You aren’t getting enough sleep. That’s a pretty bold statement since we don’t exactly know you, but if you’re like most people — and we’re willing to bet you are — then you’re not getting the amount of rest you need.
The numbers alone do the talking: two-thirds of British adults suffer from disrupted sleep and nearly a third say they are suffering from insomnia.
It’s a problem that has been made worse by the impact of Covid-19, with lockdowns triggering sharp increases in anxiety-related sleeping problems, particularly in women.
Dramatic changes in routine, working from home, job losses, looking after children all day, social isolation, emotional disturbance, and significant amounts of stress — the pandemic has sent long-lasting shockwaves through our sleeping patterns.
The irony is that when it comes to Covid — the ultimate test of our immune strength and resilience — getting better sleep may very well save your life.
And more and more doctors are recommending sleep as a way to resist viral infections. It is one of the most influential regulators of your immune system.
The numbers alone do the talking: two-thirds of British adults suffer from disrupted sleep and nearly a third say they are suffering from insomnia (stock image)
The immune system is the original night-shift worker, clocking on as you drift off to sleep.
It takes advantage of your downtime to repair damaged cells, gain ground in the fight against disease or lingering infection, and manufacture and stockpile protective, infection-fighting molecules, namely cytokine antibodies.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system pretty much can’t do any of those things. That’s why people who don’t sleep long or well enough are more likely to get sick, including from viral infections such as Covid.
Last month a study found that for every extra hour of sleep, the odds of becoming infected with coronavirus decreased by 12 per cent.
Those who weren’t getting enough were more likely to get sick, and when they did, they were sicker and took longer to recover.
Sleep deprivation, which kicks in after even just one night of getting less than you need, affects every single one of your major organs, from your heart to your brain, and disrupts your immune system, too. It negatively influences how well you learn, how clearly you think, how gracefully you age, how well you fend off illness, your mood, your libido and your weight.
Sleep deprivation is a proven risk factor for Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression, anxiety, as well as obesity.
In fact, not getting enough rest can harm your very DNA, the blueprint from which everything in your body is made.
Researchers observed in sleep-deprived study participants that their DNA produced fewer ‘repair genes’ and more DNA ‘breaks’.
That means they had fewer genes that could correct potentially harmful mutations as cells in the body duplicate, and repair damage in the DNA.
Sleep really is a matter of life and death. In a 2007 study, British researchers revealed how sleep patterns affected their 10,000 subjects, whom they had observed over 20 years.
The results were clear — those who skimped on sleep nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes, particularly cardiovascular disease. And according to research published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, if you’re already dealing with chronic disease such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, or stroke, you’re at an even higher risk for cancer and early death if you’re not getting sufficient sleep.
But don’t worry.
That’s all about to change. Because you’re about to read a sleep-better guide perfectly tailored to you, your sleep, and your life.
To anyone who is walking around feeling like they’re living in a fog, like they’re moving at half speed, like they can’t shake their depression and anxiety and they may never get a good night’s sleep again, this series is for you.
It’s also for those who aren’t quite there but feel irritable, worn out, and worn down.
For a long time, the three big pillars of wellness have been diet, exercise, and stress. Important, yes, but not the whole picture.
In this series we will examine the role that sex can play in getting a good night’s sleep and why bed socks are often the most effective way to get the bedroom temperature just right (stock image)
Without adequate sleep, a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management aren’t enough to comprehensively transform or even maintain your health.
That’s because every single system of your body is regulated by your sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm, which is your body’s own 24-hour clock that synchronises your cardiovascular, muscular, digestive, immune, and reproductive systems. When sleep is off, so is every other function in your body.
If you’re trying to solve a health-related problem but are not addressing poor sleep, then you’re swimming against the tide.
One of us (Frank) works as a doctor combining modern medicine with ancient healing techniques so he has seen how better sleep leads to improvement in overall health.
This, combined with Neil’s passion for the emerging tools and technologies that help form new, better, habits, led to us combining forces to write this book.
Our mission? To get people in bed to get the rest they need.
