All living things have circadian ( or body) clocks which are biochemical mechanisms that allow them to organize their sleep and waking across the 24-hour cycle of a day It’s been known for decades how light adjusts this rhythm through the release of Melatonin, our sleep hormone. Now using fruit flies, Scientists at the University of Michigan have discovered that we have nerve cells which detect changes in environmental temperature that are also involved in sleep regulation. Fruit flies in particular were selected as they have nerves that govern their circadian clocks which are very similar to those found in humans.
To study how the fruit fly neurons responded to external temperature, Swathi Swathi Yadlapalli and Chang Jiang developed an optical imaging and temperature control system that enabled them to take a snapshot of nerve activity in the circadian clock network of fruit flies when the flies are exposed to heat or cold stimulus.
Their research showed that circadian clock nerve cells use thermoreceptors to constantly monitor the temperature of their environment, with colder temperatures exciting sleep promoting nerves. They found that even mild changes in temperature have physiological effects on clock nerves that control sleep timing. Finding this in fruit flies suggest that the same nerves could provide a similar role in the humans.
Orie Shafer, principal investigator of the study commented that rather than our body temperature being a steady 98.6 degrees, it fluctuates through the day. “The circadian system produces a daily rhythm in temperature which is an important cue for when it’s time to go to sleep.”
As we get closer to bedtime our circadian clocks cool our internal body temperature, and as we move towards waking up these body clocks turn up the heat. This is regardless of the temperature of the room we’re sleeping in. But showing that circadian clock neurons in fruit flies use external temperature to trigger sleep suggests that some clock neurons in humans could be similarly sensitive.
“It looks like clock neurons are able to get the temperature information from external thermoreceptors, and that information is being used to time sleep in the fly in a way that’s fundamentally the same as it is in humans,” Shafer said. “As temperature drops, these neurons that promote sleep become excited, and that really entrains the sleep activity cycle to external temperature cycles. It’s precisely what happens to sleep in mammals when internal temperature drops.”
Snoring has just been in the news with National stop snoring week helping to promote the role of dentists in helping stop what is a significant sleep issue particularly amongst couples, and loud snoring in particular can be a sign of more serious health problems.
Snorers are in fact three times more likely to suffer health problems than none snorers. Part of this reason is that snorers tend to be overweight, with evening alcohol consumption a factor too as it relaxes the airways to much which then allows the vibration to occur which produces the snoring sound.
Of the estimated 15 million snorers (just over 40% of the population), 2/3rds are men, with snoring increasing the older we get. Snoring is hereditary, 70% or so runs in families, and is claimed to disrupt the sleep of 1/3rd of all couples. Of those who snore, the heavier you get the louder you snore with the sound also increased when you lie on your back.
Apart from disrupting your partner’s sleep, loud snoring can also indicate that your airways are being obstructed. This can result in lower intake of oxygen into your body which in turn can prevent you from getting into a deep sleep. For some this interruption of airflow can result in pauses of breathing call apnoeas. Most apnoea sufferers sleep through these incidents and are unaware of this affect apart from tending not to be fully refreshed by a full night’s sleep. With more severe cases this can result in disrupting sleep, with the inflicted person waking up on numerous occasions through the night with something called Obstructive Sleep Apnoea which needs to be checked by your GP as it can result in long term health issues.
Solutions for snoring are to lose weight, stop drinking at night, to stop smoking, and to lie on your side not your back. Nasal dilators can sometimes help, sprays too, and even mouth shields.For some to change their jaw alignment is needed, and using a mechanical solution such as a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) can help, hence dentists promoting stop snoring week.
However,If you are a loud snorer, check this out with your GP, as it could be a warning sign of a more serious health issue.
This year the clocks spring forward on Sunday 25th March at 1am. For parents with children, especially young ones, the challenges of getting them to bed early is difficult as our body clock is not designed to move a full hour in one go. Here are 5 simple tips on to get them smoothly adjusted to the new ‘summer’ time zone…
1. Split the hour into smaller steps
For babies and toddlers who aren’t at school, use 10-minute increments over 6 days, bringing the bed times and nap times forward by 10 minutes each day. The adjustment would start on the Sunday before (18th March this year) so by the time it gets to the ‘clocks change weekend’ your little ones have already adjusted to British Summer Time. If you miss this deadline and have less than six days, then change the steps accordingly splitting the hour down into even steps.
For Children at nursery school, who have to fit into a school schedule Monday to Friday, start the change on Thursday night, and bring the bedtimes forward by 20 minutes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so that on Sunday morning they are in sync with the new time zone.
For older children, adults and teenagers bring bedtime forward by ½ hour changes on Friday and Saturday night.
