24th October 2014
Photo credit: gnomonic
Early on Sunday morning, clocks across the UK will be rolled back an hour, marking the end of the summer’s Daylight Saving Time (DST). You can check your local clock change time and date here.
So should we be despairing at the darker winter mornings, or revelling in the extra hour in bed?
Why do we change the clocks?
The idea was first proposed in Britain in 1907 by a keen horse-rider, William Willett, who was incensed at the waste of useful daylight on summer mornings. The government finally introduced a Daylight Saving Time scheme in 1916, a few weeks after Germany. It was felt that any system that could save fuel and money during the First World War was worth a try.
What does it mean for our sleep?
The clock change means an abrupt shift in the external cues which help our internal body clock to maintain a 24-hour circadian rhythm track. These external time cues are called ‘zeitgebers’, and include light, temperature, exercise and food/drink intake.
It can take several days for our internal biological clock to re-synchronise with a new schedule, whether it’s a clock change or a timezone difference. For some people, this desynchrony leads to disrupted sleep, and feeling tired during the day.
A misalignment between external cues and our internal body clock can also have more serious consequences. For example, there is a spike in the risk of heart attacks spikes on Monday mornings. This is thought to be due to a combination of the stress of a new working week and sudden changes in our sleep-wake cycle. By studying the rates of heart attacks over four years, US researchers showed a 25% increase on the Monday following the shift to DST in Spring when clocks were rolled forwards, reducing our sleep. Conversely – and positively for next week – there was a 21% decrease in heart attacks when the clocks were rolled back in the Autumn.
How can we re-establish our sleep-wake cycles following the clock change?
- Get up at the same time in the morning each day – which means enjoying an extra hour in bed this weekend. It may still take take a few days to adjust to the new schedule, but routine is key for creating a consistent drive to sleep each evening.
- In the winter, with fewer hours of daylight overall, it’s important to seek out exposure to morning light where you can. Light is a strong cue to alert the internal clock, and daylight ensures it remains synchronised to the 24-hour day. Lack of light exposure during the day can result in a drift of the internal body clock, making it harder to get up in the morning in the winter.
- Avoid bright lights for at least an hour before bed. Bright light inhibits the production of melatonin (a hormone involved in the timing and regulation of sleep) which can leave us feeling more alert. Minimise your use of electronic gadgets for at least an hour before you go to bed to give yourself time to wind down.
The Sleepio team took part in an event at Google’s London offices this week to raise awareness of the importance of good sleep for a happy and productive workforce. Sleepio’s sleep experts donned their very best pyjamas to take to the stage!
Sleep researcher, Dr Sophie Bostock, explained that poor sleep can interfere with a wide range of desirable work behaviours, from empathising to ethical decision-making. Poor sleep interferes with concentration and accuracy, which can have serious consequences for safety and productivity.
Prof Colin Espie explained why a racing mind can keep insomnia sufferers awake at night. With the help of some audience participation – which included throwing money into the audience – he illustrated some of the core principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia. These included learning to value relaxation time, trusting that sleep will come, and putting the day to rest before settling down to sleep.
Co-founder, Peter Hames, described his own experience of insomnia and how successful treatment with CBT inspired him to create Sleepio. His perspective is that technology offers a, scalable, standardised, affordable and evidence-based way to deliver treatment to those who need it.
In the US, the annual cost of insomnia to employers due to lost productivity alone has been estimated at over $60 billion per year – equivalent to 7.8 lost working days per poor sleeper, per year. Given that 1 in 4 employees report poor sleep, it’s an issue that we expect will increasingly feature on the corporate wellness agenda.
The future is an exciting place. Of course we’ll all have hoverboards and X-Ray specs, but more importantly our phones will become powerful tools to keep us healthy and happy.
Today marks a small step in that direction: the new Sleepio iPhone app is now available to download from the App Store!
