Did you watch the BBC TV programme, The Truth About Sleep with Michael Mosley a few weeks ago? If you did, did you find it fascinating?
For once I didn’t find myself screaming at the TV like I normally do with programmes on diets and healthy eating where I disagree with most of what they say!
The programme bought up some interesting facts on our shut eye.
According to the British Sleep Council, 70% of us get less sleep than we actually need and apparently Britain is one of the most sleep deprived nations in the world, I guess after the USA. Our sleep has been falling by an average of 1-2 hours a night over the past 60 years with 40% of the UK population regularly getting less than 6 hours a night.
Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience from Oxford University says, “We are sleep walking into a sleep crisis“, read on and find out why.
How does this affect us?
Sleep deprived employees are costing the UK economy £40bn per annum due to poor productivity and sick days lost.
Why is this?
Partly due to our modern lifestyles which are not conducive to our natural sleep-wake cycle and our love affair of always being switched on 24/7. When interviewed, people mentioned the following things that disrupted their sleep:
- Busy brain
- Social media
- Sports too late at night
Getting a good night’s sleep is so important, and this is why I decided to shift my focus to sleep as being the number one thing you need to do to look after your health. I realised this is where so many people were going wrong, priority on getting a good night’s sleep has to come before healthy eating or fitness, yet it is so overlooked as being essential to health.
Deep sleep is where the magic happens, and it’s true, as Michael Mosley said, “It’s where the brain is laying down memories, it’s spring cleaned, as toxins and waste are flushed away and it’s also when the body is rested”.
The programme went on to explain how lack of sleep is extremely dangerous. Scientific research has proven there is a link between lack of sleep and the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes which can lead on to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
What causes this?
If you’re not getting the right amount of sleep which could either be too little or too much, the hormones linked to your appetite and satiety – ghrelin and leptin together with increased levels of cortisol can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes currently costs the NHS £14 billion per annum (8% of its annual budget) – that’s treating the disease and all the complications that go with it.
On the programme they did an experiment with six healthy volunteers and deprived them of sleep for a couple of nights to see what would happen to their blood sugar levels. The experiment took place over six nights. The first two nights they slept normally, then the second two nights they reduced their sleep by three hours and then the last two nights were recovery sleep – they slept for as long as they wanted to. All participants were wearing a monitor that would continuously read their glucose levels, together with sleep and activity trackers.
During the sleep restricted nights, the glucose levels of all the volunteers went crazy, proving that lack of sleep has a direct effect on blood sugar levels. Michael Mosley’s went into the pre-diabetic range. The volunteers complained of feeling hungry all the time, lethargic, tired, fed up, couldn’t concentrate and one participant ate 10 Custard Creams for breakfast!
Glass house living?
The programme then went on to focus on our internal body clock and looking into research being carried out by Oxford University in Denmark on a natural light extreme living concept, a house made out of glass. The theory is that our bodies are out of sync with our sleep clocks which means we are suffering from a permanent state of jet lag. The idea behind the glass house is to research how we use daylight to control our body clocks and pay more attention to early morning light.
Deadly micro sleeps behind the wheel
The next thing they explored were micro sleeps when driving, apparently 1 in 3 people admit to this happening to them. Every second someone falls asleep behind the wheel of their car resulting in 1 in 5 road accidents being causing by fatigue, 25% are either fatal or serious. We are continually reminded on the motorway to pull over if we feel tired. Most of us think we should either have a short nap or have a strong cup of coffee, research recommend we should do both. Drink a strong cup of coffee before your 20-minute nap, which you may think is counter intuitive, as it will stop you sleeping, but it apparently takes 20 minutes for the caffeine to reach the brain. Doing this will increase your reaction times, which means you will no longer be dangerous on the roads.
The final part of the programme looked at testing researched ‘cures for insomnia’ over four weeks on four volunteers including Michael Moseley. They were:
- Eating 2 kiwi fruit an hour before bedtime.
- Drinking a prebiotic powder which is dietary fibre which acts as a fertilizer in the gut for good bacteria.*
- A hot bath and then a cool down in a room heated to 17 degrees centigrade.
*Other good sources of dietary fibre are chickpeas (humous), lentils, butter beans and lima beans.
The participants all saw improvements in their sleep over the four-week period. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try them and see if they work for you, do let me know what you tried!
Michael Mosley’s top tips from the programme were:
- Keep your bedroom around 17 degrees centigrade to ensure a good night’s sleep.
- Keep electronic equipment out of the bedroom.
- Switch off your social media and email at least one hour before bedtime.
- Get out for a walk in the morning to catch the early morning light to reset your internal clock and wake you up.
- Your evening meal should be rich in dietary fibre.
- Cut down on alcohol as it disrupts your sleep, makes you snore and makes you want to get up to go to the loo.
Michael Mosley’s conclusion of the programme was, “Sleep is key to mood and mental alertness and more important to long term health than I ever imagined”.
The programme is available on BBC iPlayer until 16 June 2017, if you didn’t get to watch it.