World Sleep Day dawns on March 15 with experts urging people to wake up to the problems that tiredness and technology can bring. PAUL ROBINSON REPORTS on what can be done to ensure sweet dreams.
Shut-eye. Forty winks. A kip, a nap, even hitting the hay.
Whatever you call it, we all need it – namely, a good night’s sleep.
And on March 14 the importance of spending plenty of time in the land of nod will be celebrated by World Sleep Day.
Taking place for the sixth year in a row, it is organised by the World Association of Sleep Medicine, which says its mission is to “advance sleep health worldwide”.
The association’s experts say 35 per cent of people feel they do not get enough sleep.
And the consequences of that could be further reaching than the occasional yawn and stretch at work the day after a restless night.
Researchers say that a lack of sleep can, in the short-term, affect a person’s attention span, memory recall and learning.
The longer-term effects are still being studied, but there are claims that sleep deprivation can lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and weakened immune systems.
So far, so alarming.
Yet it seems that many of us aren’t helping ourselves get the requisite eight hours with the lifestyles we lead.
One cause for concern with some experts is the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet computers.
That’s because more and more people are taking their beloved gadgets to bed with them to surf the web, check Facebook or indulge in some frenzied tweeting before their heads hit the pillow.
Leeds Metropolitan University’s Dr Caroline Horton, a senior lecturer in psychology who has researched the relationship between dreaming and memory, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Anecdotally we know that if you are multi-tasking throughout the day, it can be difficult to switch off.
“This is particularly the case if we are so busy we are stressed. Conversely some people might find it easier to switch off, because they are exhausted!
“There is a growing body of research, however, that demonstrates the problems associated with living in an increasingly technological world, and that concerns ‘blue light’.
“This colour of light, typically emitted from electronic screens, which we all know are increasingly portable, has been demonstrated to interfere with natural levels of [the hormone] melatonin, which help us drift off to sleep.
“Factor in the tendencies to take these devices to bed and perhaps watch TV or surf the net on them for an hour or two before sleeping, as well as being distracted by alerts telling us that a new message or tweet has arrived, and the result is a heavily disturbed sleep pattern.”
What, then, can we do to reduce the impact of the – sometimes self-induced – stresses and strains that modern life has on our night-time existence?
The people behind World Sleep Day have come up with a list of their ‘10 commandments’ for a near-perfect night’s sleep.
Fix a bedtime and an awakening time;
If you are in the habit of taking naps, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep;
Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion four hours before bedtime and do not smoke;
Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime;
Avoid heavy, spicy or sugary foods four hours before bedtime;
Exercise regularly, but not immediately before bed;
Use comfortable bedding;
Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated;
Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible;
Don’t use the bedroom as an office, workroom or recreation room.
One person who knows all about the benefits of sleep is David Page, sales and marketing director at Slumberdown.
Slumberdown is one of a number of brands operated by John Cotton, the Mirfield-based firm regarded as Europe’s leading manufacturer of pillows and duvets.
Mr Page said: “A key factor to a good night’s sleep is a comfortable sleeping environment with the right bedding. When choosing your bedding it’s important that you take into consideration the position you sleep in, how hot you are at night and whether you have any allergies, as this will ensure you choose the right pillow and duvet for the best night’s sleep.”
Unsurprisingly, helping customers enjoy a peaceful night’s slumber is also high on the agenda at Leeds’s Queens Hotel.
Ivar Van Diepen, general manager of the hotel, said: “World Sleep Day is a great way of highlighting the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.
“At The Queens we are passionate about ensuring our guests sleep most comfortably.
“Sleep is something we all crave, so we work hard to provide our guests with everything they need to ensure they get a good rest.”
Mr Van Diepen’s ‘must-dos’ include pegging the temperature in his hotel’s rooms just right and providing pillows that he promises are “some of the comfiest” in Leeds.
Last word, though, should perhaps go to Dr Horton, who is more aware than most of the value of sleep.
She said: “The best you can do for yourself in terms of mental health and physical health is to get your full complement of around eight hours. Sleeping for that length of time means your brain gets to go through all the stages it needs to – but it doesn’t when, say, you power nap off and on for a few minutes at a time.”
For more details about World Sleep Day, visit the www.worldsleepday.org website.