Ewwww! What’s lurking inside your pillow?

I was truly horrified when I read this article in the Daily Mail last month: How your pillow is the perfect breeding ground for gruesome array of pests and diseases.

According to the piece, up to a third of the weight of your pillow could be made up of bugs, dead skin, dust mites and their faeces. Following further research, I learned that we all secrete around half a pint of sweat each night causing fungi to grow inside our pillows!

Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

Sleep experts advise on changing your pillow every two years, or earlier if it sags at the ends when laid flat on the palm of your hand, or becomes lumpy, flat, hard or loses its shape.

So, think back, when did you buy your pillow? Are you ready for a new one?

Wishing you sweet dreams on lovely pillows,

Amy x

The Sleep Diet

Did you pick up a copy of June’s Red magazine? If so, you can’t have missed the Body special, “More Toned, Less Tired”, all about losing weight through sleep!

The article was based on a new book “The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep” by Dr Michael Breus.

It sounds too good to be true. But, in fact, a number of studies have shown a connection between weight gain and inadequate sleep – see, for example, my blog posts from summer 2010 (Could a lack of sleep be making you fat? and my update a few weeks later). I also know from personal experience that I generally feel more hungry and crave naughty foods after a poor night’s sleep.

If you’ve struggled to lose weight and are regularly sleeping badly, you may find that revising your sleep habits makes all the difference when it comes to losing those extra pounds – as well as boosting your mood and energy levels, improving your health and relieving stress.

As a starting point, check out my top tips and suggestions for sleeping well and make your dream body a reality!

Don’t forget to let me know how you get on x

Michelle Obama beats stress with sleep!

Continuing with my stress and sleep theme, I found this tip by First Lady Michelle Obama, as told to Peter Moore in Women’s Health magazine:

“I’m a big believer in sleep. I go to bed early, shortly after I put the girls to bed so I’m rested the next day. For me, getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising reduce my stress levels. And a really good workout is a great stress buster.”

To read the full interview, click here.




“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow”

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” ~ Charlotte Brontë

I don’t think I was alone in feeling a tad panicky in the run up to Christmas. As I mentioned in my last post, my other half and I hosted Christmas for the first time. Whilst a lot of fun, the preparations – the decorations, the present-buying, the wrapping, the cooking, not to mention the last-minute cleaning – were overwhelming at times. I had lists and lists of lists and my Ocado order (booked months in advance) was updated on an almost daily basis with an extra pint of milk or an extra tin of biscuits, just in case….Of course there was far too much food (we’re still working our way through the chocolate biscuits) and a great time was had by all, but I’m sure I’ll be fretting again when December rolls around!

Weighed down by my festive stresses, I didn’t get around to writing about the link between worry and sleep disruption, as I’d intended. But, as they say, better late than never….

Whether it’s agonising about cooking your Christmas dinner, pondering what to buy your best mate for Christmas, or bigger worries concerning your career or finances, anxiety has a big impact on the quantity and quality of our sleep:

  • The Sun newspaper reported on 16 December 2010 that sleep problems are more common during the festive season because people worry about buying presents, seeing relatives and Christmas finances. Read the full article by clicking here.
  • A 2010 study by Slumberland showed that nearly three-quarters of British workers are struggling to get a full night’s sleep because of work worries. In a survey of 3,000 adults, 69% said that work problems make it difficult to sleep. And even when we do drop off to sleep, the survey revealed that one in three dreams about work at least twice a week. The survey also showed that 39% wake up at least once during the night fretting about their careers. To read more, click here.
  • On 5 October 2010, the Mirror newspaper reported that adults lose on average 68 minutes’ sleep a night worrying about money, according to a study commission by Boots and the Tony Ferguson Weightloss Programme.  You can read the full article by clicking here.

And it’s not only us mere mortals who are kept awake at night fretting; A-listers are suffering too. In October last year it was reported that Rihanna struggles to sleep because she’s constantly thinking about her work.

