In this section
DISTRACTIONSBack to timeline
In a world of 24-hour convenience, artificial light and digital distractions – it’s easy to see how sleep has taken a backseat to the demands and desires of our modern-day lives. And yet, for many, sleeping less than the recommended eight-hours a night is not a choice, but a side-effect of our environment and our lifestyles.
We spoke to sleep experts, leading sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley and The Sleep Council’s Lisa Artis about what’s keeping us awake, and how we can best set ourselves up for a good night’s sleep.
As a qualified children’s sleep practitioner and experienced sleep advisor, Lisa has worked in the realm of sleep for more than six years. Heading up the day to day running of The Sleep Council, Lisa plays a proactive role in national campaigns including Sleeptember, National Sleep In Day and National Bed Month.
Dr. Neil Stanley is a freelance sleep expert who has been involved in sleep research for over 35 years. He co-authored the European Guidelines for accreditation of Sleep Medicine Centres and Sleep Medicine Education and has published 38 peer-review papers on various aspects of sleep research and psychopharmacology.
Are you sleepy? Or just tired?
Alcohol, late nights, exercise, high stress-levels and anxiety - these are just a few of the external factors which can affect your sleep, and how you feel throughout the day. But in this fast-paced world, how do you tell what needs to change? Well, it all comes down to a vital distinction:
Dr Stanley tells us
Although in common parlance ‘sleepy’ and ‘tired’ are used interchangeably, there is actually an important difference between them. Therefore, you can be tired without being sleepy. For example, those times when, even though you are physically exhausted, you cannot fall asleep because your mind is racing.
Although in common parlance 'sleepy' and 'tired' are used interchangeably, there is actually an important difference between them.
This is important from a sleep point of view because if you do have a problem with your sleep you undoubtedly experience some daytime consequences, i.e. you’ll be sleepy during the day. If you’re tired during the day then this could be because of a myriad of reasons… a long drive, a boring job, or a row with the other half.
Being tired during the day is not necessarily a sign that you have a problem with your sleep, more a problem with your lifestyle. It’s natural to feel a bit sleepy when you awake in the morning and/or in the early afternoon when you have a natural reduction in alertness (the so called ‘post-lunch dip’), but, if you really feel that you could easily fall asleep at 11am then there’s probably a problem with your sleep.
Why is sleep so vital?
History is full of famous figures who are rumoured to have existed on just four hours of sleep a night. But for most of us, we’re just not at our best without a good seven to eight hours’ rest, there’s evidence to suggest that a lack of sleep affects more than just our mood.
Good sleep is as important as diet and exercise. It’s vital for good physical, mental and emotional health.
In the long term, poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of numerous serious illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and even some cancers.
Says Dr Neil Stanley,
In the short term, it has been shown to make you more miserable, look and feel less attractive, reduce your cognitive and mental performance, increase the risk of accidents, increase your appetite for sugary and fatty foods, make you less empathetic and more argumentative.
What's keeping you up?
If your room is light, too loud, too hot or too cluttered, it can all make sleep more difficult – but so can our bedtime routine. And, according to Dr Stanley, our digital screens, phones, televisions and computers are making it that little bit harder to nod off.
Light, in particular sunlight, is the primary zeitgeber (time giver/setter) for the body. Sun light is broad spectrum (think rainbows) but it was recently discovered that it is the light in the blue part of the spectrum that is especially involved in telling the brain and body that it’s daytime and thus we should be awake.
Studies have shown that blue light emitted by screens has a similar effect, particularly in suppressing the release of melatonin – one of the important messengers in the initiation of sleep. Thus, people who use screens in the hours before bed experience poorer sleep and feel sleepier the next day. However, it’s important to know that other wave lengths of light, as well as the brightness, are also implicated modulating our sleep/wake cycle.
Give yourself the best shot at switching off, by switching off. Reduce blue light and avoid looking at digital devices and bright lights for two-to-three hours before bed.
Tips and tricks for a good night's sleep from The Sleep Council
Sleep Expert Lisa Artis knows all the tricks for getting a good night’s sleep, and she shared some of her best with us.
