Born to Sleep

Born to sleep

It sounds crazy to say but we are born to sleep. We spend, or should spend, a third of our life sleeping. But how much do we know about sleep. This is partly an introduction to the huge subject of sleep and partly a gentle reminder to remember we are born to sleep. We need to sleep and making sleep a priority isn’t being lazy.

We’ll be adding regular blogs because its a big subject and one size doesn’t fit all. We’re all different and so we will be sharing a number of ideas the coming weeks.

My passion for sleep.
When my children were little I craved more sleep. My sleep patterns went from good to chaotic with three children under five, a busy work life and too few hours in the day. As my children grew my sleep patterns improved but running a business and home meant its taken me many years and a concerted effort to get back to the carefree days before motherhood. I am a good sleeper and I do get a solid 8 hours a night now but I think my saving grace has been that sleep has always been at the centre of my work.

I’ve worked in health and well-being for over ten years and speak to customers on a daily basis (by phone, email and now zoom). Over the years I’ve had countless conversations about sleep and there is a clear trend. More and more people are struggling to sleep.

Our customers, like most companies, are a very diverse group of people but they share a common desire to feel better. Of the many I talk to I find they or a member of their family are struggling with sleep.

“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.”
I recently stumbled across this quote made by author JoJo Jensen and it really struck a chord. Life can unravel quickly and become a bruising experience without a good nights sleep.

I’ve talked to hundreds of people who feel like a tall two year old. For some it is a temporary situation. It might be the first throes of parenthood, the run up to exams or a new high pressure job. Life can occasionally wreak havoc with our sleep patterns. The last year of lockdowns and ‘pandemic’ worries has undoubtedly increased stress and anxiety for many people and looking at the statistics it seems that poor or disturbed sleep is a reality for a wide range of people. It is not just Mums and Dads with babies and toddlers.

For some it’s a long term issue. I know people who have experienced months or even years of restless, sleepless nights.

So whatever your reason for reading about sleep I’d like to begin by asking a few questions. The answers are obviously just for you. It’s to give you a starting point to think about your own relationship with sleep. Is it a love affair? Have you ever given it much thought? Has it become a nightmare?

So to begin

  1. What is your feeling about sleep? Is it a priority or just something you squeeze in where you can?
  2. How many hours a night do you sleep on average?
  3. Do you fall asleep easily? Does it take ten minutes, half an hour, or more than an hour?
  4. How often do you wake in the night?
  5. How do you feel in the morning?

And finally

  1. How much do you know about sleep and good routines to help you sleep?

What is Sleep?
That sounds like a strange question when it is something every single one of us does every day. But how much do we actually know about sleep?

Sleep is a mystery but has become a key area of scientific study and year by year researchers and experts are illuminating the mystery.

A few key facts to get us going

  1. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to function properly
  2. Older adults do not need less sleep than younger adults. i.e once you are an adult you need seven to nine hours sleep.
  3. There are four stages of sleep
  4. Sleep cleanses your brain.
  5. Light affects your sleeping habits.
  6. We spend one third of our lives sleeping.
  7. Humans are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep.
  8. Our body temperature drops by 1-2 degrees during the night so it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit chilly.
  9. We dream 4-6 times per night but forget 95-99% of our dreams the next morning.

Poor sleep is becoming more widespread
As I said I’ve noticed a marked increase in people concerned about sleep when I’m talking to people who contact us. If you take a dip into the statistics about our sleeping habits it is clear that it is a growing issue. According to the World Health Organisation two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain the nightly eight hours of sleep recommended by the World Health Organisation.

According to the Sleep Council 33% (survey taken in 2013) of Britons get by on just five to six hours sleep a night.

In February 2021 The Telegraph coined a term coronasomnia stating that insomnia was already a problem but the pandemic has increased this problem.

In America the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 35% of adults don’t get 7 hours sleep per day.

And according to in 1942, 84% of Americans had 7.9 hours on average hours per night compared to 6.8 hours in 2013, which is a 13% decrease.

There are many surveys and sleep statistics are readily available. The interesting fact for me is that whatever source you use the story remains the same. An increasing number of people are struggling to achieve a good nights sleep.

Why are we struggling to sleep?
If you’re curious to understand some of the ideas about why poor sleeping patterns are becoming more widespread our blog ‘Humans are the only mammal to willingly delay sleep’ may be of interest.

