Sleep deprivation lowers our stress threshold

23rd July 2014 by Rosie Gollancz

Sleep news Sleep science

Photo credit: bottled_void via flickr

Photo credit: bottled_void via flickr

Speaking in public can be pretty stressful… but imagine you’re told without warning that you have to give a presentation in the next few minutes, then halfway through your prep time, your pen and paper are taken away; then you have to present for a full five minutes you in front of a panel that give you no feedback or encouragement. As if that wasn’t bad enough, next is a mental arithmetic test. Just reading about it makes us feel a little panicky …

Anyway, this is something called the Trier Social Stress Test, a genuine lab test to induce stress. In a recent study, this test was used to investigate how being sleep deprived affects our stress reactivity. Out of 26 participants, 12 were given one night of sleep deprivation while the other 14 slept according to a 9-hour sleep opportunity. The next day, between 5 and 5.30pm, all participants took part in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST).

One of the elements measured by the TSST is our stress hormones, including cortisol, before and after the test. Both groups showed an increase in stress hormones. Furthermore, the sleep-deprived group showed greater cortisol levels prior to the test and in response to the stress test, compared with the well-rested control group.

So, when we’re sleep-deprived we’re more likely to get more stressed than our rested peers. Being in this ‘stress response’ can impact our judgement, the decisions we make and how we interact with others.

Increasing our time asleep potentially reduces food cravings

16th July 2014 by Rosie Gollancz

Sleep news Sleep science

Photo credit: TownePost Network via flickr

Photo credit: TownePost Network via flickr

Studies have shown a link between reduced sleep and weight gain. Most of us will recognise that ‘need’ for carbs and sugar to get us though the day after a poor night’s sleep. There’s on-going research to find out which mechanisms in the brain might be responsible for that but a recent study has tried to address the question from the opposite perspective: does increasing our time asleep reduce our desire for certain foods?

The small pilot study, published in the journal Appetite, recruited ten overweight males (who habitually slept less than 6.5 hours per night) and asked them to extend their time asleep to 8.5 hours per night over a two-week period. Data on morning appetite, sleepiness, sleep quality and timing, was collected before and during these two weeks.

The participants increased their total time asleep by approximately 1.5 hours. Maybe unsurprisingly, they reported feeling less sleepy and having more energy but, interestingly, they experienced less desire for sweet and salty foods and they tended to be more active during the daytime. There were no effects for other food types e.g. starchy foods or fruit and veg.

Now, this pilot study is very small and was conducted without a control on subjects who voluntarily changed their sleep pattern. However, we think it’s just the start of research into this area and something that could be of huge significance in helping us manage our health and wellbeing in the future.

Sleep fact or fiction? Does a Full Moon affect how we sleep?

9th July 2014 by Rosie Gollancz

Sleep news Sleep science

Photo credit: DVIDSHUB

Photo credit: DVIDSHUB

There are legends in every part of the world about the power of a Full Moon and what it can do – everything from increasing fertility to causing insanity. But what about the effect it has on our sleep? Lots of people say that they experience problems sleeping at the time of a Full Moon so, as there’s one this weekend in the UK, we’ve put it to our sleep experts: does a Full Moon affect how we sleep?

Over to Dr Simon Kyle for the answer …

There might very well be something called ‘lunar insomnia’. Past research has suggested that the full moon could disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and cause insomnia but well-controlled studies are sparse. One interesting – though speculative – possibility is that we possess an internal circa-lunar clock, which helps our physiology track the phases of the moon.

Three studies (here are the links to 1,2 and 3) in the past year have investigated the link between sleep and the lunar phase. Two studies analysed the sleep of participants who slept at different phases of the moon in the sleep laboratory, controlling light levels. Both found evidence for disrupted sleep continuity and/or architecture when the moon was at its fullest. However, a further study, assessing the largest number of laboratory sleep records to date, across the different lunar phases, found no evidence of altered sleep.

So sleep fact or sleep fiction?

The jury is out! Further prospectively designed studies, where participants are repeatedly assessed at different moon phases is required to definitely test this hypothesis!


Thank you, Dr Simon!

Tell us about your sleep myth and we’ll tell you whether it’s sleep fact or sleep fiction!

