Sleep deficit, and the reasons why it needs to be avoided

Friday, 8 April, 2016

Lack of sleep, or sleep deficit, is a problem in the US and the UK, and I should think, elsewhere as well. While it may be easier to say than to do, there are a number of compelling reasons why we need to make a full night’s sleep a priority.

The report pointed out that consistent poor sleep has been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and death (from any cause) in several studies. Researchers think prolonged routines of short sleep may raise 24-hour blood pressure, heart rate, salt retention, and activity of the sympathetic nervous system (what controls the body’s fight-or-flight response), all of which can lead to hypertension.

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Has a remedy for sleep paralysis been devised?

Wednesday, 20 January, 2016

Sleep paralysis is an unsettling experience, whereby you feel trapped in your apparently motionless body, for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. I have several brushes with the phenomenon each year, which is induced, ironically, by a lack of sleep, and also by lying on your back, which I had always believed was the best sleeping position.

Thankfully sleep paralysis, of itself, isn’t anything to worry about. It doesn’t point to some other nastier disorder, and the sensation is usually short lived. If that’s not enough though, a Meditation-Relaxation (MR) therapy has been developed, that you may like to try:

The simple treatment method, called Meditation-Relaxation (or MR) therapy, comes across as a nod to the mind-body connection – the sort of kumbaya “think good thoughts” exercise that might appeal to yogis more than post-docs. But, the simplicity of the treatment belies the immersive case reports and theories about parietal lobe disturbance that give it heft (and probably lab cred). Unlike treatment for nightmares, MR therapy can be performed during an attack to temper or potentially end it altogether.

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Is our obsession with sleep keeping us from a good night’s sleep?

Thursday, 29 October, 2015

Sleep once used to be a simple matter. Conventional wisdom stated that we spent a third of our lives sleeping, which equated to about eight hours a day. That was pretty straightforward, and easy to follow, and left eight hours for work or study, and another eight for play. Or rather commuting, household and family duties, and then play, if you were lucky.

Then people began to think it about it more, because today sleep is all but trending. Was the norm really the norm, or should it be questioned? It was Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer, who in 1817 devised the slogan “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”, as part of a drive to bring about the introduction of an eight hour working day.

The politics of sleep, surely not?

Possibly though the notion was a little too socialist for some sensibilities, and required further examination. After all, late conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is said to have managed to get by on just four hours sleep a night, so maybe the rest of us should as well, meaning the work day could be extended to twelve hours duration instead? Then again, no.

It’s to hard to know when earnest evaluation of the eight hour sleep concept began, or thought to how much sleep – full stop – was required, given eight hours has only been the convention for a relatively short span of our history. Or why, for that matter. Sleep is vital for our health and well being, so it’s something people are interested in. Maybe that’s the reason.

Eight hours sleep sure, but not all at once

In his book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published in 2005, Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech, said that during medieval times, while people used to sleep for eight hours, it was not continuous. Typically sleep was broken into two four hour periods, and in-between, people would be active for up to two hours, before going back to bed.

I wonder how much thought people of the day gave to this segmented pattern of sleep. Was it a case of “eight hours labour, six hours recreation, four hours first rest, two hours recreation, four hours second rest”? I doubt it, but the idea of broken slumber has merit, and after a few hours sleep, people were more energised. A boon for intimacy, perhaps. Or creative pursuits even.

We can thank the light bulb, and the internet, for less sleep

While we once may have slept for eight hours, albeit with an intermission, there has been concern that the arrival of electricity, and the light bulb, began cutting into this time, leading the world to its apparent sleep derived state. Recent research carried out by Jerome Siegel, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, finds this may not quite be the case though.

Siegel studied the sleep habits of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies in Africa and Bolivia, and found that generally these people sleep for six and a half hours, and perhaps an hour more in winter. And nor did they retire at sunset, with some staying awake, by the light of the fire, for three and half hours afterwards. So much for artificial lighting disrupting our “eight hours” sleep.

So who do we look to for guidance in this matter?

There’s a lot to be learned from the people in the world who are going places, or in their time, did. I’m talking about the likes of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Richard Branson of Virgin, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, Marissa Mayer the CEO of Yahoo!, US polymath Benjamin Franklin, TV host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres, and Barack Obama.

Guidance you will find, but not consistency. According to this infograpic of sleep routines of the successful and influential, by Homearena, the amount of sleep per night can vary from five to eight hours. Does that mean light bulbs and the internet affect some of these people, but not others? I doubt it. Instead, I’m beginning to think it’s different strokes for different folks.

Go your own way

Forget the studies, the headlines, the trending topics on social media, because it seems to me that sleeping patterns are individual to each of us. If medieval segmented sleep works for you, go for it. Likewise eight hours straight. Or four hours. All things remaining equal, do what is right for you, if you can. It’s time to stop to talking about sleep, I think, so we can all get some sleep.

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Wealth and orange goggles, a better night’s sleep is guaranteed

Friday, 17 April, 2015

There are many ways to enjoy a good night’s sleep, but a couple of new thoughts have come to light. First up, if you’re rich, well off, and generally not short of a dollar, you’ll probably sleep well.

