Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Nodding off? Top tips to a better night’s sleep

Professor Richard Wiseman. Photo credit Brian Fischbacher
New research described in Professor Richard Wiseman’s latest book Night School suggests that 59% of adults in Britain – over 28 million people – are now sleep deprived, getting only seven hours or less sleep each night.

This amount is below the recommended guidelines, and is associated with a range of problems, including an increased risk of weight gain, heart attacks, diabetes and cancer. Professor Wiseman’s research has revealed that one of the main causes of sleep deprivation is the use of a computer, smart phone or tablet in the two hours before going to bed.

A 2013 survey* revealed that 78% of respondents used such devices during this period before bed. This percentage increased among 18-24 years old with a remarkable 91% using electronic devices in the two hours before bedtime. It is believed that the blue light emitted from these devices suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. In addition to this, the research also found that the vast majority of people’s dreams are far from sweet, with only 10% of respondents describing their dreams as pleasant.

In response to his findings, Professor Wiseman has compiled ten science-based tips to a better night’s sleep:

1) Banish the blues: Avoid using computers, smartphones or tablets in the two hours before you head to bed. The blue light stimulates your brain and prevents you feel sleepy.

2) The list: Make a list of all of the things that you have to do the next day or that are playing on your mind. This helps prevent you lying in bed thinking about these issues.

3) Tire your brain: If you are struggling to sleep, make your brain tired by thinking of an animal for each letter of the alphabet (‘A’ is for ‘Ant’, ‘B’ is for ‘Bear’).

4) Move your bed: You have evolved to feel safe when you can spot danger early and have time to run away, and so will feel most relaxed when your bed faces the door and is furthest from it.

5) Reach for a banana: Eat a banana before you head to bed. They're rich in carbohydrates, and these help relax your body and brain.

6) Reverse psychology: Actively trying to stay awake actually makes you feel tired, so try keeping your eyes open and focus on not falling asleep.

7) Wear socks:If you have bad circulation, your feet will get cold and cause sleeplessness. To avoid the problem, wear a pair of warm socks to bed.

Professor Wiseman's Book: Night School
8) Avoid the lure of the nightcap: Although a small amount of alcohol puts you to sleep quicker, it also gives you a more disturbed night and disrupts dreaming.

9) The power of association: Ensure that the same piece of soporific music is quietly playing each time you fall asleep. Over time you'll come to associate the music with sleep, and so listening to it will help you to nod off.

10) Do a jigsaw: If you lie awake for more than twenty minutes, get up and do something non-stimulating for a few minutes, such as working on a jigsaw.

More information about Professor Wiseman’s research can be found in his book, Night School

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,149 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th - 20th February 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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