Despite my pre-Christmas anxieties, I found ways to wind down and sleep in the run up to Christmas. Here’s some ideas that work for me, give them a go when you’re feeling stressed:

  • If you find yourself dwelling on worries when you go to bed, try writing them down before you hit sack. This exercise helps to prevent problems from keeping my mind active at night when I should be sleeping.
  • If you’re prone to waking in the night with worries on your mind, keep a notepad and pen by your bed – then if you do wake in the night with a problem on your mind, you can write it down and go back to sleep.
  • Try to keep your bedroom tidy and clutter-free. Piles of paperwork and unwashed clothes aren’t conducive to a restful night’s sleep and can add to your anxiety.
  • Remove your clock, alarm clock or mobile phone from sight – clock-watching during the night will only remind you that you’re awake and increase your anxiety.
  • Don’t forget to follow your usual, relaxing, bedtime routine – or if you don’t already have one, create one. What you do in the final moments of your day can really help to prepare you for sleep. For me, this means spending the last few minutes of every day – sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes half an hour – in bed with a light novel or magazine (nothing too engaging or stimulating otherwise I’ll never put it down!) whilst listening to the gentle, soothing sounds of Classic FM.
  • Breathing exercises in bed can help to induce sleep when you’re feeling stressed. The NightWave Sleep Assistant guides you in a session of deep breathing whilst you lay comfortably in bed (read my review of this product – COMING SOON).

Until next time, sleep well! x

Does caffeine disrupt sleep?

Yesterday the trial began for a Kentucky man, Woody Smith, accused of strangling his wife with an extension cord in May last year. It was reported yesterday that Mr Smith’s lawyer planned to argue* that he killed his wife as a result of insanity brought on by lack of sleep and excessive caffeine consumption. According to reports, Mr Smith was worried his wife would leave him and was taking large amounts of caffeine pills and caffeinated drinks to keep himself awake…..

Sorry for the gloomy opening, but it is rather an intriguing story, and one that highlights the often talked about relationship between caffeine consumption and sleep.

Well, this is one experiment I don’t need to carry out. I already know the results.

Save for herbal and fruit teas every now and then, I’m not a tea-drinker. For the most part, I’m not a coffee-drinker either, although every so often a skinny vanilla latte is an enjoyable treat. I’m not so virtuous, though. I am verging on being a Diet Coke addict.

I do have to be very careful with my Diet Coke habit though. If I drink more than one can of Diet Coke a day, I turn into a quivering wreck. I especially need to be careful with my timing. One can of Diet Coke in the early afternoon is no problem, but if I dare to drink one in the evening, I know I’m going to be punished when I try to go to sleep.

Caffeine – found in tea, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and some medications – is a central nervous system stimulant used to promote wakefulness. Every day it is consumed by millions of people to help them wake up and ward off drowsiness in the morning and stay alert during the day.

Unsurprisingly (to me) studies have demonstrated that caffeine consumption can have a disruptive effect on sleep – by making it harder to nod off, reducing the amount of deep sleep you enjoy and reducing sleep duration overall. It is well known that the effects of caffeine can persist for several hours and the general rule of thumb is to avoid consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.

Having said all this, my other half can spend the day drinking cup after cup of tea, and down a double espresso after dinner, without suffering any (obvious) consequences. So, why is this? Well, he reckons his long-term, regular caffeine consumption (he’s been a devoted tea-drinker since his early teens) have resulted in him developing a tolerance to the caffeine buzz.

There may be some truth to this. A study by Suzette M. Evans and Roland R. Griffiths in 1991, “Caffeine tolerance and choice in humans” provides evidence of complete tolerance development to a central nervous system effect of caffeine in humans. According to the John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center website www.caffeinedependence.org:

Caffeine-induced sleep disturbance is greatest among individuals who are not regular caffeine users. Although there is evidence for some tolerance to the sleep disrupting effects of caffeine, complete tolerance may not occur and thus habitual caffeine consumers are still vulnerable to caffeine-induced sleep problems.”