In this series we’ll be walking you through each of the factors that may be throwing you out of rhythm, including when and what you eat, how and when you move, how you handle stress, and how you nap.
We will examine the role that sex can play in getting a good night’s sleep and why bed socks are often the most effective way to get the bedroom temperature just right.
Ultimately, this guide is yours to follow for the rest of your life. By developing and sticking to your own sleep protocol, you’ll be unlocking a long lifetime of dynamic energy, boundless creativity, resilient wellness and, of course, many sweet dreams.
DO YOU BATTLE WITH CONSTANT ‘JET LAG’?
Think about the last time you experienced jet lag — and how bad it made you feel. You get tired easily, feel sluggish, and struggle to concentrate or think clearly. Your body aches, you have trouble sleeping, and you may even have digestive troubles.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t only experienced after long-distance travel. Many of us feel as though we have jet lag all the time.
In our day-to-day lives, we get out of sync because we consistently give our bodies the wrong cues.
We pay more attention to the clocks on our phones than the clocks in our bodies, we eat the wrong foods at the wrong times and take rhythm-altering substances including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
We are stressed, we exercise either at the wrong times or not at all and fail to get enough natural light in the day — while getting too much artificial light at night time.
All of this adds up to disrupted sleep patterns.
Think about the last time you experienced jet lag. Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t only experienced after long-distance travel. Many of us feel as though we have jet lag all the time (stock image)
When sleep is off, so are the rest of your body’s functions. That’s why there’s more to getting the rest you need than simply going to bed earlier.
The path to a good night’s rest begins with this basic understanding: there are fundamental biological laws that are bigger than you.
These laws were written way back when our ancestors lived in caves and huts, woke with the sun, exerted themselves in spurts, ate what was growing seasonally, and rested as the sky grew dark.
Our lives may have changed, but our DNA has not. So when you don’t follow these laws, your body will become confused, dysfunctional, and ultimately sick.
These biological ‘rules’ are governed by your master clock — often referred to as your ‘sleep-wake cycle’.
All you need to know is that the master clock is an all-powerful internal gauge that coordinates your circadian rhythms. These are the physical, mental, and behavioural changes in your body that follow a daily cycle.
So the rhythms dictated by your master clock tell your body when to sleep, when to wake up, when to eat, when to exert.
The master clock is essentially a pacemaker for the body, co-ordinating all your systems on a continuous 24-hour loop.
To do this, it uses information from your environment in order to sync with it. And the primary piece of information it uses to do this? Light.
Your body was originally programmed to sleep when it is dark and to be awake it is light. Using information from light-detecting cells in your eyes — even when they’re closed — the master clock is constantly monitoring the duration and brightness of light, day and night.
Depending on this feedback, the master clock uses hormones and neuro-transmitters (chemical messengers) to cue rhythms throughout the body.
ARE YOUR BRAIN AND BODY OUT OF SYNC?
When your rhythm is not as it should be your entire body knows it. Every single system starts to suffer. Once your sleep is knocked off-kilter, it’s not only creating an out-of-rhythm effect on your body, it’s also an indication that something else in your body isn’t functioning properly — a cause and a symptom.
GOT THE MUNCHIES?
Not getting enough sleep is linked to weight gain.
In a University of Colorado study participants put on 2lb, on average, after just one week of sleeping five hours a night.
There are several reasons for this. Too little sleep causes a shift in your hormones, making you feel hungrier and craving fatty and sugary foods.
People who sleep less than six hours a night are nearly 30 per cent more likely to become obese than those having nine hours
It is also bad for gut health. The disruption to your microbiota, or ‘good’ bacteria, piles on pounds. And lack of sleep makes the pancreas release insulin, meaning more fat is stored. Feeling tired can stop you exercising, too.
This is why experts say people who sleep less than six hours a night are nearly 30 per cent more likely to become obese than those having nine hours.
As sleep dysfunction persists, the dysfunction in your body will only get worse, continuing the damaging cycle.
