Britons suf­fer­ing sleep de­pri­va­tion

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - De­nis Camp­bell Sarah Marsh

Bri­tain’s long­est heatwave since 1976 has led to an up­surge in sleep­ing prob­lems, with peo­ple tired, ir­ri­ta­ble and less pro­duc­tive at work af­ter sweaty nights of poor-qual­ity shut-eye.

Record tem­per­a­tures of up to 32.4C (90.3F) have been stop­ping many peo­ple get­ting a proper rest as they strug­gle to sleep in rooms that are un­com­fort­ably warm, ex­perts say.

Dr Michael Far­quhar, a con­sul­tant in sleep medicine at Evelina chil­dren’s hospi­tal in Lon­don, said: “I’m very aware of peo­ple re­port­ing more dif­fi­cul­ties sleep­ing as the tem­per­a­ture in­creases, both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

“It’s a phe­nom­e­non we’re be­com­ing used to as we have yet an­other Lon­don sum­mer where bed­room tem­per­a­tures are reg­u­larly sit­ting at 30C. It’s a fac­tor com­monly cited in our clin­ics as a rea­son why chil­dren’s sleep pat­terns can worsen over the sum­mer months.”

A fur­ther spell of un­usu­ally hot weather is ex­pected over the week­end, re­plac­ing the cooler weather of the past few days in many parts of the coun­try and mak­ing a re­newed spike in sleep­less­ness likely.

Dr Neil Stan­ley, an in­de­pen­dent sleep ex­pert and for­mer di­rec­tor of sleep re­search at Sur­rey Uni­ver­sity, said: “Be­tween 30% and 50% of the pa­tients I have spo­ken to re­cently have talked about hav­ing sleep is­sues re­lated to the heat.

“Peo­ple can have their sleep mas­sively im­pacted. Also at this time of year it doesn’t get dark un­til about 9pm or 10pm, but when we go to bed it is still hot and sticky and the sun comes up ear­lier too, which means our sleep is dis­turbed.”

Far­quhar said a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to heatwave-in­duced sleep de­pri­va­tion was that houses in Bri­tain were de­signed for cooler weather.

“As a re­sult, bed­room tem­per­a­tures rise to un­com­fort­able lev­els dur­ing sus­tained heat­waves. Tem­per­a­ture is a pow­er­ful in­flu­enc­ing fac­tor on our sleep. We have a rel­a­tively nar­row range of tem­per­a­tures in which we sleep com­fort­ably,” he said. “16C to 18C is the usual op­ti­mum com­fort zone – and ei­ther too hot or too cold leads to poorer sleep.”

The main prob­lem, he added, was that peo­ple were un­able to cool their homes down be­fore bed­time.

“When the bed­room tem­per­a­ture is hot, it pre­vents nat­u­ral cool­ing,” he said, “which makes get­ting to sleep harder. When it’s hu­mid it’s even harder as the hu­mid­ity makes it harder to lose heat from our bod­ies by sweat evap­o­ra­tion.

“And when we do get to sleep, the sleep tends to be more fit­ful and rest­less, par­tic­u­larly in the early part of sleep, with more pe­ri­ods of wake.”

With­out ad­e­quate sleep, Far­quhar said, the re­sult­ing ef­fect was that peo­ple were more likely to be “more ir­ri­ta­ble, more short-tem­pered, less likely to de­tect sar­casm, slower, more slug­gish, with poorer re­ac­tion times and im­paired judg­ment”.

“In short,” he said, “we be­come less nice peo­ple who don’t func­tion as well.

“Scaled up to the whole coun­try, a rest­less night’s sleep caused by high overnight tem­per­a­ture can po­ten­tially have a big cu­mu­la­tive im­pact on na­tional pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness,” Far­quhar said.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lam­pard, the chair of the Royal Col­lege of GPs, said: “Ideally, a bed­room should be be­tween 18C and 24C to en­able rest­ful sleep, so it’s not sur­pris­ing that many peo­ple strug­gle dur­ing pe­ri­ods of ex­tremely warmer weather.”

She ad­vised those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing poor sleep dur­ing the heatwave to place a ro­tat­ing fan near their bed or to sleep un­der thin cot­ton sheets to get cool enough to recharge their bat­ter­ies prop­erly overnight.

Eat­ing a light din­ner ear­lier in the even­ing than usual and re­strict­ing al­co­hol in­take to a min­i­mum were other use­ful ways to max­imise the chances of a de­cent sleep, as the body would then have fewer calo­ries to burn off overnight, she added.

Far­quhar said hav­ing a cool shower, a glass of iced wa­ter or spray­ing cool wa­ter on your skin just be­fore bed­time could help make it eas­ier to get to sleep. Putting bed­ding, es­pe­cially pil­low cases, in the freezer for a while would pro­duce a cool sur­face that was eas­ier to sleep on, he added.

He also rec­om­mended us­ing cot­ton py­ja­mas and bed­ding, as they helped draw sweat away from the body; keep­ing bed­room cur­tains shut dur­ing the day; leav­ing windows open and us­ing earplugs to coun­ter­act any noise; and – per­haps the most dif­fi­cult sug­ges­tion – sleep­ing alone.

“In the long run, I’d in­vest in air con­di­tion­ing,” he said. “Hot sum­mers are here to stay, I think.”

The weather has left peo­ple un­able to cool their homes down by bed­time

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