How can I stop waking up in the middle of the night

2nd July 2014 by Rosie Gollancz

How to sleep better

Photo credit: Courtney via flickr

Photo credit: Courtney via flickr

George Clooney (allegedly) has trouble sleeping – he struggles to fall asleep and then wakes up repeatedly in the night. Unfortunately we only know this because it’s on the internet rather than actually talking to the man himself. Still, we know that George is not the only one. The night can seem a very long and lonely time when we’re struggling to stay asleep. So what can we do to stop waking up in the middle of the night?

George has trouble falling asleep; once his head hits the pillow, with no distractions, the thoughts take over. More on the thoughts and the racing mind another time… But what does George do to combat this? He turns the TV on. Ah. It’s best to keep the TV turned off. Yes, it can help distract us but it can also stir the mind up. Also, we may doze off but then light and noise from the TV that’s still on can interfere with our sleep and wake us up during the night.

There are a few other lifestyle factors that may wake us up in the middle of the night. It’s good to cut down on alcohol. Although having a nightcap can help us fall asleep, it can disrupt our sleep later in the night and leave us feeling unrefreshed in the morning. Too much can definitely lead to a poor night’s sleep! And of course, it’s best to avoid caffeine in the afternoon.

If we’ve ruled out potential environmental and lifestyle factors that may be disrupting our sleep and we’re still not making it through the night, using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques can help. There has been lots of research done that shows that CBT can cut both the number of times we wake up – and how long we stay awake for in these periods. So there’s still hope for George and the rest of us!

A note of caution – repeated awakenings during the night may be associated with the sleep disorder sleep apnoea and problems waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep can be associated with stress and depression so please do check with your doctor.

How to love sleep: three habits of a good sleeper

26th June 2014 by Jo White

How to sleep better

Photo credit: owlpacino via flickr

Photo credit: owlpacino via flickr

There’s still so much we have to learn about sleep, but we already know it’s vital to our well-being and does amazing things like reset our brain and protect us from physical and mental health issues.

If you think about it, the signs are all there:

  • we spend about a third of our lives doing it
  • it is universal across all species, tightly regulated internally, and cannot be lost without serious harm, and
  • it’s up there with oxygen in terms of the fundamentals we need to live (yep, it’s more important than food)

Any one of those would be convincing on its own, but put them all together and it’s pretty clear that sleep is where it’s at.

And yet sleep seems to be something we fit in around everything else in our lives. How can we change that? Here are three habits of a good sleeper to help us love sleep:

Give sleep the love and attention it deserves

This is like the difference between popping the kettle on for instant noodles and taking a little bit of time to savour something delicious. You turn the laptop off, turn the light out and flop your head down on the pillow. That’s the sleep equivalent of instant noodles.

Build in some wind-down time before you go to bed. Do something relaxing that gradually gets you into the right frame of mind so that by the time your head comes to rest on the pillow, you’re ready to drift off.

And try the same thing  - but in reverse – in the morning. This isn’t about hitting the snooze button - that can just leave us feeling groggy. If you need an alarm, try one that wakes you up nice and slowly.

Make sleep something to be enjoyed and savoured.

Sleep-Me Time

Given what happens while we’re asleep, it’s easily the most important time of the day. But we see it more as an afterthought to the main event. At the risk of sounding cheesy, sleep is the best me-time we could give ourselves. Make your bedroom a place that you actually look forward to going. Sometimes, we delay going to sleep because it’s the time of the day we have for ourselves – work is done, the kids are in bed… Yes, you could slump in front of the TV or surf the net, but what’s that actually doing for you? If you’re tired, then maybe it’s time to go to bed. Some quality sleep will leave you feeling rested, refreshed and raring to go the next day!

Give sleep – and yourself –  a break

Everyone can have a poor night’s sleep once in a while.  Whether it’s down to a something specific or for no obvious reason. It’s just one night though. Sometimes that one night is all that’s needed to trigger sleep problems because it sets off a vicious cycle where the worry about not sleeping stops you from sleeping! So try and accept it and let that one night go. Don’t forget to make your bedroom sleep-friendly and a place that you actually want to be.And give the next night all the love it needs!

If you’re reading this thinking “I *do* love sleep… but it just doesn’t love me”, then have a look at some of our tips to help you sleep here

I can’t sleep. Should I stay in bed or get up?

