The difference an hour can make
How much difference can an hour really make when it comes to your overall quality of sleep? According to recent research outlined in BBC’s Trust me I’m a Doctor1, just 60 extra minutes of shut-eye could be crucial when it comes to your overall health and wellbeing, even influencing how your genes work and reducing your susceptibility to certain illnesses.
The study which was carried out by the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre examined two groups of participants over the course of two weeks, experimenting with their sleep patterns. In the first week, one group was asked to sleep for six and a half hours, the other seven and a half. After a week, the groups switched places and the results were observed.
It is fairly well documented that a lack of, or reduction in sleep, affects cognitive function and mental agility. However, after the week with less sleep, the blood tests also showed that some 500 genes were affected, going up and down, switching on and off.2
The genes they noticed being affected were linked with immune response, stress response, and inflammation. Furthermore, genes linked with diabetes and risk of cancer saw an increase in activity. This is pretty interesting considering that it is with just one hour less of sleep a night, plus six and half hours of sleep is considered the national average according to the Sleep Council!3
What this study tells us
So what does this study tell us? Well, to start with it demonstrates how even a supposedly small amount of missing sleep can still make an impact and that the majority of us who are only getting 6.5 hours a night may need to look at adjusting our sleep patterns!
Worryingly though, despite 6.5 hours still being the national average, the Sleep Council did add that it estimates that some 27% of the population were achieving even less sleep, at only 5-6 hours a night. This trend appears to be fairly new too as just eight years ago in 2010, this figure was only sitting at 7%. There may be many reasons for this decline, whether it is working longer hours, family commitments or social activities. People are cramming more and more into every waking day, with sleep now being considered a luxury.
No matter the reason for skimping on your sleep, it’s impossible to ignore that stress appears to be a common denominator amongst the sleep deprived, with many struggling to unwind at night. Yet despite this, not many people appear to be actively working towards improving their sleep patterns, which is a shame as there are plenty of small, simple steps you can take to get a better night’s sleep, as I shall discuss below!
My simple tips for getting a better nights rest
1 – Take the time to unwind - Some find reading a book in bed helps relax their mind and for others a hot bath works, or a cup of chamomile tea. Whatever your preferred method, taking the time to unwind in the hours leading up to bed can do wonders, reducing your stress levels and making it easier to nod off when you finally do hit the pillows.
2 – Don’t stock up on snacks - Do you find yourself craving something sweet and sugary right before bedtime? We’ve all been there and these types of cravings can be difficult to manage. What makes things worse is that sometimes even healthy foods can knock your sleep patterns astray which is why I’d recommend being very picky when it comes to what you’re munching on in the evenings. If you want to learn more about the type of snacks you can indulge in before bedtime, please check out my blog, ‘8 snacks you don’t have to avoid before bedtime.’
3 – Create a relaxing environment – Ideally, your bedroom should be a soothing, relaxing environment that fosters positive and calming emotions. Unfortunately, sometimes the place where you sleep can become a hectic space thanks to smartphones and work pressures. That’s why, if you absolutely have to work from home, I suggest avoiding this area and keep it as a restful environment reserved only for relaxing activities. If you must have your smartphone near you while you sleep, keep it on silent and switch it into ‘night mode’ to prevent any unwanted disruptions!
4 – Consider herbal helpers – When it comes to getting a good night of sleep most of us have, at some time, turned to conventional remedies such as sleeping pills to get some much needed rest. However, these types of remedies often come with a long list of side-effects and can easily leave you feeling drowsy and out of sorts the next day. That’s why, especially if stress has you tossing and turning, I’d recommend trying our Dormeasan sleep remedy. A combination of Valerian and Hops, this potent tincture works to calm your nervous system, taking the edge off any restlessness and allowing you to feel more relaxed and at ease, promoting a deep, restful sleep.
For more tips & advice on getting a better night’s sleep visit our Sleep hygiene tips page!
Originally published 17 October 2013 (updated on 9 October 2018)
1BBC 10.10.03; Trust Me, I’m a Doctor