Are you “always on”? According to a new study, over a quarter of British workers believe they operate at half their capacity or less, after a bad night’s sleep. 46 per cent get stressed more easily and one in four in full time employment feel less in control at work after a poor night’s sleep. But the largest impact on sleep quality is today’s “always on” culture where most people are glued to their devices well into bedtime.
Some experts believe that blue light emitted from screens affects the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which is causing an increase in sleep disturbances. It’s almost directly proportional that sleep disturbances are becoming increasingly common when research has shown that one in five people living in London check their email at least five times an hour.
Sleep expert, Dr Neil Stanley believes it’s an unfortunate side effect of being overworked and overstimulated. “Many people are stuck in a vicious cycle. Poor sleep habits make people less productive in the workplace and when suffering with sleepiness, they often find it harder to make critical decisions. We then see people taking work home with them, sometimes working late into the night. This in turn can disrupt sleep for the following night,” he says.
“People now commonly turn to devices as a means of distraction when they are struggling to drop off to sleep. However, this is likely to be making the situation worse,” says Dr Stanley. His three top tips for a restful night’s sleep an environment conducive to sleep, a relaxed body and a quiet mind.
“Going to bed and waking up at a regular time can also help to avoid sleep disturbances. When you are out of a normal sleep pattern, sleep aids can be helpful for some people to re-establish a normal rhythm by teaching your body when it is time to sleep,” he adds.
More recently, Brian Keane, a former London primary school teacher and fitness model, has become an Amazon bestseller following the release of his book, ‘The Fitness Mindset’. The health expert and author, now based in Galway, Ireland, reveals in his book the top tips to help improve health in every aspect of life, but most crucially, he explains how understanding your sleeping pattern can boost your energy, improve your will power and benefit your general health.
In a study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in three adults does not obtain the recommended hours of sleep. According to the NHS, not sleeping enough can lead to immune system problems, weight gain and mood disorders in extreme cases.
“As someone who has been a notoriously poor sleeper, I understand how poor-quality sleep can affect people’s everyday lives. It can affect everything from your energy levels to your will power. We waste time falling asleep and spend hours in a light sleep state, which doesn’t have the same body and brain boosting benefits of deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Your sleep quality is more beneficial than your sleep quantity,” Keane explains. REM is the dream state we enter whilst sleeping. This usually occurs 90 minutes after the onset of sleep or 30 minutes if someone is sleep deprived.
“We’ve all been told, ‘you need to get at least eight hours of sleep every night,’ but why? This brings us back to REM sleep. We have about four or more REM periods per night and they go in 90 minute cycles. This is why if you sleep for seven and a half hours and wake up, you feel more refreshed as you have finished that ‘cycle’ and your body finds it easier to wake up. If you wake up after 10 hours, you’re mid-way through a cycle, which is why you feel tired and need a ‘kick’ just to get going the next morning.”
Given that sleep is an essential way of resting, recharging and nourishing both your body and mind, sustained, unbroken sleep and dreaming are part of our lifestyle that determine the quality of our health, says Keane, outlining two key ways to improve sleep.
“The first is avoiding the ‘second wind’. There is a window from 10:45 PM to 11:00 PM when most people get naturally tired. This window differs a little based on each person or the current season, but it falls in line with the circadian cycle (the biological clock representing changes in our bodies). If you don’t go to sleep, you’ll get a cortisol (a steroid hormone) driven ‘second wind’ that can keep you awake until 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM,” Keane explains.
If you can stick close to the circadian cycle and get to bed before 11:00 PM, you will wake up feeling more rested than if you get the same amount of sleep starting later.
“The second tip is to switch off your brain,” Keane adds. “You may feel unable to switch off from feelings of stress, tension and anxiety. As a London primary school teacher, who was running a personal training business on the side, it did become stressful and if I didn’t get enough sleep I wouldn’t be performing at my best.”
“One thing that supported me massively was writing down all of the following day’s tasks before I got into my night-time routine. This helped my brain unwind, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t forget my most important tasks. I still use to this method today to ensure I get the best sleep possible.”
According to Keane, by having knowledge of the tools and tips to help you sleep, you can make a massive difference in your quality of life and in finding out what works best for you and your body. “By changing what you do before bed can give you an edge in all other aspects of your life.”