23rd June 2014 by Jo White

How to sleep better

Photo credit: Kevin McGill via flickr

Photo credit: Kevin McGill via flickr

This is one of the most popular questions posed to our sleep experts. We all know the dilemma: we’ve woken up in the middle of the night and then struggle to fall back to sleep. Should I stay in bed or get up?

Sometimes it’s hard to even consider getting out of bed when we’re all snug under the duvet. It’s so much easier to think ‘If I stay here, I’ll drop off again’… and sometimes we do. But sometimes we don’t and we can find ourselves tossing and turning for hours. There are some approaches that suggest you just lie there until you fall asleep again, however long it may take. But for a lot of people that can make things worse. We find ourselves staring at the ceiling, getting more and more frustrated at not being able to sleep. Very quickly we can become trapped in a vicious cycle where we worry and stress about sleep. It’s much better to keep the connection between our bed and sleep positive; that way we not only associate bed with sleeping but it’s also a happy association! That’s why we follow the Quarter-of-an-Hour rule: if you’re in bed for quarter-of-an-hour and you’re not asleep (or having what we’ll delicately refer to here as ‘intimate relations’), it’s time to get out of bed.

We call it Quarter of an Hour instead of fifteen minutes because it not about watching the clock – it’s a general ‘rule of thumb’ if you like. Once that pleasant dozy fog clears and starts to become a clear-headed frustration at being awake, that’s usually the time to get out of bed. Instead of waiting for sleep to come to us, we can encourage it along by doing something relaxing – whether that’s reading or listening to music to give the mind something else to focus on rather than the fact that we’re not sleeping. Absorption in a task is an aspect of mindfulness and can help relax us. Repetitive activities are good too so something like knitting can be useful. And remember that bed/ sleep connection… it’s best to do these things somewhere other than bed so we keep that happy association between our bed and sleep. And it’s only when that sleepy-tired feeling sets in that it’s time to go back to bed.


Will the longest day of the year affect our sleep?

17th June 2014 by Jo White

How to sleep better

Photo credit: Gudny Olafsdottir

Photo credit: Gudny Olafsdottir

This weekend sees the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in the UK we’ll get over 16.5 hours of daylight (possibly even some sunshine too!) In the Arctic Circle, the sun won’t set at all. It’s all down to the tilt in the Earth’s axis. But will the longest day of the year affect our sleep? Does our sleep really change with the seasons? The answer is yes and it’s because of the link between daylight and our sleep/ wake cycle.

Exposure to daylight early in the morning can impact our internal biological clock, and so shift the timing of our sleep window. This means that everything gets shifted a little earlier. Under controlled experimental conditions, people actually tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier in summer. Although this urge to go to bed earlier may not always translate into reality when we’re out of experimental conditions and watching the World Cup!

The length of time we’re exposed to daylight also affects our sleep/wake cycle changes. One study compared sleep in Norway, where there’s a big seasonal variation in daylight hours, to Ghana, which is close to the equator and so has little variation. Sure enough in Norway, both bed and waking times were found to be earlier in summer, while insomnia, fatigue, and low mood were more prevalent in winter. These winter-summer seasonal differences were just not present in Ghana. Studies have shown that during the summer, we tend to reach core body temperature and the time when we produce melatonin (the hormone associated with sleep onset) earlier in the night compared to in the winter.

There are other environmental factors that can affect our sleep during summer, like the temperature and light levels in our bedroom. We still need to make our bedroom as sleep-friendly as possible, keeping the temperature around 18° and our bedroom nice and dark even if it’s warmer and lighter for longer outside!


One for the trophy cabinet: Best Health Start Up!

13th June 2014 by Jo White

Sleepio news

We’re used to being busy here at Sleepio HQ, but this week’s been something else!

We’re super-chuffed that our mothership, Big Health, won the award for Best Health Start Up at the Europas Awards on Tuesday evening. The photo above is of some of the team welcoming the new addition to our trophy cabinet!

