This Sleep Expert Answers Your Most Common Questions
Posted by Samantha Nice
With 1 in 3 adults in the UK reporting difficulties with sleep, here we ask Dr Zoe Schaedel, general practitioner, and clinic leader at The Good Sleep Clinic to answer these common questions and share her best advice for improving your sleep…
How Much Sleep Should We Be Getting?
“This varies a lot from person to person, but most healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours to feel rested and for optimal health. The amount of sleep we need also varies over our life span with children and teens requiring more sleep than older people who typically need a little less.”
What Does A Lack Of Sleep Mean For Our Health?
“There is increasing evidence that having insufficient sleep can contribute to a range of poor health in the long run such as cardiovascular disease and dementia. Sleep is important to regulate our metabolism and glucose levels and not enough sleep can also be associated with obesity and diabetes. There is also a strong link between poor sleep and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is there important for us to be aware about the importance of good quality sleep and to know what we can do to improve that.”
What Is REM Sleep?
“During the night our sleep cycles through different stages approximately every 90 minutes. Sleep is divided into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where the brain is very active and the eyes are moving, and non-REM sleep, where the brain activity is much slower. This phase includes the deepest restorative sleep. REM sleep makes up about 20-25% of sleep in adults. Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep. It has been found to be vital for processing daytime experiences and emotions as ‘emotional first aid’. It is also important for creativity and learning.”
What Lifestyle Factors Disrupt Our Sleep?
“In order to sleep well we need a healthy ‘sleep drive’. This is a pressure to sleep that builds up during the day and is enhanced by activity. Making sure you try to exercise or have some movement each day will help this. Ideally this would be outside so you can make use of natural daylight to strengthen your circadian rhythm (our internal clock). Most of us know that caffeine can help keep us alert, but this will often remain in our system for much longer than we think. One cup can still have half the caffeine circulating in our blood stream 5 hours later so try to limit all caffeine to the morning hours. Alcohol can also disrupt sleep, leading to a series of micro-wakings through the night, and reducing the quality of our sleep.”
What Is Your Best Advice For Falling Asleep Or Getting Back To Sleep?
“If you find yourself with a racing mind full of worries, remind yourself that at night our brains are not well set-up for thinking. They tend to be much less logical and more anxious, so instead try to distract yourself. Find something that works for you such as breathing exercises, visualisation, mindfulness or perhaps listening to something. Don’t toss and turn - lying in bed and feeling restless every night can become a habit. Instead, if you feel you are not going to get to sleep after 20 minutes or so then try getting up out of bed. Move to another room, read a book or listen to music and only return to bed when you are sleepy. This can help break a cycle of poor sleep.”
When Should We Seek Medical Advice For Poor Sleep?
“It’s normal to experience disrupted sleep from time to time but if your sleep is not improving, and you are having difficulties with any part of sleep so much so that it is having a negative impact on your daytime functioning, then you should consult your doctor.”
What Does A Good Bedtime Routine Look Like To You?
“Creating a good bedtime routine can be really useful for reducing stress and anxiety that can often disrupt sleep. It is also useful for creating a strong habit to help our brain recognise when it is time to sleep. We often enforce routines for children before bed to help them calm down and pave the way for bedtime, but this can be just as important for adults too.”
My Best Advice
Set A Bedtime And Stick To It
Pick the same time each night to start your bedtime routine. One hour before you want to sleep is ideal. Consistency is helpful in giving the right messages to your brain and can strengthen your internal clock too.
Switch Your Screens Off
Avoiding screens in the lead up to bed is helpful for two reasons. Firstly, blue light stimulates your brain alertness centres, suppressing the production of melatonin (a hormone that helps you to feel sleepy). More importantly screens are often very stimulating keeping our brain active and alert. The ‘watch what’s on next’ function can mean we end up going to bed later than we really want to.
Control Your Temperature
Having a warm bath or shower leads to a drop in your core body temperature by activating your internal control mechanisms. A drop in body temperature is needed for us to transition into sleep, so a bath or shower can help speed up that process.
Transfer Your Thoughts To Paper
Whatever we have on our mind when we go to bed can contribute to keeping us awake or feeling anxious when we try to fall asleep. Taking some time to create a to-do list for the next day (or even a worry list) can really help to transition your mind to a calm restful space.
Lastly, Can Essential Oils Help With Sleep?
“Evidence suggests that aromatherapy may be able to create a bedroom environment that is more conducive to falling, and staying, asleep. Different oils have been shown to promote relaxation which can also help to pave the way for a more restful night.”