Snoring, snooze buttons and nightmares: The 10 most asked questions about sleep answered - including how much you should get
March is National Bed Month – introduced by the Sleep Council and the National Bed Federation to get us talking about how much rest we get.
It encourages awareness of the importance of sleep and how important a decent bed is to help people achieve a good night’s kip.
The science of sleep is complex – in fact, there’s no real consensus about why we even need to spend so long in bed to live a healthy and happy life.
But there’s plenty we do know, and the bed experts at MattressNextDay have analysed the most searched for nap-related questions on the internet.
CEO and sleep specialist Martin Seeley has shared his expertise by answering the top 10 queries – to increase your chances of a good night’s sleep.
How can I stop snoring?
Unfortunately, snoring cannot be ‘cured’ but you can cut down your night-time noises with a few simple tricks.
Firstly, you should never sleep on your back as when you’re lying in this position, your tongue, neck tissue and chin press down on your airways, disrupting the airflow and making you more likely to snore. Instead, you should sleep on your side.
You should also limit your alcohol intake for similar reasons, as alcohol relaxes the muscles in your throat. This can set off the vibrations in your soft tissue, making you more likely to snore.
Finally, something as simple as buying new pillows could make all the difference to your snoring. As we spend a third of our entire lives in bed, pillows pick up dust, skin flakes and other allergies that can trigger symptoms such as snoring.
Try replacing any tired, flat pillows with a new one that has ‘hypoallergic’ in its product name as these help cut down the number of fine particles around your nose and mouth.
When is REM sleep?
Your sleep stages are divided into non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) and rapid eye movement (REM).
REM is the deeper stage of sleep and tends to happen 90 minutes after you fall asleep. During this period, your eyes move around rapidly in a range of directions, and your breathing becomes irregular.
You’re also most likely to have the most vivid dreams during REM, however, our brain paralyses your muscles, such as your legs and arms, so that you do not act out your dreams.
How can I fall asleep faster?
Firstly, you should turn the night mode feature on your phone at least three hours before bed. Light can impact your internal body clock otherwise known as your circadian rhythm. Being in a room that features light, even if it’s just from your phone, signals to your brain to stay awake. For similar reasons, you should dim your lights late afternoon to send a signal to your brain that it’s nearing bedtime, and you should fall asleep in a virtually black room.
You should also create a winding down which you implement every night. When you’re stressed or anxious, your body produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol. The higher the cortisol, the more awake you feel. This is why it’s important to have a nighttime routine full of calming activities. This could include anything from yoga to stretching, meditating to deep breathing, journaling or even having a hot bath – all of which are proven to help you relax.
And finally, if you’re still struggling to sleep – there’s a simple hack. Known as the Cognitive Shuffle, you should list random items in your head that are easy to visualise but not directly related i.e. potatoes, Tarzan, a violin. This will tire your brain out and help keep your mind off issues preventing you from sleeping. If you’re struggling to think of words, make your way through the alphabet then repeat.
How do I get back to sleep in the middle of the night?
Firstly, stay off your phone. As you’ll know, Bright lights can interfere with your body's production of melatonin and can stimulate wakefulness, which is not what you want in the middle of the night. What’s more, seeing the time on your phone will lead to you subconsciously working out how many hours until you need to be awake, which will make you more anxious and keep you awake for longer.
If you’re still struggling to sleep, try this meditative technique, otherwise known as a full-body scan. Simply close your eyes and breathe slowly. Next, focus on your face and think about relaxing each of the muscles in your face. After thirty seconds to a minute, move onto your neck and do the same thing for thirty seconds. Then your shoulders, and then your arms. Essentially, you want to relax every muscle until you make your way down to your feet.
How much sleep do I need?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to how many hours of sleep the average person needs as it is dependent on several factors. However, the most important factor is your age; if you’re a teenager aged between 14-17 years old, it’s recommended to sleep for 8-10 hours each night. For adults (18–64-year-olds), you should aim for 7-9 hours, and for older adults aged 65 and above, you need slightly less between 7-8 hours.