Our new iPhone app allows you to complete the full Sleepio CBT sleep improvement program, presented by your virtual sleep expert The Prof and proven to help you make the changes necessary to overcome even long term poor sleep.
By connecting your Jawbone UP account to Sleepio you can pull in your sleep data from your UP tracker or Android Wear devices to automatically personalize your sleep improvement program to your problems and progress.
On top of this, you can now get instant, bitesized help from The Prof whenever you need it, with our new ‘Help Me Now’ feature. Whether you’re having a tough morning or you’re struggling to get to sleep at night, The Prof will be there to help you get back on track.
The Sleepio app is available from the Apple App Store from today – download it and let us know what you think!
Download the Sleepio app
TechCrunch Disrupt is one of the most anticipated technology conferences of the year. Launching in San Francisco today TechCrunch will be bringing Disrupt back to San Francisco to reveal an all new slate of outstanding startups, influential speakers, guests and more to the stage. Attendees will debate the newest trends in technology, what’s causing them and how to thrive in 2015 and beyond.
On Wednesday our founder Peter will be discussing the topic ‘Digital Medicine is the New Rx’. Joining Peter on the panel will be Matthew Cooper of Carmenta Bioscience and Glen Tullman of 7wire Ventures – great company indeed!
We are big believers in the potential of digital medicine to transform healthcare, and this promises to be an exciting discussion. If you can’t be there and want to catch the talk you can view the livestream on Wednesday, September 10 at 11:45am PST, 7:45pm BST: techcrunch.com/events/disrupt-sf-2014/live-video/.
Photo credit: Banalities via flickr
Sorry, not great news if you work in an office without windows… A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, investigated daytime light exposure, sleep quality and health-related quality of life in employees who worked in windowless offices compared with those who worked in offices with natural daylight.
Those workers in windowless offices reported poorer sleep quality, greater day-to-day limitations due to physical problems and reduced vitality. The windowless workers not only had reduced light exposure during the day but also less total time asleep at night – approximately 45 minutes less.
Light has a powerful influence on the regulation of circadian rhythms in our body, and in particular the sleep-wake cycle. The light levels we’re exposed to during the day are linked to mood, productivity, and performance. This study shows how our working environment can affect us not just while we’re at work but even when we’re sleeping. Hopefully, employers will start looking at the design of workplaces to help their employees’ physical and mental well-being.
Photo credit: Peter More
It’s time to put another one of our favourite myths about sleep to our Sleepio experts to find out what’s sleep fact or sleep fiction. This time it’s the old classic – counting sheep. Some people count stars, Bing Crosby preferred to count his blessings. But back to sheep… so, does counting sheep help you sleep? Over to Dr Simon Kyle to find out more:
Well, there is something in this… but it’s not got anything to do with sheep! The idea behind counting sheep is that it gives our brain something else to focus on rather than on the fact we’re not sleeping. Absorption in a task is an aspect of mindfulness and can help relax you. It’s also repetitive – one sheep, two sheep, three … You get the idea! And repetitive activities can help calm the mind allowing us to drop off.
But a word of warning on the sheep… for some of us, this is just too boring so it may be that your thoughts intrude and before you know it, you’re back recycling the day’s events or running through what’s going to happen tomorrow.
There’s no clinical evidence about counting sheep but there is research exploring different techniques on how to distract our minds from the thoughts that get in the way of falling asleep. One technique that’s proven to work is using imagery – imagine a scene that is calming and relaxing like walking through a favourite park or sailing in a gentle breeze… something that is engaging rather than exciting to the brain. It’s useful to prepare it in advance so that when we go to sleep, it is just like ‘rolling the tape’. Try to use all your senses, not just your mind’s eye and relax into the scene as if you were really there. It’s up to you whether there are sheep involved …
So sleep fact or sleep fiction?
Fiction – but there’s a grain of useful advice in there!
Thank you, Dr Simon!
Tell us about your sleep myth and we’ll tell you whether it’s sleep fact or sleep fiction!
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.
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.
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!
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.