Ten facts you need to know about sleep
- Sleep requirements vary with age
- Every night we cycle through 4 stages of sleep
- The most common sleep problem is insomnia
- The best sleeping position is on your side
- A key cause of disturbed sleep is atopic dermatitis (eczema)
- What you eat can affect your sleep
- Snoring is more than just a minor annoyance
- Quality sleep is vital to good health
- Beauty sleep is a real thing
- Sleep apps can help you wake up feeling more refreshed
All about sleep
Sleep is a word we use to describe an altered state of conscious typically experienced during the night. Far from being an inactive state, it is a time of repair and restoration affecting all of the body’s functions from healing to hormones. A lack of sleep, sleep disorders or poor quality sleep are bad for your wellbeing and long-term health. Here’s a mix-and-match selection of facts about this mysterious state of being.
1. Sleep requirements depend on your age
How many hours’ sleep do I need a night?
If you’re an adult, you may well aim for 8 hours’ sleep a night. As it turns out, that widely-held belief is not far off the mark. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours’ sleep a night for adults aged 18 to 64.
Summary table of sleep requirements at every age (Average Sleep Needs by Age) :
Newborn to 3 months old >>> 14 - 17 hrs
4 to 11 months old >>> 12 - 15 hrs
1 to 2 years old >>> 11 - 14 hrs
3 to 5 years old >>> 10 - 13 hrs
6 to 13 years old >>> 9 - 11 hrs
14 to 17 years old >>> 8 - 10 hrs
Young adults (18 to 25 years old) >>> 7 - 9 hrs
Adults (26 to 64 years old) >>> 7 - 9 hrs
Older adults (65+) >>> 7 - 8 hrs
2. Every night we cycle through 4 stages of sleep
What are the stages and cycles of sleep?
Sleep is divided into REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM cycles. REM is defined by characteristic, err, rapid eye movements (behind closed lids of course).
- Non-REM Stage 1: This is a 1-10-minute phase of very light sleep, where you are easily rousable and might not even think you’d been asleep.
- Non-REM Stage 2: This is a 20-minute phase of sleep where “real” sleep kicks in and you are not so easily woken up. Your heart rate slows down and your body temperature drops. We spend 45% of total sleep duration in this stage of sleep.
- Non-REM Stage 3: After about 45 minutes, you are now deeply enough asleep to be oblivious to noises and other disturbances (up to a certain point!). Brain scans show a slowing and enlargement of our brain waves. If somebody does manage to wake you up, you are likely to feel confused and disoriented. This stage is also known as “slow-wave sleep” and “Delta sleep.”
- REM Stage 4: REM sleep is the final stage of the sleep cycle. This is a phase lasts ten minutes to an hour and has some curious features. Not only do your eyes flit about, your heart and breathing rates also increase and your brain waves look pretty much like you’re awake. This is the stage of the sleep cycle where the most intense dreams take place. To stop you from acting them out, your muscles are paralyzed during this stage.
3. Insomnia: The most common sleep disorder
Affecting 30% of adults
Insomnia or sleeplessness is far and away the commonest sleep disorder, affecting 30% of adults**. It is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as desired and can be short-term, lasting days to weeks, or longer-term, lasting for a month or longer.
Medical causes of insomnia
Sometimes insomnia has no identifiable cause, but in some cases it is down to underlying conditions such as stress, chronic pain, heart problems, thyroid problems, heartburn or restless leg syndrome (yes, it means your legs won’t stop moving!)***
Lifestyle causes of insomnia
Sleeplessness can be attributed to the way we live in many cases. This is known as poor “sleep hygiene.” That means not sticking to a constant bedtime and wake-up time, not exercising, not being exposed to sunlight and using blue light-emitting screens before bed. Shift work is also terrible for your sleep rhythm.
The first-line treatment of insomnia is good sleep hygiene, which means doing the opposite of everything described in the item above! This can be backed up by cognitive behavioural therapy to change the way you think about sleep. Sleeping pills are addictive, making them a short-term solution only.
4. What is the best sleeping position?
Sleeping on your side is often recommended
There are many and varied ways of sleeping. Some opt for the “starfish” with their limbs outstretched, some for the “soldier” lying flat on their backs with their arms by their sides, while many others still prefer the classic curled up foetal position. For most people, it doesn’t really matter what position you sleep in - the important thing is how comfortable you feel.
However, in certain situations, one sleeping position may be preferable over another and many physiotherapists recommend sleeping on your side. If you have back pain, sleeping on your stomach or back may aggravate the problem by keeping your back rigid. In such cases, it is a good idea to switch to side sleeping to allow your back to regain its natural curvature. Side sleeping is also beneficial in obstructive sleep apnoea and can offer relief in cases of acid reflux. It even reduces the chance of snoring!
The one downside? If you always sleep on the same side, you risk more pronounced wrinkles on that side due to the prolonged creasing of the skin. It is said that your dermatologist can tell what side you sleep on just by looking at you!
5. Atopic dermatitis causes disturbed sleep
What is the link between eczema and sleep problems?
With work related stress, digital devices a-go-go and caffeine overload, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep at the best of times. But in the case of atopic dermatitis (eczema), there’s an obvious impediment to sleep: the dreaded itch-scratch cycle. 90% of eczema sufferers suffer from pruritus (itching) and 90% complain of sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that children spend no less than 1/4 of the night scratching and the net loss is a full hour of sleep each night****.
What can I do about eczema and sleep problems?
A recent study has shown that a simple eczema-prone skincare routine can significantly reduce itching for a more restful sleep. Simply use LIPIKAR Syndet AP+ in place of soap or shower gel whenever you bathe or shower, and follow up with LIPIKAR Baume AP+ after each shower or bath, remembering to always apply it in the evening before bed. Result? 2x less scratching, a better night’s rest and a better quality of life the next day.