An alternative explanation to differences in the effect of caffeine may be that regular caffeine users are less likely to be aware of its effect and any sleep troubles caused by the caffeine than less frequent caffeine consumers.

It seems to me that the sensible approach to caffeine consumption is this:

If you have a problem with sleep, cut out all caffeine – you may not realise that your caffeine consumption is to blame.

If, like me, you know you are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, limit (or, if you can manage it, cut out) your caffeine intake and be particularly vigilant about the timing of any caffeine consumption.

If, like my other half, caffeine has little or no obvious effect on you and you have no problems sleeping – well, lucky you! – but just be mindful that you may still be vulnerable to sleep disturbances caused by your caffeine consumption. And, if you’re up for a challenge, why not see if you can give up your daily caffeine habit – you might find that it’s masking sleep troubles that you had no clue about.

‘Til next time, sleep well x

Click here to read about why the Sleep Geek swapped his builders’ tea for green tea.

* Reports today say that the lawyer for Mr Smith changed his previously laid out strategy and instead argued that Mr Smith’s excessive caffeine consumption left him so sleep-deprived and mentally unstable that he falsely confessed to killing his wife.

How to beat the snore…..simply by wearing a t-shirt to bed!

I’m very lucky in many ways. But there’s one thing – I’ve come to realise – that I should be particularly thankful for: my other half doesn’t snore!

It’s not something I’ve often thought about. That is, until the new addition to our little family brought it home to me – literally. My puppy, Louis – a beautiful French bulldog – spends most of his life rasping and wheezing and snorting, poor little mite. And whilst I consider Louis’ snoring habit to be one of his endearing idiosyncrasies, I’m grateful that I don’t have to listen to him take each noisy breath whilst I’m trying to sleep (he sleeps downstairs, you see).

Honestly, I can’t imagine what it must be like to put up with the rattling racket of a snoring bed-mate, every night. Yet millions of people across the country do. According to an article written by the Director of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association in spring 2007, “Current trends in the treatment of snoring & sleep apnoea”, every night an estimated 15 million snorers in the UK disturb the slumber of their bed partner and other family members, with noise levels reaching in excess of 90dB! 90dB is around the same noise level as a lawnmower, and only 10dB less than a chain saw or pneumatic drill! Crikey, I hope those unlucky folks have good ear-plugs!

And, I’ve learnt, it’s not just sleep quality that’s affected by your bed-buddy’s snoring – a partner’s snoring can have a huge, detrimental, impact on your relationship. Studies have found high divorce rates in couples where a partner snores. And snoring is also a common factor in why more couples are now sleeping apart. According to one American study in 2001, Dr Mansoor Madani found 80% of snoring couples slept in separate bedrooms! Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m truly shocked!

I bet Kevin Jonas’ wife, Danielle, isn’t so surprised. It was reported earlier this month that the Jonas Brother has a snoring problem, which forces his wife to sleep in a separate room, putting their baby plans on hold. Similarly, according to newspaper reports this August, Eastender Sid Owen and his fiancé, Polly, sleep in separate bedrooms due to him snoring “like a rhino”.

While I count my blessings, I urge all snorers out there to take action now to get their relationship and love-life back on track. How? Well, there are a number of things you could try:

  • If you’re very overweight, losing some weight will often reduce snoring.
  • You could try sleeping on a firmer pillow. A pillow that’s too soft can exacerbate snoring.
  • Quit smoking or at least stop smoking just before bedtime.
  • Don’t drink alcohol in the evening.
  • Watch what you eat before bed – don’t eat too much and avoid dairy products before bedtime, as they can cause mucus build-up.

But, of course, you want a quick-fix solution, right? Well, give this a go: the Anti-Snore T-Shirt. That’s right, a t-shirt!

