Back to sleep school

Six­teen mil­lion peo­ple in the UK strug­gle to sleep. Where are we go­ing wrong?

Grazia (UK) - - CONTENTS -

A RE­CENT STUDY of 13 coun­tries high­lighted that the UK is the ‘most ex­hausted’ coun­try of all*, beat­ing Amer­ica, Canada and Ire­land with 37% of us feel­ing we don’t get enough sleep.

‘Sleep is the foun­da­tion of good phys­i­cal, emo­tional and men­tal health,’ says Dr Neil Stan­ley, an in­de­pen­dent sleep ex­pert and au­thor of How To Sleep Well (£10.99, Cap­stone). Bad sleep can quickly trans­late into: un­pro­duc­tive days filled with clumsy mis­takes, poor food choices (carbs on carbs, please) and a sense of mis­ery you just don’t get if you wake up on the right side of the bed.

Fur­ther­more, the brain does its house­keep­ing at night, such as flush­ing out the day’s ac­cu­mu­lated tox­ins, in­clud­ing a pro­tein called beta amy­loid, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s. So, if sleep­less­ness be­comes chronic, we have worse things to worry about than spilling our morn­ing tea; scar­ily, we’re more likely to suf­fer from heart dis­ease, de­pres­sion, obe­sity, strokes and ‘three times more likely to catch a cold’, says Dr Neil.

So, how do you know if you’re get­ting enough? ‘Around 80% of us need 7-8 hours a night,’ says Dr Guy Mead­ows, co-founder of The Sleep School. ‘But there are some peo­ple who need as lit­tle as four hours or as much as 12 to func­tion at their best.’ Put sim­ply, you need enough to make you feel awake, alert and fo­cused dur­ing the day. 



Our in­abil­ity to re­lax is in­hibit­ing our slum­ber. ‘ We need to wind down ear­lier to sig­nal to the brain that sleep is on its way,’ says Dr Mead­ows. Two hours be­fore bed, he rec­om­mends in­sti­gat­ing the wind-down rou­tine, dur­ing which we should cre­ate a chill zone, do­ing things like watch­ing TV, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic or read­ing a book. ‘Our bod­ies have evolved to get used to fall­ing asleep as the sun falls, so try to mimic a cave-like re­treat,’ he rec­om­mends. ‘For ex­am­ple, switch over­head lights to side lamps.’

Then there’s the 30-40 min­utes pre-sleep, at which point you should be amp­ing up re­lax­ation. ‘Switch off all elec­tronic de­vices and do bor­ing, non­stim­u­lat­ing things, like get­ting ready for the next day,’ he ad­vises, rec­om­mend­ing any­thing calm and quiet. The key is to make this an every-evening rit­ual, with­out do­ing it ob­ses­sively, to sign­post the body to­ward sleep. Con­sis­tency is also key for bed and wake-up time; the more er­ratic your sleep­ing pat­tern, the grog­gier and more jet-lagged you’ll feel. And no, sleep­ing in at week­ends won’t make up for poor sleep dur­ing the week. SLEEP­ING CLEAN Be­lieve it or not, there is such a thing as sleep ‘hy­giene’ and it doesn’t re­fer just to fresh sheets and a clean face come bed­time. Rather, the Na­tional Sleep Foun­da­tion de­fine it as ‘the prac­tices and habits nec­es­sary to have a good night-time sleep’.

One of the fun­da­men­tals of hy­gienic sleep is be­ing clean from screens and the blue light they emit; yep, that means for­go­ing the Insta-stalk­ing and pre-sleep Friends episodes for pa­per books and a dim light. ‘ We have light sen­si­tive cells in our eyes that con­stantly de­tect how much blue light there is in our en­vi­ron­ment,’ says Dr Mead­ows. ‘ When there is blue light (also sun­light), your in­ter­nal body clock will think it’s still daytime and sub­se­quently that you need to be awake.’ Look­ing at your phone just be­fore bed is com­pa­ra­ble to look­ing at a ‘mini sun’, he says, be­cause it con­fuses the brain into re­leas­ing the awak­en­ing hor­mone cor­ti­sol, and de­lays and re­duces the pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin; thus, not only will it take you longer to get to sleep, but the qual­ity of your sleep will be re­duced.

Keep­ing that phone quar­an­tined and away from the bed might seem dif­fi­cult, what with the old alarm clock ex­cuse, but you can save your protests be­cause nowa­days there are ex­cel­lent alarm clocks that take sun­rise into their own hands. The Lu­mie Body­clock Glow 150, £90, uses LED tech­nol­ogy to re­pro­duce a sun­rise over 20, 30 or 45 min­utes, to mimic a more nat­u­ral wake-up, and it also helps lull you to sleep with a fad­ing sunset light and calm­ing sounds, like waves crash­ing. EASE YOUR MIND ‘ The most im­por­tant thing you need for good sleep is a quiet mind,’ says Dr Stan­ley, so even if you’re phys­i­cally ex­hausted, sleep doesn’t al­ways come eas­ily. For those with ex­treme anx­i­ety or wor­ries, med­i­ta­tion and tap­ping into the breath can be a good idea. One of the best apps out there is Breathe, which vis­ually guides you through a series of deep breaths and can be used on all phones (and Ap­ple Watch for breath­ing help on the go). Re­lax Melodies is another app of­fer­ing sleep sounds for those who like to take it down a notch ( per­fect for that half hour be­fore bed) and Three Minute Mind­ful­ness de­liv­ers quick mind­ful­ness ses­sions to al­le­vi­ate stress.