All these changes are designed to allow the family to wake up on the Sunday having had the full amount of sleep on Saturday night. This makes it easy and straightforward to get everyone to bed on time on Sunday night, waking up refreshed for the start of the new week on Monday morning.
2. Adjust all daily routines
On the days you move bedtimes forward, adjust all meal times, bath time and nap times by the same increment too.
3. Exercise – a natural sleeping pill
Exercise is proven to help us get to and stay asleep. Plan physical activity more than the norm on the days you are adjusting bedtimes, as it will make it easier to get children to bed earlier because their bodies will be naturally telling them they need more sleep.
Try to get children playing and exercising outside to get their daily dose of sunlight, which reinforces the distinction between day and night, strengthening the body clock.
4. Use light to help set the body clock
Light days and dark nights are the key to good sleep. Encourage an earlier bedtime by dimming lights in the evening and closing curtains a half-hour or an hour before bedtime to trigger to the brain that bedtime is coming. In the mornings, open the curtains, or even better black out blinds to make the bedroom as bright as possible straight away. Always make sure all technology, which emits blue light and keeps us awake, is stopped an hour and a half before bedtimes.
5. Explain what’s going on
If your child is old enough, fully explain what is going on and why you are staggering the changes, telling them ensures that they will wake up refreshed for school on Monday morning. If your child is younger try clocks with a sun and a moon and tell the child that they must stay in bed as long as the moon is out.
Remember, even if it all goes wrong your child will soon adjust to the new regime so there is no need to be overly concerned at any stage if things don’t fall into place straight away. I hope these tips help you and your children.
The annual adjustment to daylight saving time (sometimes referred to as Daylight Savings) often raises debate and confusion with when, how and even why the clocks need to change. Certainly, in the short term, our body clock is not able to make an hour adjustment in one go. I, therefore, recommend splitting the change into smaller steps to help us cope with the change and the loss of an hours sleep
So why do we have Daylight Savings Time, what is it, and where did it come from?
Daylight Savings forward or back?
In the UK, on the last Sunday in March, we change over to British Summer Time (BST). Here the clocks go forward 1 hour at 1 am, meaning that we have lighter evenings and darker mornings from then on. The clocks change back 1 hour to Greenwich Mean Time at 2 am on the last Sunday in October.
Are we gaining or losing an hour?
sleepingWhen the clocks go forward in March we lose an hours sleep. This is why we find it harder to deal with the change to BST than the change back in October when we gain an hours sleep overnight.
When was Daylight Saving Time first introduced?
The concept of daylight savings was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin as far back as 1784 when he was the American envoy to France. During this time, when he published his proverb ‘’early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’’. Franklin suggested that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight.
However, daylight saving time itself was first proposed by a New Zealander named George Hudson in 1895 and first introduced in the city of Orillia in Ontario in 1911-12. It was officially introduced into the UK in Summer Time Act 2016 following a campaign by a builder called William Willett, who happens to be Chris Martin of Coldplay’s Grandfather!
Why do we have Daylight Saving Time?
The benefits to the environment and economy are proven in terms of energy saving with the longer daylight hours reducing the need for electricity and consequently C02 emissions by around 220,000 tonnes, or about 25,000 cars a year.
In addition, a 2014 report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicating that children’s health benefited from longer evenings as they have more time to play outdoors.
With lighter evenings, studies in both the UK and USA have shown that there is a reduction in the number of road traffic accidents.
Studies have also shown that crime rates dip for a few days after clocks are changed for spring, as criminals have to readjust to the lighter evenings. Recent British Crime Surveys have shown that over half of criminal offenses take place when it is dark in the late afternoon or evening.
So there are lots of plusses for the change.
Why does Daylight Saving Time cause us a problem?
With our body clock geared to going to bed and rising at the same time every day an unnatural one-hour loss of sleep is a hard hit to take, both mentally and physically.
One effect is that we lose the ability to concentrate and focus the next day. Consequently, there is an increase in car accidents on the Monday following the change, with studies by the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University, showing that road traffic accidents increase slightly in the days after the clocks go forward.
The impact of the lost hour on our ability to concentrate is perhaps best demonstrated by the number of road accidents (RTA) recorded in the USA, the day after the clocks go forward. This particular Monday, after the hour of lost sleep, is, in fact, the second most dangerous day of the entire year to be out driving on the road. It comes only behind the Memorial Day weekend, when nearly half of the RTAs are alcohol-related, rather than due to driver fatigue.
The stock market also has a habit of falling when the clocks go forward, according to Investor Profit.com. The FTSE 100 has fallen 15 years out of the last 25, with an average loss of 0.77%.
