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Are you getting enough sleep? Modern life disrupts our snoozing schedule

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

THERE really is nothing like a good night’s sleep.

But new research by the University of Leeds and Silentnight, the bed manufacturer, has revealed a quarter of Brits are getting by on just five hours a night.

That’s a full two and a half hours below the recommended figure.

But as Silentnight sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains: “It’s not just about the number of hours, it’s also the quality that’s absolutely key.

“My work is really about helping people to get good-quality sleep, and I have many patients who might be putting in the hours, but they’re waking up still feeling exhausted.

“The world we’re living in now, there isn’t enough rest in our day which is driven by technology.

“This isn’t a rant against technology, but certainly for most of us, there’s been increased demand on our time.

“Because of that — and it’s not just physical demand but mental demand, too — we really do need our sleep at night.

“A very important detoxifying process takes place when we get good sleep,” adds Nerina.

“It cleans up the brain and heals the body, and in my work at a London clinic, I’m seeing a lot of people presenting with mental and physical health problems, and a lot of them can be related back to not getting enough of this restorative sleep.

“We all know how it feels when we’ve had a good night’s sleep — you wake up and you feel more happy and more optimistic, and more able to cope with the stress of life.

“There’s a reason why nature has designed us so we spend a third of our lives sleeping, but these days a lot of people are falling short of that mark.

“I’m seeing a lot of people cutting slices off their sleep by going to bed later and later, and some of that’s related to technology such as catch-up TV, when you think: ‘I’ll just watch another episode of Line Of Duty.’”

Mrs Thatcher famously got by on four hours’ sleep a night, but Dr Nerina is having none of it.

“People will often cite Thatcher and alongside her you have people like Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Leonardo da Vinci, and what those people all had in common was that they were running on a very strong sense of purpose which is a big source of energy.

“Nothing illustrates this better than if you’re waking up early in the morning to get the taxi that’s taking you to the airport because you’re going on holiday.

“You wake up with energy because you’re looking forward to it.

“These people also, including Thatcher, were prolific nappers.

“They had naps throughout the day, and I’m a great believer in napping.

“In fact, I had a 10-minute nap this afternoon!

“But again, the problem is a lot of people don’t know what a nap is, they think it’s getting into bed on a Sunday afternoon and pulling the duvet up.

“That’s not napping — that’s sleeping and that’s going to affect your sleep at night.”

Another finding was that half of us never enjoy a lie in, but Dr Ramlakhan insists: “I think lying in is overrated!

“The sleep that you get between 10 and midnight is really good sleep, and then if you lie in, the sleep you get between six and eight is also very good sleep but after that you don’t really need it.

“So when people come and see me and say: ‘I think I’ve got a problem, I’m waking up at 6am,’ I think as long as they’re going to bed at a decent time, around 10.30ish, that’s enough sleep.

“A lot of people have a lie in and then they can’t get to sleep on Sunday night, and that gets them into a bad cycle for the week.

“Sleep is not as straightforward as it should be, given we spend so much of our lives doing it,” says Nerina.

“There are so many external influences and we’ve come to rely so much on stimulants like caffeine and sugars — it’s become a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break.

“You’re not getting enough sleep, so you wake up and you’re exhausted so you need a cup of coffee.

“All of that is messing around the natural sleep cycle we have.

“People are going to bed with their brains still ticking over from the noise of the day and their sleep is shallow.

“They’re sleeping but it’s not restorative, and they’re waking up feeling exhausted.

“So one aspect of my work is to get people to think about getting enough rest during the day — going to bed and simply expecting six hours of sleep is not going to repair the damage on its own.

“We never let up. We don’t get a mental rest and that’s what is affecting our sleep.”

Is your usual bedtime routine really the best way to recharge?

GETTING a good night’s sleep depends on several factors.

But how — and when — you refuel your body is a key component.

As sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan (left) explains: “I’m amazed when I see people drinking 10-plus cups of tea a day and wondering why they can’t sleep!

“And if you order a ‘grande cappuccino’, you’re looking at 500 milligrams of caffeine when ideally you shouldn’t be having more than 150 a day.

“And people are asking for extra shots as well!

“There are many well-known bits of advice when it comes to eating and sleeping, such as don’t sleep on a full stomach or fill yourself with sugar, but my top tip is to eat breakfast within half an hour of getting up.

“That means you’re not running on adrenaline or replacing calories with caffeine.

“It tells the body that you’re living in a world with an adequate supply of food and so it releases fuel.

“If you starve your body, it reads that as a stress situation, holds onto calories and runs on adrenaline.

“That means the old hunter-gatherer brain thinks it’s not safe to sleep and that it has to go out hunting, so it suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle.

“All of that is a long-winded way of saying people who skip breakfast can have trouble sleeping!”

It would also appear that we are never too old to have a regular bedtime.

As Dr Ramlakhan adds: “Familiar rituals also help us get to sleep, while a lack of routine can often be part of some people’s broken sleep mechanism.

“I work with a lot of airline pilots and emergency services personnel, and they’ll often have sleep problems caused by their shift patterns which send them out of balance.

“So a good routine can help us get off to sleep — some people will tuck their children in before they go to bed themselves, some will check their front door is locked, for some it’s saying a prayer or reading.

“Personally, I can’t imagine life without a book at bedtime!”


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