And on Wednesday, our co-founder and CEO, Peter popped along to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister with some other tech entrepreneurs to celebrate the UK’s Entrepreneurial and Technology Communities. He even wore a tie! (We don’t have a picture to prove it, we do have independent witnesses though…) On the same day, our co-founder and Clinical & Scientific Director, Prof Colin Espie spent most of the sunny day in a darkened room – not because of the after-effects of any celebration (we actually haven’t celebrated yet!!), but because we were launching the Great British Sleep Survey with the University of Oxford so Colin was in a radio studio telling everyone about it! On Thursday, Colin was typing feverishly away as he did a QA session with Prof Russell Foster for the Guardian website all about the neuroscience of sleep. And today, Peter’s at Founders Forum London talking all about the impact of technology on healthcare. Meanwhile, business carries on as usual!

Phew. So, we’d like to thank everyone who has been part of our journey so far. We’re on a mission to change healthcare for the better and we’re hugely grateful for your support.


Tell us about your sleep in the Great British Sleep Survey

11th June 2014 by Jo White

Great British Sleep Survey Sleep news

Great British Sleep Survey

We’re very excited to be launching the Great British Sleep Survey today with the University of Oxford. We started the survey back in 2012. Over 21,300 people in Great Britain responded and helped give us a real insight into how the nation was sleeping. Now we’ve updated the questions and are looking for your help in making this the largest ever survey of its kind.

The questions are based on the most recent scientific research and look at your schedule, lifestyle, thoughts & emotions, and health & wellbeing before giving you your own personal Sleep Score. Back in 2012, the average Sleep Score across Great Britain was 5.1 – with women averaging a slightly lower score then men (5.0 to 5.5). Our respondents from Scotland had the highest Sleep Score on average and took the least amount of time to fall asleep  - dropping off within an average of 47 minutes. Birmingham residents took the longest time to drop off, taking almost an hour (58 minutes) – 20 minutes longer than those in Edinburgh. Low energy was found to be the most common daytime effect of poor sleep across the UK with two-thirds (66%) of respondents affected.

Launching the Great British Sleep Survey, Professor Russell Foster, Chair of Circadian Neuroscience and Head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, said: “Sleep is the single most important health behaviour we have. It affects everything from our day-to-day functioning to our long-term physical and mental health. We need to understand just how we’re sleeping as a nation so we can start helping people sleep better and so lead healthier lives. So I’d urge everyone to help us out by taking part in the Great British Sleep Survey.”

Professor Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford and lead researcher on the Great British Sleep Survey, added: “We’d like everyone in Great Britain to tell us how they’re sleeping. The last time this survey was conducted, over 21,000 people took part. This time, we want even more people to become involved with our research. The survey takes just five minutes and everyone who takes part will be helping us to better understand the nation’s sleep.”

We’re really looking forward to seeing how the nation’s sleeping. So, we hope you’ll take part by clicking here!




To nap or not to nap? That is the question.

5th June 2014 by Jo White

How to sleep better Insomnia Uncategorized

To nap or not to nap

Photo credit: Dimbledar

There’s something very appealing about taking a nap … a few moments to catch up on some sleep sounds like a lovely idea. But, if you’re a poor sleeper, does taking a nap affect how you sleep at night?

Well, the short answer is ‘yes.’ In general, it’s best to keep all your sleeping for night-time. Keeping to the rule that bed is for sleep, the night is for sleep and the day is for wakefulness really helps our sleep pattern. It builds up a strong homeostatic drive for sleep in bed and strengthens the bed-sleep connection. Light is hugely important for the timing of our body clock so sleeping in the daylight actually confuses us. We work best when our sleep is aligned with when it’s dark outside. If your sleep seeps into the daytime, it’s likely that being awake will seep into your night, and this will only make your sleep worse.

If you’re currently a napper, try stopping your naps. This should better prepare you for a continuous, longer sleep at night as well as strengthen the connection between your bed and sleep.

But, what if the urge to nap is just too strong? If you’re fighting to keep your eyes open, try going for a brisk walk. The fresh air and daylight will help boost your energy levels. Sometimes, just closing your eyes and resting your muscles for a few minutes can help – but catch yourself before you drop off!

If you feel that you absolutely must have a nap, or if you fall asleep without wanting to, then you have to make sure that you don’t have another type of sleep problem that is associated with excessive daytime sleepiness. If you do nap, make it 10-15 minutes at most. Then it shouldn’t affect your sleep too much.

So, if you sleep well, taking the occasional nap is fine but if you’re a poor sleeper, save your sleep until night-time!