How did you sleep last night?
How many times have you been asked this in Zoom or Teams meetings with colleagues over the past year? Throughout 2020, sleep was on most of our minds. The COVID-19 pandemic and the general anxiety and uncertainty it brought with it has kept most of us up at night struggling with sleep. However much sleep you have been getting, chances are that 2020 has impacted the quality of your sleep, regardless.
It’s no surprise that a 10,000-person survey at the tail-end of 2020, spanning ten countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, South Korea, Japan and Singapore, found that only 20% of people get enough sleep to "feel well-rested”.
More than ever, people are turning towards Google to search for articles on the art of slumber and how they can improve their rest between the sheets.
With that in mind, here is our take on the most Googled sleep questions!
How do I get to sleep? / How do I fall asleep?
The million-dollar question: how do we fall asleep?
A dark room, limited distractions, the right smells and the most comfortable bedding for you. Your bedroom should be your safe space; leave your stress at the door and concentrate on you. Temperature, lighting and noise should be controlled so that your bedroom environment helps you to fall (and stay) asleep.
Though we love our furry friends, if your pet sleeps in your bed with you and frequently disturbs your slumber, consider moving it to its own bed or somewhere more settled.
Make sure your bed suits you: too hard or too soft will disturb you, as will a bed that is too old or undersized.
Though it sounds easier said than done, try to relax before bed. Some soft music or gentle yoga will work wonders for your mind and body. And if you have something playing on your mind, write it down and plan a course of action for the following day. You will be much more equipped to deal with it the following day than you will by staying up late.
How do I get back to sleep?
If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to get water or use the restroom, make sure you keep the lights off if possible! We know this sounds a bit tricky but there’s an important reason for this: light is the most powerful cue in aligning your circadian rhythm to your environment.
Light exposure suppresses melatonin, so when it’s light outside, your brain tells you to stay alert. When the sun sets and melatonin production initiates, your body knows it’s time to sleep. So waking up in the night and turning on the light is akin to telling your body it’s time to focus.
If you really need to light your way to the kitchen or bathroom, try investing in a dim night light with a red bulb as they do not have the same negative effects on your health as white lights; you’ll find it easier to fall back asleep when you get into bed.
How much sleep do I need? / How much sleep is normal?
The National Sleep Foundation guidelines in the United States advise that healthy adults typically need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
Babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development. People over 65 need slightly less sleep and should aim to get between 7 and 8 hours per night.
Why can’t I sleep?
It’s difficult to identify an exact figure, and various sleep surveys and studies have yielded mixed results about the prevalence of insomnia among different sleeper groups.
Conservative estimates show that 10-30% of adults live with chronic insomnia. A number of other studies state this figure is closer to 50-60%. Chances are, you or someone you know has at some point experienced sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation can be caused by a number of different issues which have simple solutions like limiting light exposure and tech use an hour before bedtime, to more complicated mental and physical issues that require serious attention before you can solve your sleep issues.
The most common causes of insomnia include anxiety, stress and depression. Difficulty sleeping can also make the symptoms of these worse. Other issues can include medical conditions such as asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, and chronic pain.
Various medications can also interfere with sleep. Antidepressants, stimulants, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications and some contraceptives can cause sleep disruption.
How can I fall asleep fast? / How do I get to sleep quickly?
Often the desperation to fall asleep quickly has the opposite effect to the one we desire. It always seems to be the case that when we know we have to be up for something important in the morning, our brains refuse to shut off.
The most important step, in our opinion, is to set the perfect environment for sleep as mentioned earlier: a dark room, limited distractions, the right smells and the most comfortable bedding for you.
Although there is no silver bullet for falling asleep quickly, much has been made of the military method. The foundation of the military method is breathing and muscle relaxation.
The United States Navy Pre-Flight School created the military method to help pilots fall asleep in 2 minutes or less. It took pilots around 6 weeks of practice, but saw great success.
If you’re feeling comfortable and ready to give it a try, here’s how:
Step1: Relax your entire face, including the muscles inside your mouth.
Step 2: Drop your shoulders to release the tension/ Let your hands drop to the side of your body. Exhale, relaxing your chest.
Step 3: Relax your legs, thighs, and calves.
Step 4: Clear your mind for 10 seconds by imagining a relaxing scene.
Step 5: If this doesn’t work, try saying the words “don’t think” over and over for 10 seconds.
Let us know how you get on!
What is REM sleep?
You’ve probably heard of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep at some point. REM sleep is one of the 4 stages of sleep that your sleep cycles consist of.
During REM sleep we undergo a series of physiological changes including our eyes rapidly moving back and forth behind closed eyelids, our heart rate and blood pressure levels rising to nearly as high as when we’re awake, our brains consuming more oxygen and their activity increasing significantly. So what exactly is happening?
Most dreaming happens during this period of enhanced brain activity, and your brain is sending messages to your limbs to prevent them from acting out whatever you’re dreaming about.
Importantly, REM sleep is the time in which we commit new learnings to our long-term memory. For example, if you spent the entire day learning a new skill, like playing an instrument, a lack of REM sleep can prevent you from seeing the benefit of that practice and effort. There is also growing evidence linking deep REM sleep with delaying the onset of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's disease. So now you have even more reason to enjoy your dreams!