We spoke to Kate Bridle, founder and lead sleep specialist of Sleep HQ, to get her insights into why sleep is so important and her tips for how to sleep better.
How we sleep directly affects our mental and physical health, in a similar way to exercise and a healthy diet. According to a study by Sealy, 77% of individuals do not sleep sufficiently on a weekly basis, which affects their waking life from their energy levels, to performance and productivity all the way to emotional balance and even weight. After one night’s lack of sleep, there is a 37% rise in stress hormone cortisol, which can make you feel more depressed and anxious.
So how can we all get better sleep? Indi McCullough, founder and CEO of luxury sleep products and wellness brand Shleep, believes that the secret to healthier sleep is wool. Surprised? We were too, but wool is thermal-regulating, breathable, hypoallergenic and can be extremely soft and supportive – all essential attributes for managing the sleep environment.
Sleep specialist Kate Bridle gives us the lowdown on sleep and the best tips on how to get the most out of your rest time:
Why do we need sleep?
“For a long time we have not known the definitive answer to this question, and we still don’t, however through research we have recently discovered some of the key reasons as to what happens when we sleep, here are some of the most fascinating ones:
- We only release Human Growth Hormone when we sleep, this is why babies need so much sleep, which they are growing so rapidly. As adults, we require it for physical repair of tissues.
- During sleep our brain is cleared of toxins that build up throughout the waking day. These toxins are associated with memory loss, and are found in high levels in dementia sufferers.
- We physically repair DNA during sleep, which helps to prevent the onset of disease and ageing.
- We process emotions through dreaming and regulate our emotional control centre in the brain.
- During sleep we commit new information to our memory, without sleep we simply cannot.
- It allows important hormone levels to be regulated, such as cortisol (our stress hormone), insulin (our sugar regulating hormone) and ghrelin (our hunger hormone). Without enough good quality sleep, the levels of these hormones become unregulated which can have highly detrimental health effects.”
How important is sleep for general health & wellbeing?
“Sleep is the foundation to all of our health pillars, without it, we cannot survive, and without enough of it, we cannot thrive. The complex biological processes that occur whilst we sleep maintain almost every process that occurs within the human body, both physically and mentally.”
What is the biggest misconception when it comes to sleep?
“That everybody needs 8 hours of sleep. For many people who try to strive for this ‘magical’ number which is often talked about, it is actually causing damage to their sleep quality. Many people are worrying about not being able to get a full 8 hours, and worrying about sleep leads to poor sleep.”
How many hours sleep a night do we need then?
“Many people need less, some people need more, 8 hours is an average. It is best to listen to your body and know what works for you. Quality of sleep and having sleep at a regular time, has been proven to be more important to our health than the quantity of sleep. If you wake each morning feeling refreshed and don’t struggle with sleepiness during the day, this is a sign that you are getting enough sleep. If however you are someone that hits the snooze button 3-4 times before finally dragging yourself out of bed, and struggle to keep your eyes open after lunch, these are clear signs that you are sleep deprived.”
What are your top tips for getting a good night’s sleep?
1. The most important one is to regulate your body clock by having a regular wake up time every day, including the weekends. Biologically, we function optimally when we have a routine and waking at the same time will ensure we feel sleepy at the same time each night and have the best sleep quality.
2. Getting plenty of bright light exposure in the morning helps us produce more Melatonin (our sleep hormone) at night. Waking up with natural sunlight or a dawn simulator alarm clock is a brilliant way to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle and boost sleep quality the following night. In addition, try to only use dim, warmer lights in the evenings.
3. Move more during the day. This doesn’t mean you have to find time to go to the gym every day, but taking stairs over the lift, walking wherever possible, and reducing the amount of time you spend sedentary is key for good sleep. When we exercise we build up a chemical called Adenosine in the brain, which helps with our sleep drive. Try to avoid intense exercise 2 hours before bed as the adrenaline can interfere with Melatonin.
4. Remove technology from the bedroom. This is a big one, and it takes some self-discipline, but having your phone or other technology in the bedroom means that our brain just doesn’t switch off as easily. We are surrounded by tech all day, let our bedroom be the one place where we can finally switch off and recharge.
5. Lastly, get used to wearing earplugs! As we cycle through light stages of sleep every 90 minutes or so, even the smallest noises will wake us, and sometimes we then struggle to get back to sleep quickly. By wearing earplugs we reduce these awakenings and our sleep quality is significantly improved as a result.
Discover more about the benefits of sleeping in wool in our interview with Shleep founder, Indi McCullough.