Pillow talk: How to sleep better and all the rest
Mr Sandman, bring me a dream
South Africans tend to have more early-morning body clocks than people from Holland, who show more owlish tendencies, says Dutch sleep researcher Rob Henst.
Henst was one of three experts talking at a seminar about improving sleep and its importance to your brain and body, on Wednesday night in Cape Town.
Sleep is critical to brain functioning, physical recovery and the prevention of chronic diseases like diabetes, said Dr Dale Rae, director of Sleep Science at the Sports Science Institute of SA in Newlands.
“Sleep is very important to the brain’s connectivity. It seems like the neural highways (we need to do tasks) get reinforced at night time. There is a mountain of evidence that shows reduced or disturbed sleep increase the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality,” said Rae.Both too-short sleep (under six hours) and too-long sleep (over 10 hours) increase this risk. “Sleep needs to be added into lifestyle modification to reduce disease,” she said.
Sleep is key to performance and world-class athletes recognise its value for recovery. South African cycling champion Nolan Hoffman sleeps eight to 10 hours. The good news is that every person’s “sleep sweet spot” varies, usually around the seven to nine hours recommended in adult guidelines. “My sleep need is different to your sleep need,” said Rae.
TIPS FROM THREE SLEEP SCIENTISTS
Dr Dale Rae: Bad habits can be broken and a healthy sleep routine can be learned.
Dr Paula Pienaar: A bedtime routine works miracles.
Rob Henst: Sleep is important to prevent chronic diseases and lose weight. Avoid staying awake for more than 16 hours at a time.
Henst’s analysis of questionnaires by some 60 participants indicated that most people at the seminar were under-slept, and more than two-thirds reported poor to “somewhat poor” quality sleep. Daytime sleepiness and napping, and catch-up sleep on weekends, are signs that people are sleep deprived.
Falling asleep instantly at night is another warning of sleep debt. Paula Pienaar, co-founder of Sleep Science, said there were two major ways to improve sleep habits and quality: lifestyle modification and making the bedroom a sanctuary for only sleep and intimacy.A common mistake people make is taking electronic devices to bed. “Don’t get into the habit of scrolling through devices before you fall asleep,” Pienaar said, noting that the blue light that screens emit (unless you set a night light or use an app) stimulates alertness. A bedtime routine with an hour of time to unwind and relax before going to sleep is needed.
“Maintain a regular bedtime and wake up time,” she urged. “The body loves routine.”
The list of what you can’t do gets longer the closer you get to bedtime: no caffeine and no nicotine five to six hours before going to sleep, a last meal three hour before bedtime, and ideally no strenuous exercise or work or studying one to two hours before hitting the sack.Pienaar pointed out that, like conventional cigarettes, “e-cigarettes are also off limits because they have nicotine” and alcohol was likely to impair your sleep quality even if it helped you drop off fast.
Henst’s snapshot of participants’ habits showed that they went to bed on average between 10pm and midnight. About one third of people at the seminar slept six to seven hours, about a third more than seven hours, and about a third less than six hours. Yet nobody there dozed off, despite the hour and the comfortable chairs...