If however you would like to understand more about sleep and how natural sleep aids could support you please read on.

Sleep – your life support system
Sleep is a biological necessity not a luxury. It is your life support system. Sleep is not just a matter of our bodies “turning off” for several hours, followed by our bodies “turning back on” when we wake up. Sleep is actually a very active state. Our bodies move frequently and our brain activity is even more varied than it is during the normal waking state.

When you hit the pillow your body begins an intricate cycle of restoration. There are four stages of sleep and we move from very light sleep down to very deep sleep. But what most of us don’t know and is crucial to understand is that we cycle through the different stages. We don’t just go from stage one to four and then wake up.

In each stage of sleep the brain goes through patterns of activity. By understanding the stages of sleep and our sleep cycles we may be able to make better choices about good habits to encourage sleep.

Let’s begin with brainwaves
Your brain is a bustling hub of electrical activity. It is an electrochemical organ and brainwaves are a measurement of the activity that is going on within your brain.

The electrical communication in the brain happens through neurons, which are specialised brain cells that are responsible for transmitting information through the body in both chemical and electrical forms. The electrical activity that emanates from these neurons communicating is measured in the form of brainwaves.

In 1953, Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinksy showed, by means of electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings that sleep actually comprises different stages and that these stages occur in a characteristic sequence. There are two main types of sleep and four stages of sleep.

The Sleep Cycle
The two main types of sleep are non-rapid-eye-movement sleep (NREM) and rapid-eye-movement (REM).

Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep occurs in stages one to three. As we progress from stage one to three brain waves become slower and more synchronised and the eyes remain still. Your body settles into a lovely low state of energy.

REM sleep occurs in stage four and is identifiable by its characteristic low-amplitude (small), high-frequency (fast) brain waves as well as the eye movements for which it is named. Many sleep experts think that these eye movements are in some way related to dreams. REM sleep has often been called “active sleep”. It’s an incredibly active brain state. Your heart and nervous system go through spurts of activity.

Stage one – NREM Light sleep. This is the ‘drowsy stage’. The transition from waking to sleeping and it makes up less than 3% of your nightly sleep cycles. For a person not suffering from a sleep disorder, this stage can take about one to five minutes to occur.

As you begin winding down your breathing slows down and you nod off into a light sleep. Your muscles relax and your eyes move slowly. You may be drifting in and out of sleep in this stage and you are fairly easy to wake. The EEG brain frequency is slightly slower than during wake time.

Stage two – NREM Light sleep. Stage 2 is where the body prepares for deep sleep. Your breathing and heart rate slow down, your body temperature drops and you lose awareness of your surroundings. Fully asleep, your brain activity slows but includes bursts of electrical activity. The theta waves characteristic of Stage Two sleep are interrupted by occasional series of high-frequency waves known as sleep spindles. Sleep spindles generally last one to two seconds. Neuroscience research suggests that these spurts of electrical activity are a crucial part of your brain’s process of transferring information from short- to long-term memory.

Your brain spends most of the night in this stage, approximately 50 percent of the time you are asleep. Each stage-two cycle lasts up to 20 minutes.

Stages 3 – NREM slow-wave deep sleep. This is the deepest stage of sleep. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels. This blissfully deep stage lasts for twenty to forty minutes and becomes progressively deeper as the night progresses.

It happens in relatively long segments and is called slow-wave sleep because of the slow wave forms that appear on the EEG. It is the part of your sleep cycle in which your body recovers from the day and is as important, if not more important, than REM sleep when it comes to physical rest. Your body secretes growth hormones associated with cellular repair and rebuilding.

This is the stage of sleep where it is most difficult to wake you up. When you get enough deep sleep, you wake up feeling refreshed. Without enough, you’ll feel tired even if you got a full night of rest.

Stage 4 REM sleep – This dreaming phase of sleep is very active and is similar to being awake in many ways. Most people experience REM sleep around 90 minutes after falling asleep. You spend approximately 25 percent of your time asleep in REM. An initial REM cycle may only last for 5 minutes, but REM cycles get longer as the night progresses.

On an EEG, REM sleep, often called “active sleep,” is identifiable by its characteristic low-amplitude (small), high-frequency (fast) waves and alpha rhythm, as well as the eye movements for which it is named. Your brain waves in REM sleep are closer to wakefulness than deep sleep, and your breathing becomes irregular and speeds up. Blood pressure and heart rates also increase to near awake levels in REM sleep.