In addition, daylight saving time has also been linked to heart attacks. In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2014, Amneet Sandhu of the University of Colorado reported a 25% increase in heart attack admissions at hospitals in Michigan from 2010 to 2013 on Monday after the clocks went forward in spring when compared with other Mondays throughout the year. Correspondingly there was a 21% decrease in heart attacks when we gain an hour in the autumn.
So is Daylight Savings good or bad?
If we can split the hour change into smaller steps and stagger it over 2 to 3 days for adults or longer for children we can reduce the impact of Daylight Saving Time on our body clock. This limits the short-term mental and physical problems it causes. Certainly, there are a good number of longer-term economic and social reasons as to why it still remains despite the short term issues it causes.
The annual change to British Summer comes this Sunday 25th March at 1am. Depriving us of an hour of sleep, most of us will turn up to work on the Monday morning after, tired, and groggy, not quite adjusted to the new earlier bed time and unable to function properly during the day.
This is because our circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that regulates our sleep-wake timing, is designed to stay in the same cycle, give or take a few minutes, each day and night, and can’t adjust a full hour in one go. In fact, for some it can even take days to recover.
The resulting tiredness caused when our body clocks are out of sync can have serious repercussions and the more sleep deprived we are, the worse we feel.
Another hour of lost sleep
The problem these days is that we are starting the weekend from a place of ‘sleep debt’ where we are waking up more days a week tired than not . Last year a poll by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed people in the UK slept an average of 6.8 hours, under-sleeping by about an hour a night.
This has a significant impact on our concentration, creativity, memory and focus. According to leading sleep researcher Matthew Walker: “Just 60 to 90 minutes of additional sleep boosts the learning capacity of the brain, significantly increasing memory retention of facts and preventing forgetting.”
The five step plan for easing into Daylight Savings.
Here is a simple five step plan, staggering your body clock adjustment, to make sure you can ease to the British Summer Time already sorted for the Clocks change, and ready for the new week on Monday.
1. Thursday preparation
Stop all caffeine on Thursday afternoon allowing you to set up a more relaxed start to Friday.
2. Friday Day
Go without caffeine all day. This will help make you tired earlier. Do some exercise, preferably more than normal, to make yourself extra tired. Get outside in the sunlight during the day too which helps strengthen your body clock.
3. Friday Evening
Go to bed ½ hour earlier than normal. If you aren’t feeling tired enough to do this, try using a herb called Valerian which is proven to help us nod off. Valerian comes in either T-Bag, Tincture, or capsule form and is taken about 30-45 minutes before your planned bedtime.
4. Saturday Day
You have now adjusted to a time zone which is ½ hour earlier than your norm and a ½ hour earlier than the rest of your friends. Adjust all your Saturday meals ½ hour earlier too. Take pro-biotics as they can aid sleep, or add them to your meals by eating natural Yoghurt. Exercise outdoors if you can, and stay off caffeine again, making your body more tired and your mind more relaxed.
5. Saturday Evening
Shift your bedtime another ½ hour earlier. This means you are now one whole hour forward. If you need to, use Valerian again to make yourself sleepier. In addition you could take a warm bath with Lavender in it about 45 minutes before retiring, or use Lavender drops on your pillow if you prefer.
On Sunday morning you will now wake up refreshed as you will be in the new time zone without losing any sleep. All your meal times will also naturally fall into place, and you have no need to worry about whether you can manage to get to bed on time Sunday night as you will already be perfectly in sync with British Summer Time. You can therefore start your working week fully recharged, mentally alert and raring to go.
I am often asked by my patients what type of mattress they should buy , or whether they should go for a soft medium of firm mattress. My advice is that as long as their spine is properly supported the choice of mattress is most often down to personal choice and how much is affordable.
Although there are literally thousands of different mattresses and mattress specifications in the market their basic construction can be simplified into 4 different types.
4 top tips when buying a mattress
Here is some information about what is in each type of mattress. Plus my top tips on what to consider and look out for when buying a mattress.
1) Coil Sprung Mattress
Coil sprung mattresses have interlinked springs and tend to be at the budget end of the sprung market.
Top Tips: Always make sure coil mattresses still have the basics like breathable covers, quality fillers and a guarantee. Hand tufted fillers are also a good sign that mattress quality has been maintained.
2) Pocket Sprung Mattress (or IPS)
Individual pocket sprung mattresses give you a more bespoke support. Variations in spring types are available, most are designed to reduce the impact of your partner’s movement. Non-turn sprung mattresses can be more convenient to take care of, especially when having to turn heavier mattresses.
