Sharing a bed is still Popular

Two years after we last asked the question ‘Do you sleep in the same bed as your partner?’ as part of our monthly poll series, it was reassuring to see that the statistics had barely changed – and yes we do still enjoy sharing the bed with our partner!

feb-poll-results
Just over half (51%) still snuggle up to each other in bed (47% in Feb 2015). Good news as sleeping with your partner can actually benefit your health and increase the odds of your having a longer lifespan. This is because people tend to feel more secure and safe when in a relationship, decreasing the levels of stress hormones and increasing oxytocin, the love hormone – leading to less interrupted sleep.

However bear in mind that around 50% of sleep disturbance is caused by sharing a bed with your partner. If you find your sleep is disrupted on a regular basis by a snoring partner, a duvet hogger and a bed companion who frequently tosses and turns it may be worth considering a larger bed or even separate bedrooms.

Facebook Is Ruining Our Sleep

In his groundbreaking book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote, “Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

He’s referring to two famous dystopian novels here: George Orwell’s 1984, in which a totalitarian figurehead called Big Brother, monitors people’s lives, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which describes a less sinister future in which there is no need for tyranny because all forms of entertainment pacify and ruin humanity.

In modern society we never have a reason to be bored. Fueled by BuzzFeed headlines and 24-hour news channels, it appears Huxley’s version of the future is here. And while society inhales the nugatory and negligible, the importance of sleep drowns in this sea of irrelevance.

How often do you scan Facebook or Twitter within one hour of bedtime? People have, as Postman pointed out, an infinite appetite for distraction. That hunger for diversion can negatively impact our lives if we let it get out of hand. In my opinion, it’s not just our sleep that is suffering – our lives are suffering. When we’re not fully rested, we are mediocre versions of our best selves.

For those who wish to discover their highest potential with one change, I recommend the following course of action: stop amusing your sleep to death. If you want to know how to sleep better, give this healthy sleep habit a try: avoid any and all screens within one hour of bedtime. That means no smartphone, tablet or TV. You shouldn’t even have a TV in your bedroom because, like all the devices mentioned, it emits daytime spectrum blue light. This type of light mimics sunlight and tells your body it’s daytime so the brain should stop producing melatonin, a hormone that is essential for sleep. Although Huxley’s version of the future might be coming true, I am reminded of how Big Brother watched people in their homes – through telescreens.

What should you do instead of screen time? Read stories from real books (not kindles, etc.). You might start with 1984 or Brave New World. Most experts don’t recommend reading self-help, business books or any non-fiction right before bed because that type of literature often makes you think of how to apply the leanings to your own life – a distraction that can keep you awake. Instead, grab a work of fiction. Fiction novels often quiet the part of your brain that criticizes.

Are you amusing your sleep to death by gobbling up blue light from your smartphone or TV before bedtime? Eliminating screen time within one hour of bed can put you on the path to healthier sleep and a future in which you feel fully rested – and that sounds like a happy ending to me.

The 3 best habits for healthy, restful sleep

1. Reserve your bed for sleeping

If you’re tempted to crawl into bed with your laptop to punch out a few last work emails, don’t..

For those of us who struggle with sleep, it can be helpful to set aside the bed as a place of rest. If we get used to doing work or other activities in or around bed, it could make it harder to fall asleep there.

This is where smartphones and tablets can become a problem. “When people can’t sleep, what do they do? They pull out their phones and start scrolling. But that’s in direct conflict with stimulus control, which says you reserve the bed for sleeping.”

2. Clear away distractions

Another component of good sleep hygiene is preparing for sleep by decreasing our exposure to stimulating content, like TV, social media, and the news, as we get closer to bedtime. Some experts suggest avoiding devices for a couple of hours before bed.

When you’re going to bed, you want to do things that are relaxing, like reading a book. You want to gradually transition into sleep; you don’t want your mind to be stimulated.

3. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something else

Tossing and turning? The best solution might be the one you’d think of last — get out of bed.

If you can’t sleep, good sleep hygiene suggests that you get up, get out of bed, and do something else, something relaxing, like going and reading a book.

When we’re struggling to sleep, trying to force our brains to shut down only causes the mind to work harder and get frustrated. If you’re having a hard time powering down, then, try distracting yourself with an easy, relaxing task. You might be surprised to discover how quickly your eyelids start to feel heavy.

Sleeping Problems

Most people need between five to nine hours sleep a night to function. Generally, eight hours is seen as the ideal, but everyone’s different.