Or, if you wear orange tinted goggles for a couple of hours before turning in, especially if you watch movies on your laptop, or use your smartphone a lot later in the evening, then it seems you also will have a good night’s rest. Yes, that’s right, orange coloured glasses:

Most evenings, before watching late-night comedy or reading emails on his phone, Matt Nicoletti puts on a pair of orange-colored glasses that he bought for $8 off the Internet. “My girlfriend thinks I look ridiculous in them,” he said. But Mr. Nicoletti, a 30-year-old hospitality consultant in Denver, insists that the glasses, which can block certain wavelengths of light emitted by electronic screens, make it easier to sleep.

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Sleeplessness, great for writers and creatives at least

Monday, 17 November, 2014

It’s no secret, it would seem, that sleeping for a straight eight hours each night, is not what we’re wired to do. Indeed in ages passed, it was the norm to slumber for a few hours, get up, do something, anything, in the middle of the night, and then snooze again another couple of hours.

If nothing else, it’s a routine that might suit the writers, and creatives, among us, says Scottish author Karen Emslie:

And, even though I am a happy person, if I lie in the dark my thoughts veer towards worry. I have found it better to get up than to lie in bed teetering on the edge of nocturnal lunacy. If I write in these small hours, black thoughts become clear and colourful. They form themselves into words and sentences, hook one to the next – like elephants walking trunk to tail. My brain works differently at this time of night; I can only write, I cannot edit. I can only add, I cannot take away. I need my day-brain for finesse. I will work for several hours and then go back to bed.

And what threw out this once innate sleep pattern? The advent of artificial lighting of course. Followed later by the internet and smartphones of course.

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Even when I sleep I can still be productive

Monday, 22 September, 2014

If you have a full diary, or an overly busy schedule, news that you might be able to do a thing or two while sleeping could be music to your ears

The researchers then lulled the participants to sleep, putting them in a dark room in a reclining chair. Researchers watched them fall into the state between light sleep and the deeper sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). They were then told a new list of words. This time, their hands didn’t move, but their brains showed the same sorting activity as before. “In a way, what’s going on is that the rule they learn and practice still is getting applied,” Tristan Bekinschtein, one of the authors of the study, told Shots. The human brain continued, when triggered, to respond even through sleep.

It sounds like what we might be able to do while asleep is pretty limited – actually it’s incredible that anything at all is possible – so I wouldn’t go expecting to achieve all that much.

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Geniuses usually sleep eight hours, unless the world worries them

Wednesday, 16 July, 2014

The sleeping habits of geniuses… twenty-seven of them to be precise. I was hoping to find something that I might be able to take advantage of, and it looks pretty straightforward, seven to eight hours sleep seems to be the norm among smart people.

Then again no fewer than one hundred and fifty items, problems in the world and the like, may also be keeping the same people awake at night.

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Sleep paralysis as a portal to out-of-body travel? Not sure of that…

Monday, 7 July, 2014

I’m not sure I’d regard the sleep paralysis experience as being a “portal to out-of-body travel and lucid dreams”, unless that’s how you see the sensation of having what feels like an elephant sitting on while you lie, unable to move a muscle, in what seems like a wind tunnel, a dark wind tunnel at that.

The experience can be terrifying. Trapped in your paralysed body, you might sense the presence of a malevolent intruder in the room or a pressure on your chest, squeezing the breath out of your lungs. Hallucinations can jangle the senses: there are ominous voices, supernatural entities, strange lights. You feel as if you are being touched or dragged, bed covers seem to be snatched from you, and you are helpless to grab them back.

Then again, what is actually happening quickly becomes apparent, so as disconcerting as a sleep paralysis episode is, the knowledge that it will be relatively short lived is reassuring. So why not view it as positively as possible…

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Telling yourself you slept is a placebo for no sleep, it seems

Monday, 3 February, 2014

Convincing yourself you had a full night’s sleep, when possibly you barely slept a wink, is akin to enjoying said night’s full and relaxing sleep, or so says some research into the topic:

A great victory was won here for lies, over truth. This study shows that if you’re in the mindset that you’re well-rested, your brain will perform better, regardless of the actual quality of your sleep. Conversely, constantly talking about how tired you are, as so often happens in our culture, might be detrimental to your performance.

I absolutely would not go for any of this if you need to drive somewhere, especially a long distance, though.

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Delete your alarm clock with a steady sleep routine

Tuesday, 26 November, 2013

You could dispense with an alarm clock, were you to go to sleep around the same time each night, every day, and wake up at the same hour the next day. Such a routine allows for the optimisation of a protein called PER, that regulates sleep, largely ensuring you wake at the same time every day.

If you follow a diligent sleep routine – waking up the same time every day – your body learns to increase your PER levels in time for your alarm. About an hour before you’re supposed to wake up, PER levels rise (along with your body temperature and blood pressure). To prepare for the stress of waking, your body releases a cocktail of stress hormones, like cortisol. Gradually, your sleep becomes lighter and lighter.

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