1 Prepare your space for sleep
- Colour Scheme
- Smell of Room
- Sounds in Room
- Interior Design
Part of getting a good night’s sleep is being comfortable in bed. If you’re buying a new bed or mattress, make sure you think about the amount of support you need. Fabric is important for temperature control when it comes to mattresses, too.
Choosing the right bedding fabric is essential for restful sleep. Cotton is often a preferred choice for both bedding and nightwear as it’s breathable, wicks moisture and stays comfortably cool against the skin. Use the right tog duvet for the time of year. It’s not uncommon to have a winter and summer duvet and use them accordingly. If you’re not comfortable in bed – because you’re too hot or too cold – your sleep won’t be as deep as you’ll move about more, leading you to wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed.
A dark room is most conducive for sleep as light tells your body it’s time to wake up. In darkness, your body releases a hormone called melatonin that relaxes your body helping you to drift off. Sleeping with the light on is definite no-no.
Don’t use lots of rich, deep colours, such as purple, gold or red, in the bedroom. These colours stimulate your energy, resulting in poor sleep. Pastels, in particular blue, green and yellow, are calming shades that promote a more relaxing environment.
Smell of Room
Some smells can affect your mood, making you more relaxed and calm. Sprinkle a pot pourri with essential oils of lavender or geranium which are often used as relaxants. Not to be used during pregnancy or in children’s rooms.
Sounds in Room
Steady, low sounds are soothing and help block out other noises. Some people may find listening to ‘white noise’ or relaxing sounds help them sleep better. Listening to soothing music before bed calms the mind, making it easier to fall asleep.
Adorn your bedroom with beautiful things such as photographs of loved ones, artwork that you like, or plants and flowers. It will help you feel more connected to the room and look forward to going to bed.
Switch off your tech at least two to three hours before bedtime – and that includes your phone – non-stop stimulation from screens wreaks havoc when we’re trying to fall asleep!
Not all screens were created equal, however, so if you enjoy e-books, use an e-reader, like the Kindle, rather than a tablet. These use e-paper tech instead of LCD screens for ease on eyes before sleep.
Keep the room free from clutter, as it’s much harder to switch off in a messy room. Try to clear things away (laundry, paperwork etc.) so that by the time you get into bed you aren’t distracted.
2 Sharing a bed
It can be hard enough to get a good night’s sleep on your own, but add in a partner into the equation and you could also be dealing with snoring, duvet hogging, tossing and turning and getting too hot. Partner disturbance is one of the most common complaints of a poor night’s sleep.
If you share a bed, try to go to bed with your partner at the same time at least three nights a week. Different body clocks mean many couples tuck up at different times, but alarm bells should sound when this starts to happen every night of the week.
If duvet hogging is an issue, opt for one that’s larger than the bed size, or even separate duvets. Also buy as big a bed as budget and room size allow. A standard double bed is only 4’6” wide, which gives each person just the width of a baby’s cot to sleep in – more room means less partner disturbance.
When snoring becomes a significant and ongoing problem, seek help. What starts off as a niggle can become a major issue for many couples – so get it sorted.
In our culture sleeping apart implies that there’s trouble in paradise. But in reality, if your sleep habits don’t synchronise then it could be much better for your relationship to consider sleeping apart. For most couples who sleep apart, it’s a practical decision and you can still have all those intimate moments of sharing a bed when you fancy it, before departing to your very own space to sleep!
3 Taking action
If you find yourself awake in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep, don’t lie there staring at the ceiling. It won’t help you fall asleep, in fact - it’s likely to make you more restless. Instead, get out of bed, go into a dimly lit room and read a couple of chapters from a book, listen to some soothing music or make yourself a milky drink or chamomile tea.
Practise some deep breathing techniques. Spend five minutes indulging in pure relaxation and allow yourself to sink into a sound, fulfilling sleep. If your mind is buzzing with things to do, write them down. Don’t try to find sleep – it needs to find you. Keep your eyes open and gently resist sleep or try to adopt a carefree, accepting attitude to wakefulness. Avoid clock watching - if you can’t get to sleep within 15 minutes from switching the light off then get up and go to another room and do something relaxing.