Sleep. some of us get it, but most of us don’t. Whether it’s that ongoing problem at work that troubles us in the wee hours, or the cry of a small child that rouses us all too soon, research has found that 77 per cent of Brits don’t wake up feeling either refreshed or well-rested. Why does it matter? ‘Disruption of the biological clock leads to sleep problems in the short term,’ says Dr John O’Neill, group leader at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, whose research focuses on circadian rhythms. ‘If your sleep drive – basically the pressure to sleep that comes the longer you’ve been awake – falls out of sync with your biological clock, in the long term, it increases the risk of getting diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.’
So, we need good sleep. But as Dr O’Neill elaborates, there’s no one-size- ts-all approach. ‘Sleep and circadian rhythms are a ected by a large number of genetic and environmental factors, which produce large variations between people and societies, and they also change enormously as we age.’ Still, good sleep hygiene can improve the way we rest to ensure we feel sleepy at bedtime and bright-eyed when we wake. We asked the experts for their advice.
1. It’s good to be in the dark
‘In darkness your body releases melatonin, a hormone that helps you drift off. Light, including the blue light of computers and mobile phones, inhibits melatonin, so make sure you turn them off,’ advises Lisa Artis of the Sleep Council.
2. Smell the coffee (in the morning)
‘Coffee reduces the quality and quantity of sleep you get as well as delaying your biological clock,’ says Dr O’Neill. ‘Drink caffeine in the evening and you’re likely to struggle to wake as early the next day.’
3. Deep breath in, deep breath out
‘Fast shallow breathing is linked to anxiety and stress hormones,’ says Simba psychologist Hope Bastine. ‘Neither will get you to sleep. Focus on deep, long, slow breaths. A method developed in the US called the ‘4-7- 8’ calms the mind and relaxes the muscles. Inhale for four, hold for a count of seven, then exhale making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. Then repeat three more times.’
4. Shifting patterns
‘The long-term health risks associated with shift work are similar to that of smoking,’ says Dr O’Neill. ‘If you have to work nights, try and stick to a routine that’s opposite to the daytime, even on your days off. For example, only eat at night, and avoid bright light during the day.’