The brain is usually the first of your organs to speak up if you’re out of rhythm — it is why you feel foggy and sluggish after even just one crummy night’s sleep.
And that’s because the brain has a lot of important self-care to catch up on when you’ve shut down for the night.
It uses that time to forge pathways between nerve cells, helping you to retain information that you’ve come across that day.
Not getting sufficient sleep also decreases your coordination skills, while increasing your risk of accident and injury.
Some of the latest research has shown drivers who were sleeping even an hour less than they usually did had a far higher risk of being involved in a road traffic accident. The brain also has a nightly detox regime to attend to, which a lack of sleep can seriously hamper.
Just as your muscles generate lactic acid after a workout, the brain generates damaging proteins over the course of a long day metabolising all the articles you’ve read, emails you’ve written, and decisions you’ve made.
Sleep is meant to be the time when the brain can flush itself of those toxic metabolites, using its own cleansing mechanism called the glymphatic system to rid the brain of harmful proteins.
Without sufficient sleep, these proteins begin to accumulate in the brain.
And this leads to cognitive decline and possibly paves the way for Alzheimer’s, in addition to contributing to more (disease-causing) sleep disruption.
DO MOOD SWINGS BLIGHT YOUR LIFE?
People who are sleep deprived experience an increase in negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and a decrease in positive ones.
That’s because deep sleep is a powerful form of therapy that soothes and balances the brain and, as a result, our emotions. When we short-change that process, we feel the results.
It’s also not a coincidence that those suffering from insomnia are five times as likely to develop depression.
Sleep deprivation also leaves you more prone to mood swings and triggers mania in people with bipolar disorder. Researchers have also found sleep-deprived people feel lonelier and are more inclined to avoid close contact with others, similar to people with social anxiety.
WHY RISK OF HEART DISEASE CAN RISE . . .
The American Heart Association now recommends doctors to take a look at sleep in patients, in addition to other factors including diet, exercise, blood pressure, and blood sugar, as a primary indication of whether a patient is at risk of developing heart disease. That’s because insufficient and poor-quality sleep is linked to a higher likelihood of heart disease and major heart-disease factors like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Part of the body’s upkeep while we sleep includes production of white blood cells, which the immune system dispatches to fight infection and protect the body from foreign invaders. Because of these cells’ aggressive nature and how they battle these invaders, white blood cells are a big source of inflammation in the body. And when deployed more than necessary, they can do more harm than good.
As researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in the U.S. recently found, when we don’t get enough sleep, we lose control of inflammatory cell production, which leads to more inflammation. Sleep is also a natural blood-pressure medication, gently decreasing the inevitably elevated blood pressure you experience from a day’s worth of physical and emotional stressors.
Without a nightly reset, however, your blood pressure will steadily climb, putting you at risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.
. . . JUST AS YOUR LIBIDO WILL FALL
Less sleep means less testosterone in men and in women. That leads to less interest in sex, less pleasurable and frequent sex, erectile dysfunction, and significantly smaller testicles (in men who sleep five hours or less a night as compared with those who sleep eight or more).
Less sleep means less testosterone in men and in women. That leads to less interest in sex, less pleasurable and frequent sex and erectile dysfunction (stock image)
These same men tend to have the levels of testosterone similar to a man ten years older.
That’s because just a small period of bad sleep — even a week’s worth — is enough to age you a decade when it comes to production of the hormone testosterone.
PLUS, YOU’LL AGE MORE QUICKLY
It’s quite apt that the phrase ‘looking ‘tired’ is essentially code for appearing old: chronic sleep loss is speeding up your biological clock, and will show up on your face.
Lacklustre skin, fine lines, and dark circles under your eyes are all an unwelcome result of sleep deprivation.
When you don’t get enough rest, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps your skin supple and elastic.
Sleep loss also slows down the production of the human growth hormone (HGH), which fuels the natural tissue repair and rejuvenation process that the body would normally be undergoing while you slept.
Without it, there’s a decrease in muscle mass, your skin becomes thinner, and your bones weaker, thereby accelerating and exacerbating the ageing process.