Top Tips: Spring counts can vary from hundreds to thousands. Although, sometimes poorer quality springs will make up the higher spring counts to keep costs down. Only buy a mattress with a genuine guarantee of at least 5 years and from a company with a high independent rating. Also, make sure your mattress has quality fillers and strong handles to allow regular turning.
3) Foam or Memory Foam Mattress
These mattresses vary in price and quality, from simple foam slabs to intricate foam cubes that mould to the shape of your back. Key consideration here is heat loss, as basic memory foam holds heat and can overheat you at night.
Top Tip: Make sure your memory foam mattress allows temperature regulation. Outlast covers are one component to look for as they are regarded as one of the better heat regulators in the market.
4) Hybrid or Combo Mattress
Typically, hybrid mattresses are a combination of foam on top of pocket springs. Hybrid mattresses can vary in their component mix, with some feeling more like a traditional pocket sprung and others more like a foam. They can be made of foam, latex, individual springs, coils springs or any combination of these
Top Tip: You should try hybrid mattresses before you buy, due to their huge variation in ‘feel’.
I always advise trying a mattress before buying as the perfect mattress is subject to the person sleeping on it. I hope my simple guide will help you when you buy your new mattress.
Consistency and declutter. Two buzz words in the world of sleep. Good sleep hygiene starts with consistently waking up and going to sleep at the same time seven days a week, preferably without an alarm. This general rule is proven to give the best sleep.
Declutter your bedroom
Making your bedroom cool, quiet, dark and decluttered is part of ensuring a great night’s sleep. However, the decluttering should not just be for your room. Decluttering your mind and reducing stress are keys to your success.
Keeping your room clean, tidy and free from clutter can help create a calm, organised, relaxed bedroom in which to sleep in. A study from America’s National Sleep Federation (NSF) showed that 75% of people said they got a more comfortable night’s sleep when their sheets had a fresh scent.
Decluttering your mind, especially if you have been working late, is also a key part of getting to sleep easily. If you must work at night, don’t work in the bedroom. Instead, finish your work first, take a break or even do some meditation to settle your mind. Then leave everything outside your bedroom reinforcing to your brain that the bedroom is a space reserved for sleep (and sex) only.
Another simple trick is to write down your to-do list for the next day before you get into bed. So all of the things you are worried about getting done for the next day, or in a certain amount of time, are on paper. If you find your mind continuing to race once you are in bed, then put a pencil and paper next to the bed so you can get your thoughts out of your mind, rather than continuing to let your brain churn on and on.
If you can follow it through (preferably as a family or couple), the first rule of decluttering is to remove all technology from the bedroom. This means your mobile phone, tablet and even your TV too. Removing your mobile in particular takes away the temptation to use it past your normal bedtime or first thing when you wake up. If you do chose to keep your mobile as an alarm, then put it away from your bed so you can’t use the snooze function which can interfere with healthy sleep.
Address stress and money worries
For over half of us, money worries and stress are the main things that stop us from falling to sleep easily. In addition, a third of us also wake up in the middle of the night with something on our mind.* Exercising in the morning and taking breaks throughout your daywill release feel good endorphins, helping you reduce stress and get a better nights sleep.
Stress produces the flight or fight response in the body, raising our adrenalin levels, causing our muscles to tense and increasing our heart rate. At this point, our minds start to churn and our brain produces more beta waves which keep us awake and alert.
Declutter your mind
Learning to meditate is a great way to retrain your brain away from stressful, fear based thinking and also helps you to relax and get off to sleep more easily. Meditation is proven to have numerous health benefits, not least because it increases levels of the feel good endorphins and lowers the stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Meditation can be done before getting into the bedroom, or sitting in your bedroom before you get into bed (in order to reinforce the protocol/sleep habit that your bed is for sleeping in). Guided meditations with CDs and recordings are a great way to wind down.
New research suggests that poor quality sleep may be linked to Alzheimer’s. So the question is does lack of sleep contribute to Alzheimer’s disease?
Whilst our brain only accounts for 2% of body weight, it uses up 25% of the body’s energy and so produces a lot of waste material. What might be surprising is that the brain does not have any lymphatic vessels, which make up our body’s natural drainage system. Packed with nerve cells and blood vessels there is not enough room to fit in the lymphatic pipework. Instead, the brain cleverly uses the flow of Cerebral Spinal fluid, which bathes the nerves to remove toxins. It is whilst we sleep that the circulation and flow of this fluid increases. This removes the toxins from the brain and pushing them into the circulatory system away from the brain.
In fact, the brain’s drainage system is ten times more active in the night than the day. Therefore scientists are becoming more confident that one of the roles of sleep is to dispose of metabolic waste that accumulates whilst we are awake.