Sleeping problems or sleeplessness, difficulty sleeping or getting to sleep, is often referred to as insomnia.

clockOften stress and anxiety  can lead to sleeping problems. As the stressful situation passes, a more regular sleep pattern should return.

Irregular sleep patterns can also be related to depression.

If you’ve been feeling down for a couple of weeks and have been unable to sleep speak to your GP.

Factors that can disrupt sleep include:

  • asthma and breathing disorders
  • pregnancy – during the third trimester of pregnancy sleep is usually dramatically reduced
  • stimulants in the blood stream like caffeine and nicotine
  • some prescribed and over the counter drugs
  • some forms of the contraceptive pill
  • decongestants and pain and cold relievers
  • jet lag.

Impact of poor sleep

Problems getting to sleep, waking early or not being able to sleep throughout the night can affect your general wellbeing.

Effects of insomnia include:

  • decreased concentration levels
  • decreased energy levels
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty remembering things.

How to improve your sleep quality

Try to set routines. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.

This helps your body clock get into rhythm and makes sleeping feel more natural. Avoid sleeping during the day, because it makes it harder to fall asleep at night.

Process the day’s thoughts and feelings and then let go of them. If it helps, write things down or talk about them with someone you trust.

Learning meditation is a very useful tool for stilling the mind and relaxing the body. It can be a very effective way to release tension and de-stress.

What you can do to manage insomnia

  • Implement routine: Try to go to bed and wake at the same time daily.
  • Limit the bed to sleeping: Try not to study, watch TV, read or eat in bed
  • Exercise: Do some exercise during the day to induce tiredness.
  • Relax before bed: Have a warm bath, listen to soothing music, use deep breathing techniques, yoga, tai chi etc.
  • Avoid naps: Napping during the day may minimise your ability to sleep at night.
  • Minimise anxiety: Try not to tackle anything that may cause stress & anxiety just before bed time, or write down any worries you may have.
  • Avoid stimulants: Avoid having caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, cola) or cigarettes before bed. [NB: alcohol may make you drowsy but can disrupt sleeping patterns.]
  • Warm and soothing drinks: Warm chamomile or peppermint tea or a milk-based drink may help you sleep.
  • Lavender: Lavender is considered a natural sedative, so sprinkling some oil on your pillow may assist.
  • Natural Remedies: Valerian is considered a non-addictive, sleep-inducing herb that also assists in relieving stress and anxiety and is available at supermarkets or pharmacies. St John’s Wort is another natural product which is used to treat anxiety, stress & insomnia, but is unfortunately not available over the counter in Ireland.
  • Sleep in a well ventilated room, that’s neither too hot nor cold
  • Avoid excessive exercise just before going to bed
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the evening
  • Play soft gentle music. The heart actually follows the beat of the music so high-energy dance music revs you up, while slower more peaceful music helps you unwind.

If none of these help, do consult your doctor.

Circadian rhythms

Circadian rhythms are daily cycles based on a 24-hour period, which are strongly influenced by regular changes in the environment like night and day.

This natural cycle helps coordinate regular bodily functions like appetite, energy, mood, and sleep.

It does this by regulating the timing, amount and quality of the hormones and neurotransmitters the body produces and releases.

Out of sync

When our body is out of sync with this 24-hour cycle, we can be at risk of developing circadian rhythm disorder. In the short term we may experience circadian disruption, like jet lag following long flights.

Functioning as a time-keeping mechanism for the mind and the body, the suprachaismatic nuclei (SCN) synchronize the 24-hour periods. They control most other rhythms of the body by working with time-keeping genes and hormones, like melatonin.

Together they coordinate the daily rhythms and cycles that control the rise and fall of hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters that determine waking times, sleep, appetite, sex and other key aspects of our lives.

Sleep-wake system

Many of the rhythms of our body and mind are synchronised with nature. For example, when our biological clock is functioning properly, the urge to wake up will start to increase in the morning, as the sun is rising.

The circadian system and the sleep-wake system then prompts our bodies to produce cortisol, serotonin, and other hormones that wake us up, increase blood pressure and cause body temperature to rise.

Likewise, at sunset, the body receives another cue and responds to the lack of sunlight by producing and releasing the hormone melatonin. Unlike at sunrise, this leads to a decrease in blood pressure and allows the body to prepare for and eventually fall into sleep.

Importance of sleep

Sleep is a crucial part of our daily lives. It helps restore energy, keep memory functioning properly, and helps to heal our bodies. When sleep is disrupted or deprived, we don’t feel as alert, we are easily agitated and all of our actions seem slow.

Stress and aniexty caused by work, family, and daily life commonly lead to sleeping problems.

