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Image / Editorial

The Perfect Night’s Sleep?

06th Oct 2014

We get the low down on a good night’s sleep

When it comes to sleeping, how much of it we need, how little we can survive on, it’s hard to know what’s right, what’s wrong or what to strive for. Whether you’ve been trying to structure a solid sleeping routine into your life, have found yourself struggling to stay asleep through the night or any other slumber related woes, we’re here to help. We’ve caught up with sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe, the woman to answer our most often asked questions.

Lucy, the one question people always ask – is there such a thing as the right amount of sleep to get?
Ultimately everyone is different but the average guideline suggests that most people require 7-9 hours sleep at night to function at their optimum level. Clearly there are exceptions, with some needing slightly less and some a bit more. I would encourage most adults to commit to 7 hours at night.

7 hours, gotcha. And will we really suffer if we fail to get a certain amount of sleep?
Absolutely, but the implications may not be obvious. Sleep supervises a wide variety of biological maintenance jobs, so if you are getting inadequate sleep then it will manifest in some shape. Obvious ones are reduced alertness and daytime drowsiness, lack of motivation and impaired concentration, but more seriously are the health implications in which sleep deprived people are more vulnerable to heart attack/disease, diabetes, obesity, to name but a few, and ultimately premature death.

Death! *Takes emergency nap* New parents get very stressed out about not getting enough sleep when babies come along, what do you say to reassure them?
Being sleep deprived is very much part of the new parenting journey, so I first would explain that I would expect new parents to be more tired than they have ever been, but also within that, self care. Trying to rest whenever possible, saying yes to offers of help and taking turns for night feeds if possible can all help in the tricky first few months of new life. I would suggest to new mums that a 5 hour consolidated stretch of sleep is significant to help us feel more rested and would promote early bedtimes and lie ins whenever possible. And, yes… it will pass and get easier soon.

Sound advice. What do you recommend as natural remedies for improved sleep?
A healthy diet and exercise regime in the day time and overall good sleep hygiene, such as a comfortable, cool, dark environment. A warm bath, gentle stretching exercises, relaxing book or music before bed. Camomile tea, certain foods such as wholewheat/grain, warm milk, honey, banana – all these things send the right messages to the brain to help ease us to sleep. Lavender (from the plant and not essence) in spray/drops can help also to gear the body into relax mode.

Right, we’ll stock up. What do you cite as the one reason people struggle to get a good night’s sleep?
Stress is probably the biggest cause of the tension with sleep. Once the stressor can be identified then some coping mechanisms can be established to help release the tension. Mindfulness or cognitive behavioural therapy can help. But layered with this I find many have inappropriate sleep practises such as the use of electronic media and gadgets, an overreliance on stimulants – coffee, cigarettes and alcohol – and this does not help us get restorative, quality sleep.

What do you reckon is essential in terms of getting a good night’s sleep?
The right environment, bed, mattress bedding. A clutterfree, sanctuary type bedroom. An electronic free zone at least 1 hour before bedtime. Avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, cigarettes and strenuous exercise 2-3 hours in advance of bedtime and caffeine from 2pm onwards. A consistent, pre sleep ritual that helps relax the body and mind and a commitment to prioritise your sleep health.

So true. Put the phone down! Is it true that an hour before midnight is worth four after?
Well something along those lines anyway. As adults our natural time to sleep is actually between 10-11pm and although that may be considered too early for some, that matches our biologically rhythm. Sleep that is in sync with the natural body clock tends to be of better quality and more restoring.

Is it better to go to bed early and rise early?
Regular sleep time is key. So I definitely advise early-ish bedtimes as they work well for our bodies, but if that is not possible then a regular 7.30am wake time can help to regulate the body clock for the day.

Are lie-ins bad for us?
It’s a good idea to try to pay off some sleep debt at weekends for example, especially if you have missed some vital sleep during the week. Missed sleep is essentially sleep lost forever, but we can pay back that debt with a lie in. The lie can become a challenge though if by sleeping in, your natural bedtime becomes dis-regulated and you find it hard to go to sleep at your typical time. In that instance I would encourage a deviation of no more that 30minutes on your regular wake/bed time.

30 minutes? We’ll take it. So can you have too much sleep?
It is not the general problem, with researchers believing that more than half the world’s population is sleep deprived. If you are concerned that you get lots of sleep and still don’t feel well rested, then perhaps a GP visit should be encouraged.

Do you put any faith in those sleep cycle apps that seek to wake you up at your lightest sleeping time?
I’m generally not supportive of gadgets for sleep, however, being woken at the right time can definitely help avoid grogginess in the morning, but typically I am not an advocate of electronics in the bedroom as they can definitely impair sleep quality.

Brilliant advice, we think you’ll agree!

Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See , t: 087 2683584 or e: [email protected]


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