Cycle through the stages
Your brain cycles repeatedly through the stages of sleep throughout the night and you progressively transition into deeper stages of sleep throughout each cycle. During the first two to three sleep cycles we spend most of our time in slow-wave NREM deep sleep (stage 3) whereas in the final two to three sleep cycles we spend more time in REM sleep accompanied by lighter NREM sleep.

A brief awakening
As your brain goes through the cycles there may be brief awakenings. These awakenings are normal and not something to be concerned about. In fact most people don’t even notice them. After reaching stage 3, the sleeping brain ascends back to lighter stages of sleep, often stopping for a period in stage 2 on its way back up to REM.

Timing is everything
Sleep is incredibly complex. It seems that how much NREM and REM sleep we get is not just based on where we are in our nightly sleep. It also depends on what time it is. Regardless of when you fall asleep, people tend to experience more NREM sleep in the earlier hours of the night (e.g., 10 p.m. – 3 a.m.) and more REM sleep in the later hours of the night (e.g., 3 a.m. – 7 a.m.).

So late night revellers are potentially getting as much REM sleep as those early to bed but not as much of the NREM sleep which is so important for our physical rejuvenation. So the ‘old wives tale’ that the hours before midnight are important could be born out by the unravelling of the science of sleep.

Sleep routines and rituals
Now that we know more about sleep the first step is perhaps to pause and think about our own approach to sleep. Do you have a bedtime routine? Many of us did as children but have we created a relaxing routine as adults?

Sleep experts are encouraging us all to think about our sleep routines or rituals. I’ve listed a few practical steps to help us on our way. But before you go through them it might be worth thinking about the answers you gave at the beginning of the article. In particular what was your answer to the first question.

  1. What is your feeling about sleep? Is it a priority or just something you squeeze in where you can?

I ask this because we are truly the only mammal that delays sleep – even though we can’t afford to. If we want to be at our best we need to make sleep a priority.

  1. Keep to a regular bedtime.
    Actually acknowledging and honouring the importance of sleep is a major step. Sleeping is not a sign of laziness.

The more consistent you are in the time you go to bed and the time you get up, the easier it is for your body to maintain a healthy sleep rhythm. Set a time that gives you sufficient time to sleep. Seven to nine hours is the optimum for adults.

One really clever tip I recently came across and am using is to set an alarm to remind me when it’s time to start winding down. When the alarm goes off turn your TV and your devices off and begin a calming bedtime routine. This will be different for all of us but may include a relaxing wash, a good read, a meditation or listening to soothing music. You could even sniff your way to sleep. Lavender, chamomile and ylang-ylang might help you relax and fall asleep faster.

I’ve spoken to people who like to write a to do list for the next day so they go to bed feeling organised. Some like to write a journal each night before they sleep. Explore ideas and find the rituals and routines that suit you.

  1. Make your bedroom your sleep haven
    How do you feel when you are in your bedroom? Are your bed and your pillows as comfortable as they can be? Does the colour of the room help you relax? How does your room smell?

Changing furniture and decorations can be expensive so don’t feel you have to do a massive make-over. This is about de-stressing not adding to the to do list and expenses.

Take it one step at a time. Make your room feel as inviting as you can and make a list of any changes or additions you might like to make. There are inexpensive ways of changing the mood. For example, I bought a roll of wallpaper for £14 and some inexpensive frames. I then made pictures from the wallpaper. I enjoyed the process and love looking at them as I get ready for bed.

Make a manageable plan if you do want to make changes and do them over time. This will add to your feeling of creating a unique space for you to rest in. It could be as simple as a lovely cushion on your bed sprinkled with lavender. Or a candle that you like the scent of on your bedside table.

Lastly think about your digital devices. Keep your bedroom as clear of distraction and light as possible. If you take your phone to bed put it onto airplane mode so you are not disturbed. If you need to keep it on make sure it is face down so that the light does not disturb you.

  1. Night lights
    Light affects our ability to sleep well so if you do feel you need some light keep it very soft. Bright lights wake your brain up.
  2. Day light
    This brings us on to a key question which is how much light exposure you get in the day. Light exposure is really important for sleep. The hormone melatonin helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle and it is controlled by light exposure. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark—making you sleepy—and less when it’s light—making you more alert.