For more information on the symptoms of and treatments for atopic dermatitis, click HERE.
And to learn more about sleep issues for children with eczema try HERE.
6. What you eat can affect your sleep
What should I eat or avoid eating to improve my sleep quality?
For years, doctors and patients alike have suspected that what you eat affects how well you sleep. Well, a recent study has proven the link*****. In the experiment, doctors compared the sleep quality of patients who were free to eat whatever they chose, versus patients on a diet controlled by a nutritionist. The results are very interesting for anyone with sleep issues: Greater fibre intake was associated with more time spent in “deep” or slow wave sleep. By contrast, higher saturated fat consumption was associated with less slow wave sleep. Sugar turned out to be another sleep nasty: Patients with greater sugar intake w
oke up more times during the night. The findings of the study are clear: For optimised night-time rest, you are best to eat a diet that is high in fibre, low in saturated fat and low in sugar. Both your waistline and your dark circles might just thank you for it!
7. Snoring is more than just a minor annoyance
What are the health effects of snoring?
We’ve all been there. You’re tucked up in bed, snuggled in your favourite sleeping position, ready to drift off to a pleasant night’s rest, when you suffer the rudest of awakenings… Your partner is suddenly making the most curious of sounds… he/she is a SNORER! Snoring is a sound ranging from a soft purr to borderline pneumatic drill levels that’s caused by the vibration of respiratory structures due to obstructed airflow while sleeping. Snoring can cause sleep deprivation to both the snorer and those around them, resulting in daytime sleepiness, irritability and concentration difficulties. Beyond these everyday complaints, snoring can seriously compromise your marriage! Research has shown that marital relations significantly improve after the surgical correction of snoring.
Though superficially comic, snoring is no laughing matter. In the long term, it can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke and it can also be a harbinger of the major sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea.
So, how can you stop the snoring? Sadly, there are no magic pills to help with this affliction. Doctors often recommend lifestyle changes such as weight loss, stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on your side (see? we told you it was the best position!). In some cases, orthopaedic pillows and dental appliances can be useful, while in severe cases a form of mechanical ventilation called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or even surgery may be recommended.
8. Quality sleep is vital to good health
Why does sleep matter for my health?
Quality sleep is not a luxury. It is as vital to good health as nutrition and exercise. During sleep, both the body and brain are restored and detoxified. Reactive oxygen species (those famous “free radicals”) are flushed out of the brain at a faster rate while we snooze than when we are awake. Sleep has a genuine detoxifying effect on the body due to a reduction in metabolic rate, allowing repairing and restorative processes to take over. Since sleep helps heal, repair and detoxify body and brain, it’s no surprise that the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation can be severe. It has been associated with impaired immune system, type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Many sleep-deprived individuals also suffer with depression. If you regularly wake up feeling less than refreshed, consider discussing the issue with your doctor to look at ways of optimising your sleep.
Want more info about why lack of sleep is bad for your health? Click HERE.
9. Beauty sleep is a real thing
Can sleep cure my dark circles?
Do you have black or purple raccoon rings around your eyes? Under-eye puffiness to rival a perfectly cooked soufflé? A general hollow and unhealthy look? You might not be getting the sleep your body needs! Your mother probably told you she needed her “beauty sleep” at one time or another, and she wasn’t wrong. Sleep has been shown to affect attractiveness. Researchers have shown that sleep-deprived individuals are perceived as less attractive and less healthy compared with people who’d had a good night’s rest******. Interestingly, this study also found that people said they’d be less keen to socialize with the poor sleep-deprived guinea pigs. The researchers hypothesize that this may be an evolutionary function to avoid contact with people suffering from contagious diseases. So there you have it. Not only is sleep loss bad for your health, it’s bad for your tinder-appeal too! If dark circles are a major concern, consider investing in an expert dermatological treatment product such as Hyalu B5 Eyes. It won’t replace a good night’s rest, but at least your dark circles will be less noticeable!
10. Can a sleep app help?
Or is counting sheep just as useful?
In the digital age, people love to self-diagnose and self-monitor using technology such as smartphone apps. For sleep, the “Sleep Cycle” app is one of the most popular. Sleep Cycle uses an accelerometer to detect your bodily movements. The idea is to wake you up when you are in light sleep (when you move more) rather than interrupting precious slow-wave or REM sleep. Many people swear by these apps, and we say “whatever works!”
However, it should be kept in mind that these apps cannot be compared with the way in which scientists monitor sleep in the laboratory using polysomnography.
Polysomnography or sleep studies monitor brain waves, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rhythm, respiratory airflow and pulse oximetry (a measurement of how much oxygen there is in your blood). Each of these measurements involves the use of specialist equipment that goes beyond your smartphone’s capabilities. In sum, sleep cycle apps can help you avoid waking up too groggy but they are nowhere near as advanced as a proper sleep study in the laboratory. The bottom line? If you think you might have a sleep disorder, discuss it with your doctor. If you just want to do a little something to optimize your sleep, give one of the apps a whirl!
Are your kids keeping you up at night? Get some tips from a children’s sleep doctor HERE.
Click HERE for more info on why quality sleep is so important for your health.
For more information on eczema and sleep problems in children, click HERE.
* Source: National Sleep Foundation
** Roth, T. (2007). "Insomnia: Definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences". Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 3 (5 Suppl): S7–10. PMC 1978319
*** "What Causes Insomnia?". NHLBI. December 13, 2011.
**** Disease severity, scratching, and sleep quality in patients with atopic dermatitis, Bruce G Bender,
***** Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD et al. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
****** Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people. Axelsson et al. BMJ