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Why Ministers Must Take Care About Advising The Public On How Much Sleep People Need


By David Saunders, Health Editor

It has been announced that British ministers are planning to issue guidance on how much sleep people should be getting every night, as a way of improving public health. This follows a leaked draft of plans The Times saw, stating that up to 3 in 4 adults do not regularly get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

Firstbeat, leaders in lifestyle tracking technology, say there is much more to consider than just the amount of hours spent asleep:

“Just having a little as one unit of alcohol in your system at bedtime can delay the onset of restorative sleep by around one hour. For most people this is a 1:1 relationship, so for every unit of alcohol there’ll be one hour of delay. So, having two large glasses of wine (approximately 6 units) late in the evening and sleeping for six hours means you may not get any restorative sleep, and therefore won’t recover overnight.” says Nigel Stockill, Performance Director at Firstbeat.

He continues: “Obviously the length of sleep is very important, but in addition to this, we should be paying close attention to the quality of sleep. The body needs to be able to repair, recover and restore from the day’s work, so six hours good quality sleep, spent in recovery mode, is perhaps better than 8 hours of poor quality, non-restorative sleep.

Our data consistently shows that those who drink alcohol at night and survive on caffeine by day recover less in their sleep, less during the day, and spend more time in the ‘stressed’ zone during the working hours.”

Alcohol is just one example of a factor that can severely affect the body’s ability to restore and recover overnight. Simply exercising too late into the evening can also affect your body’s ability to recover.

Tiina Hoffman, Exercise Physiologist and Master Trainer for Firstbeat says: “If you want to maximize your odds of getting good-quality sleep, you should limit high intensity exercise in the evenings as this gets your heart rate too high to allow your body to fully recover and relax enough to sleep straight away. Your sympathetic nervous system will still be working, secreting adrenaline into the body which will prevent your sleep from being restorative. The effects of this can last anywhere between two and four hours.”

Ultimately it is not just the amount of sleep that is crucial to recovering from daily stress, but the lifestyle choices that people make that can have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing.

Tiina’s top tips on getting the best quality sleep are:

  • Try and stick to a regular pre-bed routine (a nutritious meal, yoga/gentle walk, reading a book)

  • Avoid alcohol in the evening as this affects your body’s ability to recover

  • Avoid using your phone for at least half an hour before you want to sleep, and ensure you use ‘night-shift’ mode to turn the screen from blue to yellow

  • Try to avoid action films or aggressive TV and blaring music, as these will raise adrenaline levels and heart rate

  • Minimise caffeine in the afternoon or evening

  • Avoid high-intensity exercise late in the evenings, as this type of exercise elevates your heart rate for up to 4 hours after you finish.

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