Another trick is to try a hot bath be­fore

bed; it can help lull the body into a sense of sleep and deep re­lax­ation be­cause when you get out, the body cools down quickly, sig­nalling to the brain that it’s time to sleep. Add a scoop of mag­ne­sium salts to re­lax mus­cles and in­duce a sense of calm.


Peace­ful sur­round­ings are key, too; that means a bed­room de­signed to be con­ducive to sleep – dark, quiet, cool, well-ven­ti­lated, tidy and com­fort­able. Cool bod­ies sleep best, so keep your bed­room tem­per­a­ture at 16-18°C and en­sure there’s good air flow, es­pe­cially dur­ing long hot nights. Dyson’s Pure Cool Fan, £499.99, not only de­liv­ers a bril­liant breezy flow to each room, but pu­ri­fies the air, mak­ing it per­fect for city dwellers.

What you sleep in is just as im­por­tant: ‘Every time we change our bed linen, we have a great night’s sleep,’ says sport sleep coach Nick Lit­tle­hales. ‘ When I was work­ing with cy­clists on the Tour de France, we en­sured they had fresh linen every night so they woke up fully re­cov­ered each morn­ing.’ Make like the pros and change your sheets at least once a week (time per­mit­ting) – clean sheets smell bet­ter, feel bet­ter and are cooler. He also rec­om­mends us­ing a pil­low that isn’t too fat nor too flat that also sup­ports the nat­u­ral curve of the neck. Pil­lows from Casper, £60, con­tain silky fi­bres that in­crease air­flow as well as sup­port­ing.

You should also wear nightwear that takes heat and sweat away from the body, prefer­ably in cot­ton or linen; Sleeper’s su­per com­fort­able py­ja­mas, £144, are 100% cot­ton and look as good as they feel.


‘Ex­er­cise boosts our me­tab­o­lism, a byprod­uct of which is a sleepy brain chem­i­cal called adeno­sine,’ says Dr Mead­ows; hence it in­creases our sleep drive. While one-off spurts of ex­er­cise will help, it’s ac­tu­ally a reg­u­lar rou­tine that’s ben­e­fi­cial for sleep, thanks to its stress-re­duc­ing ef­fects.

One stip­u­la­tion: we need to ex­er­cise at the right time. For most of us, that’s be­tween 4-6pm when we’re bi­o­log­i­cally at our warm­est and our mus­cles are loose, and a few hours be­fore bed. ‘If you’re go­ing to do it closer to bed­time, make it calm­ing, like a slow yoga prac­tice,’ says Mead­ows. We love Heart­core’s Restora­tive Yoga by Can­dle­light, which com­bines slow flow yoga move­ments with breath work; or try on­line yoga class por­tal Move­ment for Mod­ern Life’s Ready for Bed classes.


And if you still can’t get to sleep? ‘Con­trary to what most peo­ple think, you should stay in bed,’ says Dr Mead­ows. ‘ You get in­cred­i­ble ben­e­fits from just rest­ing.’ He then sug­gests be­hav­ing in a way that will move you closer to sleep – not checking your phone, drink­ing tea or work­ing. Ac­tiv­i­ties like these cre­ate an ex­pec­ta­tion in the brain for next time it hap­pens – cue vi­cious in­som­nia cy­cle. ‘ Try and wel­come wake­ful­ness,’ says Mead­ows, who ex­tols the ben­e­fits of Ac­cep­tance and Com­mit­ment Therapy (ACT) in his In­som­nia Course at The Sleep School. Lie there, be still and ben­e­fit from the rest, us­ing mind­ful­ness to help still a rac­ing mind. ‘Fo­cus on an an­chor to the present, whether that’s the feel of the sheets on your toes or the move­ment of breath.’


We don’t have to take all of our ZZZS at night. ‘ The im­por­tant thing is ac­tu­ally the amount of sleep you get within each 24 hours, not just dur­ing the night phase,’ says Pro­fes­sor Gaby Badre, a sleep ad­vi­sor for This Works. ‘One con­tin­u­ous 4-5 hour stretch is fine and then you can com­plete your sleep needs with shorter bouts of rest through the day.’

This is where the power nap comes in. Twenty min­utes can in­crease alert­ness and con­cen­tra­tion and re­duce stress, which is why many sports peo­ple use a cat­nap to make the most of their pre­cious re­cov­ery time. ‘It’s much bet­ter for you than two cups of cof­fee,’ says Dr Neil, and you can get sim­i­lar ben­e­fits from tak­ing just 20 min­utes not even to sleep, just to rest the body. This Works new Sleep Power Nap Spray, £28, en­cour­ages a restora­tive nap thanks to laven­der and camomile in the for­mula. Who said snooz­ing was for losers?

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