Why eight hours sleep advice is nonsense

The Good Life Letter 

2nd November 2018

  • How this common problem is linked to poor brain function, heart disease and weight gain
  • Why eight hours sleep advice is nonsense
  • Try one of these practical tips tonight for a longer, better quality sleep
Here’s the thing about the clocks going back…

Nobody tells your dog, do they?

When a Labrador’s stomach says it’s 7am, it’s SEVEN AM, even if our stupid human clocks say it is 8am.

And you can take that from me – woken by Whiny McWhine face this morning, wanting his breakfast.

What about you? How do you fare with the change?

After all, the human body clock is just as tuned to the time of day as a dog’s is, it’s just that we can override it with a bit of logic.

For many of us, the clock change jogs our rhythms out of step.

And not just the time… it’s the lack of light.

“Hello darkness, my old friend,” as Simon & Garfunkel sang.

Being British, we haven’t much choice but to embrace it and face up to the tiredness in the morning, that struggle to stick your feet out of the duvet or the mad hammering of your snooze button.

So today I want to give you some practical advice (actually, a LOAD of advice) that might help you get your sleep patterns sorted out for this winter in a way that’ll give you the best health benefits and avoid the worst outcomes of poor sleep.

And make no mistake, this is important…

Are you at risk of one of these health problems?

Firstly, sleep is vital for better brain function. I know that’s obvious if you’ve tried to do a day’s work after only a few hours’ sleep, but it’s not just about ’being tired’.

In 2013, research by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), showed that during sleep your brain cleanses itself.

The ‘glymphatic system’ which lets fluids flow around your brain is at its most active when you’re asleep.  Your glial cells control the flow by shrinking or swelling. As you nap, they allow more fluids to wash through your brain, cleaning out toxins.

Secondly, poor sleep has serious knock on effects for your long-term health. Scientists at the University of Arizona found that if you have insomnia for over six years you have a 58% increased risk of death from heart and lung conditions plus a higher chance of diabetes, obesity, dementia and depression.

Thirdly, sleep is linked to weight gain. Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that sleep deprivation drives you to consume an extra 385 calories per day, roughly four and a half slices of bread.

Dr Gerda Pot from King’s College says: “The main cause of obesity is an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure and this study adds to accumulating evidence that sleep deprivation could contribute to this imbalance.”

Other research has shown that when you don’t get enough sleep, there’s a shift in your metabolic clock that upsets your natural rhythms.

This affects two hormones: Leptin – the one that makes you feel full; and Grehlin – the one that makes you feel hungry.

Your sleep-deprived body starts sending the wrong signals so you feel hungry when you should feel satisfied.
Okay, so that’s what’s at stake, but what’s the solution?

Why eight hours sleep advice is nonsense

Many people tell you to “get more sleep” as if it’s that simple.

For instance, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, says the key to wellbeing is to get eight hours every night and even wrote a book about it.

But how many of us get eight hours sleep?

Nick Littlehales, a top sleep expert and advisor to Manchester United and Arsenal’s football players says this about the 7-8 hour sleep theory, “Nobody gets it and nobody achieves it.”

For one thing, humans have not necessarily evolved to sleep all night.

Psychiatrist Gregg Jacobs says: "For most of evolution we slept a certain way. Waking up during the night is part of normal human physiology.”

Up until a few hundred years ago most of us had TWO sleeps. Before the widespread use of electric light, it was common for people to sleep more than once a day, with two shorter sleeps at night. People would get up after the first one, cook food and even socialise with neighbours.

Of course, in the modern world most of us don’t have the luxury of sleeping whenever we want. We have work, family and social commitments.

So here are some top tips to help you get the best out of your night’s sleep.

Eight natural ways to improve your sleep:

  • Cut out cured meats, potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines in the evening. These contain a stimulant called tyramine that is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

  • Keep your feet warm. According to a 1999 study in the journal Nature, the warmer your hands and feet, the quicker you get to sleep.

  • Rid yourself of the day’s worries. According to Michael Grandner from the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania, “Take some time in the evening to work through the day, make lists to do tomorrow and clear your mental desktop of the stuff that you still have to think about.” Once you’ve done that, then you are ready for bed.

  • Research at the University of Groningen has found that more exposure to light in the daytime may leads to less fragmented and deeper sleep at night. Get out as much you can, even if it’s just to step outside for ten minutes.

  • Keep some lavender in your room, burn lavender scent oils or have a hot bath that has lavender oil in it. Tiffany Field from the University of Miami has studied the effects of lavender and claims that it can "slow down heart rate, slow blood pressure and put you in a parasympathetic state, which is a relaxed state”.

  • Nick Littlehales says that your brain stays on alert as you sleep, a little like a highly trained solider, and it’s happier when your fighting arm is ready for action!  He suggests that the best way to sleep is by lying on your non-dominant side. In other words, if you’re right-handed then sleep on your left side. 

  • Littlehales also advises that rather than buy one of those £1000+ “last you a lifetime” things, you should spend £200-£300 but buy a new mattress more regularly. He also says you should go for a basic thin pillow that you replace regularly, rather than an orthopaedic neck brace-style pillow that physiotherapists often recommend. 

  • Consider an afternoon nap and then you won’t have such urgency to get a long night’s sleep. In 2014 Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, recommended between 30 and 90 minutes sleep in the afternoon for the best effect. Walsh even suggested that bosses should let staff take naps at work.

Finally, to help you get the best sleep possible, I’d recommend that you take a regular magnesium supplement to boost your serotonin production. This puts your body into a sleepy state the natural way. Here’s our recommended source: Magnesium

Try some, or all, of these and see what happens!

Yours, as always




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