One of the toxins produced in the brain is Beta-Amyloid. This protein, when allowed to accumulate, can produce plaques, which aggregate around the brain’s nerve cells. It is these Beta-Amyloid plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
It is not clear whether a build-up of Amyloid protein is due to an overproduction, a lack of clearance or both. Yet, recent research shows that beta-amyloid concentration reduces during the periods when we are asleep and is highest when we are awake. This suggested that our sleep/wake cycle affect changes in beta-amyloid concentrations.
Also, it is well documented that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have higher levels of fragmented sleep than those who don’t have the disorder. However, the core question is, given evidence of sleep being associated with toxin elimination, is the link both ways? Does poor sleep lead to Alzheimer’s disease? Also, within the pathology of cause and effect, is it the plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, which disrupt sleep and cause the lack of sleep, which is promoting the development of Alzheimer’s plaques.
More research is needed before we can say that poor sleep influences AD pathology. However, it is not inconceivable that sleep duration and quality could be modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, early intervention to improve sleep and maintain healthy sleep in those exhibiting early signs of AD may help prevent or slow it’s development.
So, what should you be doing?
My Top 3 Tips
1) Focus on is to get the right amount of sleep, establish a healthy sleep routine and a good sleep habit
2) If you can’t get your full amount of sleep in one go, then sleep in 2 chunks of 4-ish hours and take naps in the day if you need to, as long as they aren’t the cause of you finding it hard to get off to sleep.
3) A healthy lifestyle including regular exercise, eating a Mediterranean diet and fish are other things, which can help reduce the risk of Dementia in general.
Christmas is almost here with lots of fun, food and family time. It often starts on Christmas Eve with slightly less sleep, with getting your little ones to sleep a little stressful due to the excitement of Santa coming.
Here are my ten tips
To help your children get the best possible sleep and to create the essential time you need on Christmas Eve
1) Agree on a plan for the whole family on Christmas Eve
This is especially important if there are unusual sleeping arrangements in terms of who is sleeping where and it what bed. Get a plan for the day and evening too. Make the morning active, to tire out your children and the latter part of the day more relaxing to prepare your children for bedtime. Set bed and wake times which everyone agrees with. Share the detail of the plan too in terms of where and when you are going.
2) Start Christmas Eve morning early
Lots of children naturally wake early on Christmas Eve as the run up to the big day and presents gets more and more exciting. If this happens go with the flow as an early rise on Christmas Eve helps to set everyone’s body clock to start early in preparation for Christmas day and will also give your children longer to tire themselves out during the day.
3) Make the morning active
Get in lots of exercise outside as this both burns off energy and provides a deeper and more refreshing night’s sleep. A long family walk is great and playing energetic sport even better.
4) No sweets after past late afternoon
A late sugar load on top of the excitement of the day will make it harder to get to sleep. Make sure relatives and friends who are visiting or being visited in the evening know not to offer treats late on too.
5) Have all the loud music and boisterous games in the afternoon
As then the evening can be calmer and more conducive to sleep.
6) Try to keep the stimuli low as bedtime approaches
Swap computer games and devices to board and card games at least one hour before bedtime.
7) Do a bedtime countdown
Give your children plenty of notice with 30, 20 and 10-minute warnings to the agreed bedtime.
8) If they’re overexcited allow extra time to get into bed
You might need to extend the time allowed for your nightly routine if your child is excited and can’t quieten down as easily as normal.
9) Allow extra time to wind down
Ideally, you would stick with your usual bedtime routine, i.e. bath, brush teeth and story. But, if you think it’s going to take them longer to get to sleep, get them into bed ½ hour earlier to allow for the additional excitement. If you are away, try to make the bedtime routine as familiar as possible – and bring toys, books, Moshi Twilight app and even bedding and their favourite pillow to make your child feel secure and ‘at home’.
10) Give them a positive association with sleep beyond Christmas!
Many children struggle when parents leave the room. A friend who was dealing with this issue has recently pointed me to Moshi Twilight sleep stories. The app cleverly combines sleep stories with relaxing music and soundscapes to aid your child to drift off to sleep. The audio has been carefully designed to slow down in rhythm to naturally induce sleep. After you have gone through your normal bedtime routine and your child is tucked up in bed, you can turn down the lights, play the Christmas sleep story and quietly leave the room. To get your routine set for the night of Christmas Eve start playing Moshi Twilight stories a few nights before Christmas Eve so Santa’s arrival is not the only thing they are looking forward to.
I hope these tips help your little ones fall asleep this Christmas Eve.
With this festive season read my tips to help you through the party season here.
Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year. I’ll be returning with new blog posts in 2018.