It’s been tagged as the most amazing remedy—sleep. Scientific findings tell you it helps you live longer and boosts your immune system. It puts you in a great mood, reduces your risk of everything from heart disease to diabetes—and it’s completely free.
It has no side-effects and is available to everyone. “Taking steps to get a better night’s sleep could be the most important decision you would ever make,” says an expert, “Maybe you live with a world champion snorer or a sheet huger; perhaps you toss and turn until the wee hours. Now is the time to get things sorted out because recent research has found that the right amount of sleep can have an enormous effect on your long-term health—not just on how you feel the next morning.”
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According to a sleep expert, Dr Neil Stanley: “A good night’s sleep every night is just as important as diet and exercise. If you get a poor diet every day, that has long-term consequences. Exactly the same is true of sleep, but these days we know that it’s not just a matter of getting eight hours sleep. Avoiding health risks is about getting the right amount of sleep for you. Having less sleep than you need—or more—is the problem.
Back in the 1990s, a team of American researchers studied the sleep patterns of 459 female subjects aged between 50 and 81. Then they tracked them down 14 years later to see how many of them were still in good health. They found out that those who slept for five to six and a half hours a night had the best survival rate. Those who had less than five hours sleep or more than six and a half hours had the worst. The lesson? Too little sleep won’t increase your life’s span—but neither will too much.
The expert advises it’s time to throw out everything you thought you knew about sleep— that you need eight hours every single night just to function; that those who need more sleep are lazy or boring; and that sticking a lavender bag under your pillow or listening to a CD of whale sounds will somehow magically give you a solid 12 hours of sleep from now on, you could make the biggest and best lifestyle change ever—and all you need to do is lie still and relax.
You don’t need eight hours:
Worried because you’re not getting the amount of sleep your mum insisted on? Don’t panic, says Dr Stanley. “The media says everyone needs eight hours, but that’s just not true. The amount of sleep people require varies a great deal—it can be from three to 11 hours, though most of us find that we need seven to eight hours. If you’re a three-hours-a night person, and you believe the hype and try to get eight, you’ll be spending five hours a night trying to have something you’re never going to get.
So how do you work out the amount of sleep that’s right for you? “Scientifically,” says Dr Stanley: it is very complex to work out your actual biological sleep need. But there’s a simple technique—do you feel awake during the day? If you do, you’re getting enough sleep. If you don’t, you’re not,” Dr Stanley then tries to punch holes in some sleep myths:
Bin the lavender and ditch the chamomile:
We all know the standard advice for getting a good night’s sleep—Milky hot drinks, herbal preparations such as chamomile tea, lavender pillows, and getting rid of the TV in the bedroom. But Dr Stanley says there’s only one thing that will work being relaxed in mind and body. And how you achieve that state is up to you. “I hate the taste of chamomile,” he says, “I don’t like the smell of lavender, and listening to relaxing whale music just make me laugh, I’ve heard people eating bananas late at night because they’re supposed to help you sleep, or that a milky drink helps you. Well, milk, bananas, turkey and bread, all contain tryptophan, a chemical that helps your body produce melatonin, a hormone that tells your body it is night time.
But there is no evidence whatsoever that eating a small amount of tryptophan will help you sleep. The value of making a milky drink is that it’s a wind-down ritual—nobody ever did the vacuuming while boiling up some milk. You need to find your own ritual that helps you and nothing should be off-limits. If having the TV on when you go to sleep helps you, that’s fine.”
Sleep is sexy—” Let’s face it,” says Stanley. “In today’s 24-hour society, sleeping is not regarded as a valuable way to spend your time. Margaret Thatcher famously only got four hours a night—and this is somehow good? There’s no implication that getting a good night’s sleep is a desirable, sexy thing. It’s negative. I personally need nine and a half hours’ sleep, I go to bed at nine every night and get up at half-past six.
If you stand up and say that in front of an audience, they look at you as though you’re a friendless boring person. But if you say you eat your five a day or do your 10,000 steps, they all applaud and say, ‘Well done!’ We need to change the way we think about sleep, it’s been scientifically proved that getting the right amount of sleep won’t just make you feel better —it’s great for your skin and can even help you diet successfully.”
Be a selfish sleeper:
Fed up with your snoring partner? You’re not alone. A new survey discovered that one in four couples sleep in separate beds because one of them has an ‘unbearable’ night-time habit—and snoring was top on the list. Another problem which affected six out of 10 couples, was hugging the duvet, followed by restlessness. According to Dr Stanley: “A standard double bed is 135cm wide. A standard child’s single bed is 90cm wide, so each of you sharing a double bed has nine inches less to sleep in than a child has! And when you’re both snoring and dreaming and hogging the duvet, no wonder you’re not sleeping well.
Of course, some people like the feeling of safety and security that co-sleeping brings. But separate beds or bedrooms shouldn’t be off-limits as a discussion. A lot of people say they ‘Banish’ their partners to the back bedroom. Well, my wife and I don’t sleep together—she has her own bedroom. But she’s not ‘banished.’ That’s where she goes to sleep. It’s perfectly possible to have your own sleeping space and still have your intimacy. But sleep is the most selfish thing you can do. You can’t share your sleep with anyone. So don’t be scared of sleeping separately.”
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