When you get up think about having your coffee or even breakfast outside or by a sunny window. The light actually helps you to wake up. Spend time outside if you can. Walk the dog, go for a run, or just sit on the doorstep when you have a break.

Since I’ve been working at home I have put my desk right next to a window and I go out for a walk every day. Sometimes I only manage about 15 minutes but it has helped me.

I have a friend who uses a light therapy box. This simulates sunshine and can be especially useful in the winter when the days are short and it’s cold outside.

  1. Some good daytime and evening habits that may help.
    And finally have a think about some of your other day and evening habits. If you can try the following:

Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed.
Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
Avoid larger meals at night.
Don’t nap after 3 pm.
In the evening just be aware that the light your phone or other device emits, especially the blue light, suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep/wake cycle which increases in the evening.

It’s just not working for me ….

If you’ve developed good sleep routines and considered some of your daytime or night time habits but you are still left tossing and turning you may want to consider a natural sleep aid. There are lots of natural products available to you and some will appeal more to you than others.

One method of sleep support is sleepDOT. A natural calming support. Perhaps you have tried meditation or listening to specific music when you go to bed. These are recommended on the basis that they encourage a frequency following response. This means a method that stimulates the brain into entering a specific state using sound, light or specific frequencies.

sleepdot five pack

In the case of sound the brain’s ‘frequency following’ response, encourages brainwaves to align to the frequency of a given beat.
A ‘frequency following’ response, is a naturally occurring phenomenon where the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant EEG frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus. For sleep support the most used method is aural, for example binaural beats or nature sounds.
You can find relaxing sleep music designed to support deep sleep on YouTube, Spotify and iTunes. Millions of people are using the Calm app for meditation and sleep support. Calm is perhaps the best known but there are many other apps as well.
There is a body of research into the ‘frequency following’ response or brainwave entrainment but not all scientists agree that this is the mechanism by which these methods work. However an increasing number of people are using them to support their sleep.
SleepDOT offers an alternative method of supporting and encouraging sleep. It can be used on its own or with other sleep support methods.

What is sleepDOT
Its a 34mm magnetic disc which has been specifically programmed with a soothing mix of frequencies. These natural frequencies are constantly radiating from the sleepDOT and they support and encourage natural sleep patterns.
A unique digital programming system called PHIT Programmed Harmonic Interface Technology is used to encode the sleepDOT. Using magnets to store information is well established. Debit and credit cards still have the black magnetic stripe on the back which holds your payment details. Computer hard drives, video and cassette tapes are also forms of magnetic storage.
To aid sleep, these clever dots can simply be attached (using the adhesive backing), near a sleeper’s head. You need to stick it to a clean dry surface such as a wooden or metal headboard, cot, or a wooden slat on your bedframe. If your bedside table is close to the bed you could stick it to that but possibly the easiest place is the wall behind your bed.
It does not have to be stuck to be effective but obviously if it is then it is less likely to get lost.
sleepDOT is a (frequency) harmoniser which introduces calming frequencies to aid sleep throughout the night. The highly coherent vibrations emitted by sleepdot encourage the natural sleep pattern.
In a survey carried out in January 2021 when asked how customers rated the overall quality of sleep since using a sleepDOT, 77% responded that their Quality of Sleep had improved (43 out of 56).
Overall 70% Woke Less often during the night (39 out of 56)
Overall 61% Found it Easier to Fall Asleep (34 out of 56)
Overall 60% Woke Up Feeling More Refreshed (33 out of 56)

Create the change you need
Sleep needs to be a priority. Good rituals and routines both during the day and at bedtime are important. If you’ve read this far the chances are you are looking for change. Make the changes that feel right for you and perhaps in a couple of weeks you could refer back to the original questions. They can be a bench mark for you. For some their sleep patterns transform easily, for others it may take a few more tweaks over a longer period of time.

We’ll be adding to the sleep narrative with more blogs, ideas and links to other natural sleep aids. As we said at the beginning one size does not fit all so we want to bring as many different ideas to the table so you can find the right solution.

Good luck!

We’ve copied the initial questions below so they are easy to reference for you.

  1. What is your feeling about sleep? Is it a priority or just something you squeeze in where you can?
  2. How many hours a night do you sleep on average?
  3. Do you fall asleep easily? Does it take ten minutes, half an hour, or more than an hour?
  4. How often do you wake in the night?
  5. How do you feel in the morning?