You asked and our scientific advisor Professor Gaby Badre has answered. Originally intended as an Instagram Q&A we wanted to do your questions and Professor Badre’s answers justice by giving you the in depth answers on all your sleep concerns!
As always if you have a longstanding sleep problem or experience disrupted sleep at least three nights a week over three months (ruling out a life crisis...) we would urge you to speak with your doctor, to ensure there is no underlying problem. For more information on chronic sleep disorders - or to assess your own sleep - visit NHS.
Professor Badre MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Neuroscientist & Medical Doctor, is a Swedish expert in sleep medicine and a clinical neurophysiology specialist in chronobiological disorders.
What is the ideal amount of sleep?
The usual recommendation is 7 to 8 hours sleep per night. However, the amount of sleep needed is partly genetically programmed, hence there are short sleepers (e.g. 6 hours) and long sleepers (e.g. 9 hours).
Sleeping six hours a night would be enough, and be even closer to the way of life of some of our ancestors. Sleep studies of people living in so-called "primitive" societies with activities based on hunting and gathering (i.e ín Africa and South America) has shown that the average sleep time per night is 6.4 hours, much less than the eight to nine hours recommended today. Even in the modern societies many groups do not sleep so many hours during the night (nuns, monks, farmers…) while some people in special situations (e.g. solitary navigators) learn to sleep in multiple fragmented bouts.
An important point is not the number of hours of sleep during the night but during the 24 hours. However it is essential to have at least 5 hours of continuous sleep during the night completed with regular naps during – or spontaneous short sleep bouts during the day.
How do I stop waking up early?
Try some of the tips for staying asleep through the night but for some of us - and on some nights - it’s simply not possible to have an 8hr sleep, try to aim for one long phase of continuous sleep (4-5 hrs) to cover your need for deep sleep - and then build short naps into your day to complete your sleep needs. Remember also that some people are genetically programmed to be 'short' or 'long' sleepers.
Is sleeping in the daytime a good thing if you can sneak a nap in?
Yes, taking a nap to make up for lost sleep at night is a good way of ensuring that you get enough sleep in a 24hr window. Ideally a nap will last for either 20 or 90 minutes, that helps to ensure you don’t wake in the middle of a sleep cycle which can leave you feeling tired and groggy. A short nap, if any, should not be taken later than 6 hours prior to bedtime.
Is there anything that may help with nasal congestion at night?
- Avoid lying flat, elevating the head of the bed or use extra pillows can help drain mucus.
- Water is the best natural remedy. Drinking water helps to loosen the mucus and unclog the nostrils (drawback: may increase the need to urinate). Nasal irrigation with a saline rinse (found also as spray in the pharmacies) may be beneficial. Hot water may also provide some relief, e.g. by placing hot water compresses on the nose – or expose to hot steam (inhaling). Humidify the air in the bedroom with a cool mist humidifier. Try an OTC decongestant. Some reports improvements after using essential oils (e.g. containing menthol, eucalyptus, camphor…)
- Stop smoking and avoid alcohol a few hours prior to bedtime – even caffeine; these may have a dehydrating effect, increasing the risk of thickening the mucus. Pets and plants in the bedroom can also be the source of allergy.
- When the congestion is identified your doctor may recommend appropriate treatment, e.g. septum “adjustment”, antihistamines (allergies), steroids, anti-acid against heartburn or some non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug.
What are the chances of a pillow spray/ fragrance working on a chronic insomniac?
Aromatherapy has been used since immemorial times even to promote sleep. Scientific studies have shown that specific fragrances or mixtures are indeed beneficial in helping to induce sleep. However the impact may be individual, not active alike on everybody; it is also important to test various mixtures in order to find the appropriate one – effective but not allergen or developing nose congestion. The amount of spray should be neither too much (irritating) not too little (ineffective)
I have insomnia is there a certain routine you would recommend?
There are different types of insomnia: difficulties in falling asleep, maintaining sleep or early awakenings sometimes, even a combination of all three conditions. Regarding difficulties in maintaining sleep it is also important to consider whether awakenings occur early after falling asleep or after more than 2 hours of sleep, identify any possible trigger mechanism (e.g. needs to go to the loo, restless legs…) and observe how difficult is it to fall again asleep.
Furthermore it is important to establish whether this “insomnia” is transitory, occurring irregularly or chronic, at least 3 or 4 nights a week for more than 3 months.
It is also essential to rule out any comorbidity, thyroid disorder or other health disorder
Last but not least see whether this sleep disorder is associated to daytime, fatigue, impairment of attention, irritation, dysphoria etc...
Thus there are different “therapeutic” approaches for each of these conditions. Hence try to recognize the type and modality of your “insomnia”. Regarding difficulties in falling asleep see the answer to “CQ”. Follow the general recommendations for a good sleep (see “how can I sleep through the night”) If your “insomnia” is chronic, impede on your daytime activities, consult a sleep specialist. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective, alone or associated to some mild medicine. CBT can be delivered via web-based solutions.
I suffer with depression, what can I do to help my sleep in a natural way?
There is an “interplay” between sleep and depression, each affecting the other. Hence at bedtime it is essential to “reduce” the depressive pressure and increase the sleep pressure. Keep a regular time in bed. Avoid thinking of current difficulties or trying to solve problems, learn to de-dramatize the situations. In the evening watch some pleasant movies or read some short novels and while in bed try to “replay” or imagine scenarios based on the plots. It is essential to avoid stressing (“I MUST do this and that to relax...”) (increasing arousals and hence hampering sleepiness).
Increase sleep pressure by avoiding napping during the day and dozing in front of the television and try, during a short period, to maintain time in bed to not more than 6 or 6 ½ hours. (beware that sleep restriction can negatively impact depressive mood…)
Of course follow the usual recommendations (avoid stimulants, do not use your cell phone in bed etc…)
Try essential oils, heavy blankets, OTC sleeping helps… keep the sleeping pills for urgent situations and avoid using them in a chronic way.