People’s lives have become much more fast-paced. Hectic work schedules little time to unwind and relax. We get less sleep as a result, causing many of us to feel exhausted.

When our bodies are out of sync with the 24-hour circadian rhythm cycle, our hormone and neurotransmitter release is negatively affected. This can cause our bodies to suffer from a circadian rhythm disorder (CRD), which can sometimes trigger depression.

To avoid developing CRD, try no to take naps during the day and allow yourself time to wind down before going to bed. Exposure to light in the mornings, exercise and a healthy diet can also help.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is closely related to CRD. During the winter months, our bodies receive insufficient amounts of light.

This can cause malfunctions, resulting in the production of the wrong hormones at the wrong time of day.

Research also shows that without sunlight, the brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin, which can trigger depression.

The symptoms usually diminish as the days get longer, although many SAD sufferers note brief (one to two-week) periods of SAD-like symptoms in the summer.

Bipolar disorder is different to major depression in that it is marked by episodes of euphoria or mania. These episodes can last for hours, days or even months.

In almost all cases of bipolar disorder, depressive and manic episodes are seasonal, leading doctors to make a connection between the disorder and CRD.

Less daylight

In autumn and winter, as daylight decreases, bi-polar sufferers enter a depressive phase, and require increased intervention.

Those with the disorder also suffer from sleep problems and feel worse at a particular time of day. Because these symptoms reflect a circadian rhythm disorder, doctors have found success by treating bipolar disorders with bright light.

What is sleep?

Sleep is the mysterious shift in consciousness that our bodies require every day. It’s vital for our health and wellbeing, and not only do we function less well when we don’t get enough quality sleep, but it can lead to long-term health problems. That’s why we need to do all that we can to ensure that we enjoy quality sleep and deal with any sleep problems.

The Sleep Cycle

During sleep our heart rate drops, our body temperature falls and we experience complex changes in brain activity. An EEG (electroencephalogram) gives us an insight into the brains electrical activity when we sleep:

  • When we first fall asleep we enter non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. NREM is divided into three stages: – NREM1 – NREM2 and – NREM3, each stage becoming progressively ‘deeper’.
  • Stages 1 and 2 are light stages of sleep from which we can be easily roused.
  • Stage 3 is a deeper stage of sleep from which we’re more difficult to rouse, and some may feel disorientated if woken from this stage of sleep.
  • Generally, after going through the NREM stages, we enter stage 4 which is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which the EEG shows as being similar to wakefulness or drowsiness. It is during the REM stage of sleep that we dream.
  • Each cycle lasts around 1½ hours and we need to experience all four stages in order to wake up rested.
  • A good night’s sleep consists of five or six cycles, whereas disturbed sleep consists of far fewer.

Sleep is largely controlled by sleep pressure, and the circadian rhythm, or our body clock, which is a 24 hour cycle that regulates all our biological and physiological processes. It anticipates environmental changes around us so that our bodies can adapt to them.

In ideal situations, the circadian rhythm will naturally rise in the early morning, promoting wakefulness and alertness, and will reach a peak in the evening. After a waking period of around 15 hours the pressure to sleep becomes greater and greater, in other words, we get tired. With the onset of darkness, the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest level and helps to maintain sleep.

To ensure you experience good sleep it’s essential to follow good lifestyle habits and to eliminate the factors that are causing you disturbed sleep. For example making sure that your bedroom is the right environment, looking at the lighting in your home, and avoiding foods and drinks that can hinder sleep.

Ah! Tuesday’s Sleep

You might get to sleep in on the weekends but is it the best sleep? According to new research, the answer is no.

While it’s not the longest sleep of the week (weekends usually mean an extra 30 minutes in bed on Friday and Saturday nights), Tuesday night sleep is the most restorative, with a fall in blood pressure and stress hormones, according to a June 28 article in The Telegraph.

While experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case, it could be that Tuesday nights are free from the rich food and drinks consumed over the weekend.

“People rest for a lot longer during the weekend, but perhaps they are out partying and letting their hair down and their bodies don’t physiologically recover,” says Simon Shepard, chief executive officer of Optima-Life, the U.K.-based distributor of the heart monitors used in the study. “On Mondays and Tuesdays, your energy levels may still be high after the weekend. And while you may still be sociable, you may be sociable in a different way, going to a book group rather than the pub.”

The study found only 48% of Saturday night and 48.7% of Friday night’s sleep revitalizes the body and brain. This is compared with a high of 55.1% on Tuesday nights, while 54.6% of sleep on Monday was considered to be restorative, the article notes.best_night_sleep_tuesday-1