute minimum, and finish our last meal at least an hour before going to bed. Similarly, we should strive to switch off all electronic devices about 30 minutes beforehand, but taking advantage of Night Shift or a Blue Light Filter application on our phones and laptops is the next best bet.
Armed with this science, I thought I should actually walk the talk and conduct my own self- experiment. Just a heads up: I am most certainly an early bird (or new-born baby), so please don’t judge my waking hours too harshly.
Prior to embarking on this adventure, I was getting roughly seven and a half hours sleep each night – rising at 5:00am and going to bed at 9:30pm.
Given the above insights, I thought I’d look to instead shift towards eight hours of sleep each night – continuing to rise at 5:00am, but now going to bed for 9:00pm – and observe the effect over a three month period. I won’t pretend I achieved this every night, but it was actually far more doable than I had originally assumed going into it.
If I’m totally honest, I didn’t experience a hugely noticeable shift in my vitality by adding this extra half hour, but as it is a) more in line with the recommended guidelines, and b) ended up being unexpectedly viable, I’ve decided to stick with it. Like good diet and exercise practices, some of the results of these habits seem relatively invisible until they start to fully manifest when compounded over time. Though I can absolutely attest to the perks of keeping a fixed schedule, monitoring temperature and light, as well as leaving a buffer between food and gadgets and my head hitting the pillow.
Naps have also become a familiar friend, and where I once would have scoffed at the need for their existence, I now humbly concede and admit they often make all the difference.
So while Marvel is unlikely to tap you for the next AVENGERS spin-off due to your flawless sleep routine, it might still hold the potential of being your greatest super power. After all, when we reach the stage where talent and drive are a given, won’t it be the actors with a seemingly endless supply of energy and focus who will truly endure? The actors who have committed to making a real investment in their physical and mental wellbeing – however creative they may have to be to make it work?
I’d definitely invite you to experiment to see if you can find your own sweet-spot for you at this moment in time. Perfection isn’t the goal, and our goalpost is likely to continuously shift throughout life anyway, but why not stack as many of the odds in our favour when and where we can?