However, these figures serve as a guideline and can vary person to person, depending on their needs. When deciding on how much sleep you need, you should track your sleep over the space of two weeks. Each night, write down how long you slept for the night before, rate your productiveness on a scale of 1-10, as well as your happiness on a scale of 1-10. Once the experiment has ended, you should have a clearer picture of how much sleep you need.
Does pressing snooze make you more tired?
Yes! Unfortunately, many studies show that pressing ‘snooze’ can have more of a negative impact on your day than a positive one. This is because a five-to-ten-minute snooze time only gives you enough time to go into ‘light sleep’ as it waits to enter the deep sleep state, otherwise known as REM.
Your body is, therefore, put into a fight or flight mode, which triggers a response that increases your blood pressure and heartbeat as you wake up, leaving you on high alert. This makes you feel stressed despite it being the start of your day.
Which sleep position is best?
The best sleeping position is one where your spine is adequately supported from your neck right down to the base of your spine. This means keeping your spine in a neutral position, so that it lies straight from the neck to the lower back – keeping your spine in alignment and your internal organs correctly supported. In addition, it also prevents aches and pains, stiffness, and even muscle spasms from wrecking a good night’s rest.
To carry out this position on your side, you should sleep in the foetal position and place a flat pillow or cushion between your knees to reduce the pressure on your hips. Alternatively, if you sleep on your back, make sure that your pillows and mattress support your body to keep that neutral spine alignment all the way down to your hips.
Finally, if you sleep on your front, it’s extra important to make sure that you are properly supported. To avoid that ‘arched back’ syndrome that can result in aches and pains when you wake up, try choosing a medium-firm mattress, to help you achieve a flatter or more level spine.
Why do I keep having nightmares?
Nightmares can be caused by a variety of factors. For example, it could be as something as simple as eating a snack too close to your bedroom, which increases your metabolism and signals to your brain to be more active. Or, alternatively, an increase in nightmares could be linked to sleep deprivation, or from feeling anxious or depressed.
To decrease your chances of a negative dream from occurring, try journaling. You should look up what these dreams mean online and identify any reoccurring themes. You should also decrease your intake of caffeine as it can be the cause of an increase in anxiety, which then triggers nightmares. Finally, make sure to have a winding down routine at night as this signal to your brain that it’s time to switch off. This could be as simple as running yourself a hot bath or reading a book before bed.
What are the benefits of a weighted blanket?
Weighted blankets which are designed to promote sleep by reducing a person’s stress and anxiety and are, therefore, becoming ever popular. When under one, they feel like a hug due to their technique of deep pressure stimulation (DPS) to make the user feel more secure, whilst relaxing their nervous system – making them popular for those that suffer from depression and/or anxiety.
Another benefit is that they encourage deeper sleep. Known as the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin is a chemical that transmits messages between nerve cells. It can also impact your sleep-wake cycle by regulating your sleep stages and impacting the depth of your sleep, however, research shows that using a weighted blanket before bed can stimulate the release of serotonin. In turn, this helps the user sleep more peacefully and soundly.
Finally, it can stop you from tossing and turning due to its heaviness. This is also known as the ‘cocooning’ effect, which many parents do to their newborn babies to help them sleep more soundly at night.
How can I stop night sweats?
Waking up in the middle of the night with soaked nightwear can be extremely uncomfortable and make it difficult to go back to sleep. However, making small adjustments to your sleep environment can help to alleviate the effects of night sweats.
Firstly, you should create a cool environment in the bedroom. Instead of sleeping with one thick duvet, consider multiple thin layers that can be removed or added as necessary. Next, you should choose breathable nightwear and keep a spare set close to hand in case you would benefit from a quick change in the night. Finally, keep a bottle of cool water on your bedside table that you can drink throughout the night.
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