A good night's sleep

June 17th, 2016 in Features

Three people stand together - Indra, Marilyn and Professor Jason Ellis

Home Group customers interview Professor Jason Ellis to find out more about sleep and its impact on our health.

Sleep… we all do it. But do you know what happens to us if we don’t get enough sleep at night? That’s what two of our customers, went to find out when they interviewed Professor Jason Ellis of the sleep centre, in Northumbria University.

Marilyn Bays and Indra Cooper are both Home Group customers and viewpoint members from the north east and north west. Indra runs a bipolar support group and is interested in the effects of sleep and the link to mental health. Marilyn runs an arthritis support group and dedicates a lot of time to supporting Home Group activities.

According to Jason, the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep we all get plays a very important role in our health and wellbeing. Jason, who began studying sleep and its affects after failing to get onto a history course, says it not just our physical state that is affected. Our mental capabilities can be affected also.

Jason began to research insomnia (not being able to sleep) while working at St Thomas’s Hospital, in London. He says that the days of going to bed and waking up the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed are long gone. With a third of the population suffering from insomnia in any given year, and more suffering other problems, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnoea etc., over half of the population have sleep problems at any one time. This is not including those that are sacrificing sleep due to family and work life, we have now become a 24 hour society.

Our bodies work on two systems to aid sleep (circadian and sleep/ wake homeostasis). Light can also play a large part in this. The lighter the room, the less we want to sleep and vice versa. We are also affected by the seasons too. We get a better quality of sleep in winter as it’s darker, although this can be hindered by people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There is no ideal amount of sleep that we can have, as we are all different. But, having too little or even too much sleep can have a major impact on our health. One of them being that sleep deprivation (not enough sleep) can lead to more accidents happening, especially whilst driving. It has also been linked to our immune system not being as good as it should be in fighting off illnesses, and can in fact contribute to some illnesses being made worse or even increase the risk of developing them.

Our memory can also be affected by our sleep too; it can be harder to retain the short term memory and access our long term memory if we are sleep deprived.

But it’s not just the amount of sleep that we get which is important, it’s also the quality of the sleep. With some medical conditions playing a part in reducing the quality of sleep or making it harder to sleep, it’s important to try our best to get the best night’s sleep that we can.

Over half the population have some sort of sleep problems. We’re sacrificing sleep to keep up with modern day society – from the internet, caffeine and demand on time.

Did you know?

Some foods contain an aminoacid called tryptophan which helps boost the sleep hormone melatonin. Foods that are rich in tryptophan include bananas, milk, oats, poultry, eggs, walnuts and tuna.

Improving your sleep

With many people now working shift patterns, sleep now is not just confined to night time hours. If you find that you are having to sleep during daylight hours, Jason says the best thing that you can do is to make the room as dark as possible and still go to bed. This will help the body to prepare to shut down and sleep.

If you fancy a ‘cat nap’ during the day, then go ahead. Jason states that these can be beneficial as long as you follow a few simple rules. Keep them under 30 minutes, so that the body doesn’t think that it is going into a full sleep cycle. This will reduce the groggy and horrible feeling we can sometimes get upon awakening. Also keep them earlier in the day time, before 4pm is ideal.

The three main rules for the bedroom to aid a good night’s sleep, according to Jason, are cool, dark and quiet. In addition to this Jason recommends that we should 'put the day to bed’ about an hour and a half before we go there. No work, or checking social media. We should try to relax before bed.

When buying a bed, try it out. Jason suggests lying on the bed in the store for a little while to see if it is right for you.

Other tips for a good night's sleep include:

  • Eat a healthy diet and avoid spicy food which may upset your tummy.
  • Draw curtains and make the room as dark (Use black out curtains/blinds) and quiet as possible. (Especially if you work shifts)
  • Use bedding and night clothes made from natural materials
  • Avoid eating anything 2 hours before going to bed
  • If you must snack eat kiwis and walnuts.
  • Ban animals from the bedroom!

About Professor Ellis - by Marilyn Bays

Professor Ellis has given talks on the subject of Sleep science (a topic he finds fascinating) all over the globe including UK, Europe, USA and Canada. His favourite experience was giving talks in Hong Kong then Guatemala and seeing his name in different languages. His worst experience was conducting a sleep exercise with a well known journalist for an interview who promptly broke all the rules in the book. It was amazing to visit the Sleep Centre and we were shown into the bedrooms and living areas (including a small kitchen) where his clients stay during the research period. There are two very comfortable bedrooms, one with no natural light at all and another very exposed to daylight conditions. Diet and lighting conditions all play a part in his research.

Marilyn said: "It was fascinating talking about the many ways we can help ourselves get a better night’s sleep Professor Ellis was a very down to earth yet funny and charming person. I really enjoyed meeting him and wish him all the best for the future."

Watch Indra and Marilyn interview Professor Ellis and their visit to the sleep centre at Northumbria University.