TAKE THE BIG ZZZ QUIZ
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could be your body is telling you that something else is going on. The quiz, below, can be a helpful diagnostic tool. Use it to take a deeper look at your ailments to find what they have in common.
Your sleep may be out of sync and that can be a problem in its own right. But there are certain root causes that disrupt your daily rhythm and, as a consequence of this, your sleep. Understanding the nature of your particular imbalance (or imbalances — there are often more than one) will help direct you toward the most effective, beneficial changes in habit that we will be outlining over the coming days.
Go through each section, answer the questions, then tally the number of yes responses you have for each. Three or more yes answers in one section indicate this root cause is an issue for you. More than one culprit cause may apply to you. If that’s so, don’t get overwhelmed.
This quiz is not intended to give you a label or make you feel guilt or shame. Rather, it’s a tool to help you track down what’s disrupting your sleep. Try to see this insight as empowering instead of limiting. If more than one category does apply to you, take it slow — focus on the root cause for which you scored the highest, then gradually add more habits to address the remaining sleep problems.
1. Do you wake up in the middle of night and have trouble getting back to sleep again?
2. Do you have trouble falling asleep or lie in bed wishing that you could fall asleep?
3. Do you have difficulty switching off your thoughts before bed?
4. Do you often go to bed angry, anxious, or with unresolved arguments or deadlines?
5. Do you feel nervous, on-edge, or anxious during the day?
6. Do you feel restless and as though you can’t keep still?
7. Do you clench or grind your teeth at night?
8. Do you often feel like you’re not in control?
9. Do you use alcohol or nicotine to help you cope with uncomfortable feelings?
10. Do you often feel afraid that something terrible may happen?
1. Do your bedtime and/or wake times vary from day to day?
2. Do your meal times vary from one day to another?
3. Do you eat a meal or snacks within two hours of going to bed?
4. Do you try to ‘catch up’ on sleep at the weekends?
5. Do you often use electronics such as a television, computer, or smartphone within two hours of going to sleep?
6. Do you expose yourself to bright light in the middle of the night (looking at your phone, turning on the light to go to the bathroom)?
7. Are there still sources of artificial light in your bedroom even after you’ve turned out the light?
8. Do you exercise rigorously during the evening?
9. Do several hours pass before you’re exposed to natural light in the morning?
10. Do you spend the majority of your day under artificial light?
1. In your bedroom, do you have multiple electronic devices plugged in?
2. Do you sleep with your phone next to your bed?
3. Are there outside noises that you feel like you have to ‘tune out’ at night (bin lorry, neighbours, electrical appliances running)?
4. Does your bedroom tend to be on the warm side?
5. Do you sleep with the windows closed all year-round?
6. Do you wake up with a sore back or neck?
7. Do you wake up sweating at night from overly warm bedding?
8. Do you or your partner snore?
9. Do you sleep with a partner who has a different sleep schedule?
10. Do you have a pet who sleeps in your bed?
1. Is dinner typically your largest and heaviest meal of the day?
2. Do you eat foods that are made with sugar?
3. Do you drink caffeine after midday, or eat caffeine-containing foods such as chocolate, coffee-flavoured desserts, or fizzy drinks?
4. Do you drink alcohol more than three times a week or smoke regularly?
5. Do you tend to eat spicy foods at night?
6. Do you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn after eating a meal?
7. Do you often experience trapped wind and bloating soon after you have eaten?
8. Do you feel tired or get brain fog quite a lot after having a meal?
9. Do you have constipation or loose stools?
10. Do you take general medications, supplements or recreational drugs that could disrupt your sleep?
1. Are you in menopause, perimenopause, or andropause?
2. Have you been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PSOS)?
3. Are your periods irregular?
4. Do you experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?
5. Do you have problems sleeping in the week or so before a period?
6. Are you gaining weight around your middle?
7. Do you frequently feel irritable, anxious, or depressed?
8. Do you have low libido?
9. Do you often feel fatigued?
10. Do you often get brain fog?