With books like Why we sleep turning into multiple best-sellers, it’s no surprise than we now value our sleep more than ever.
In 2017, the Sleep Council’s The Great British Bedtime Report discovered that 30% of us “get a poor sleep most nights” and 74% of Brits get less than seven hours of shut-eye a night, with 12% getting less than five hours. It’s no wonder that leading sleep scientist Matthew Walker says we’re struggling with a “global sleep-loss epidemic”.
When you think about it rationally, why wouldn’t you?
We know are fully aware that sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health, and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world — Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes — have very strong causal links to deficient sleep.
There is so much we still do not know about sleep — what experts do know is that sleep is a surprisingly active and fertile time for the brain. Sleep seems to play a crucial role in helping your brain sort, process, store, and make use of the stuff you encounter during your waking hours.
However, the perfect night's sleep may be more ephemeral than we may think.
The most common is a Monophasic pattern, which means one sleeps during the night, which most of us do, 11 pm to 7 am for example. Then we have those that sleep in a Biphasic pattern. Think Mediterranean countries, whereby they have a siesta in the middle of the day and then a shorter night’s sleep compared with the Monophasic pattern.
We also have, although rarer, a Polyphasic pattern, which consists of several periods of say 2–3 hours of sleep, which you often find very creative people follow.
Sleep experts have traditionally broken sleep down into four stages of activity — including REM and non-REM sleep. But research published this year finds that sleep-related brain activity is varied and dynamic, and maybe more accurately divided into dozens of stages that each have their own unique utility.
Below are a few ways our relationship with sleep has changed in the past few years:
Hacking your room for the best sleep of your life
You might notice sometimes that when you are away or sleeping in a hotel you sleep much better. Why is that, you may wonder? Hotels and B&Bs are making sure that their guests sleep well is imperative, so they spend a lot of time making sure rooms are conducive to sleep.
NHS experts state that there is a strong association in people’s minds between the bedroom and sleep.
It seems pretty obvious, right? 21st-century life has introduced numerous distractions that have now ended up making their way into our bedrooms.
If you haven’t heard about ‘blue light’ over the past few years then where have you been? Advice about avoiding screens before bed has spread like wildfire.
The science backs it up, however, it does not mean that it is always possible. With Apple devices allowing night mode, Kindle’s lack of blue light and software such as f.lux, you can block blue lights from being emitted from your screens during the night time.
Kiran Singh, life coach and blogger, also adds how temperature can affect our sleep:
“During the summer, many nights can be spent tossing and turning, unable to sleep because the air is so thick, humid and hot. And in the winter, it is easy to waste hours during the night shivering and trying to warm up instead of trying to sleep. While daytime temperature preferences are unique to every individual, the best temperature for sleep for every person is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is slightly cooler than normal room temperature.”
While everyone has different sensitivities to temperature, recent research has shown that the perfect room temperature for sleep is 18°C, while the most disruptive temperature for sleep is only a moderately warmer 21°C.
The secret power of naps
Naps are also getting a very positive rebrand. In a study conducted for the Edinburgh International Science Festival, scientists discovered a surprising link between taking short naps and happiness.
Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, said:
“Previous research has shown that naps of under 30 minutes make you more focused, productive and creative, and these new findings suggest the tantalising possibility that you can also become happier by just taking a short nap.”
What they found was, short nappers who dozed for less than 30 minutes at a time were more likely to be happier than either “long nappers” or “no nappers”. They called it “Nappiness”! (Pursuit of Happiness Catches People Napping)
What is sleep hygiene anyway?
Diet and lifestyle choices have a huge influence on the quality of our sleep. The World Sleep Society has created the 10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Adults, which is worth checking out.
“Food choices also play a large part, and I have six simple steps to optimize the quality of your sleep.” shares nutritional therapist Lucy “For example, magnesium is an important mineral, required for over 300 functions in the body and has a calming effect. You can obtain Magnesium from nuts, seeds, leafy greens, bananas, avocados, and whole grains.”
It’s important to remember that sleeping well isn’t an exact science. It’s normal to have short periods of poor sleep for no particular reason, and without changing anything these periods normally pass on their own.
“A racing mind is another issue that keeps us up at night. From worrying about children and finances to jobs and health, to simply planning your day out for tomorrow, it is easy to get lost in your thoughts and lose minutes, if not hours, of sleep a night.” adds Kiran Singh, life coach and blogger.
“If you are having trouble falling asleep due to a busy mind, try developing a simple nightly routine to “turn off” your mind, or cut out caffeine in the afternoon to physiologically slow down your mind for the night.”
You should only really worry about your sleep quality when you’re not sleeping well for a sustained period of time, and if the poor quality of sleep is affecting your day time activities.
Making time to implement positive practices to improve the quality of your sleep will become essential as we move into a brand new year.