Recommended by more than 600 doctors and dentists in North America, it works simply by correcting sleeping position. Research has shown that over 60% of snorers will stop snoring or snore less when sleeping on their sides. The Anti-Snore T-Shirt has inflatable bumpers on the back which ensure you do just that! It costs £45 from We Love Sleep. It’s just a shame they don’t do them in tiny sizes for my snuffling pig-dog!

Finally, a tip for those poor sleep-deprived partners of snorers: If you’re having trouble convincing your other half to take their snoring habit seriously, try video recording them snoring. And if listening to themselves snort and rattle doesn’t encourage your partner to do something about it, stick the recording on YouTube for the whole world to see and hear! Good luck!

Snoring could be a sign of a terrifying breathing disorder called sleep apnoea, whereby the sufferer frequently stops breathing when they are sleeping. If you are concerned that you may have sleep apnoea, you should seek medical advice.

Could this be the solution to end the duvet tug-of-war?

On our recent trip to Stockholm, my other half and I enjoyed a night in the über-cool Lydmar Hotel. Described as “quite simply the finest hotel in Stockholm” by renowned travel magazine Condé Nast Traveller, it (mostly) lived up to my expectations:  stylish and relaxing, in a fantastic, central location and with a fabulous bar. As always, though, my attention was focused on my sleeping environment: the bedroom. Relaxing decor? Check. Dark? Check. Quiet? Check. Comfortable sleeping temperature? Check. Big, comfortable bed? Check. One thing was unusual though: two single duvets on a king-sized bed. How strange!

This is not something I’ve come across before, although apparently it’s not unusual in continental Europe for couples to each have their own duvets. In fact, a quick internet search led me to an English-speaking German website, where Brits abroad were pondering where to purchase a double bedding set in Germany. It seems it’s not an easy task.

Further internet browsing turned up an article in the Daily Mail from March this year, entitled “Battle for the bedclothes boosts single duvet sales”. The article reports that: “Bad manners in bed have caused three-quarters of Britons to consider leaving their partner….Hogging the bedclothes and other offences, known as poor bediquette, has also caused the sales of single duvets, which usually sell less than doubles, to soar by 41 per cent.” I’m clearly out of touch.

If you think about it, it’s actually very sensible. Having your own duvet allows you to be in control of your sleeping environment. You get to choose your perfect duvet (which is ideal if you prefer a heavier / lighter duvet than your partner) and when to snuggle the covers up to your chin or throw them off you. It also prevents your bed-mate from hogging all the covers, leaving you cold, grumpy and considering decamping to the spare room.

But….ah, there’s something romantic about sharing a duvet together. It’s difficult to snuggle up to your partner, or warm up your cold toes on his toasty ones, if there’s a duvet barrier between you. For now at least, I’m letting my heart rule my head and sticking to my king-sized covers.

Wearing my confused face

Heaven is…..waking up on a Saturday morning and knowing that you don’t have to get out of bed. You can pull the covers right up to your chin, roll over and doze……mmmmm.

You can imagine my pleasure (picture big cheesy grin) this morning, when I read that my weekend lie-ins are in fact good for me. The Telegraph website reliably informed me that “A single lie-in is all that is required to replenish the brain and boost energy, alertness and attention span after a week of restricted sleep, the study showed”. Then, imagine my disappointment (cue sad, puppy-dog eyes and wobbly bottom lip) when I read on the BBC website, just a minute later, that “A lie-in at the weekend does not counter ill-effects of lack of sleep during the week, a study suggests”. What? Two studies, with completely different results? How confusing. No, no…one study, two contrasting interpretations….

Now, lets look at the details in those news reports: The study, “Neurobehavioral Dynamics Following Chronic Sleep Restriction: Dose-Response Effects of One Night for Recovery”, reported in the latest issue of the journal Sleep, was a sleep deprivation experiment on 159 healthy adults, aged 22 – 45 years. All the participants spent 10 hours in bed on the first two nights. 142 participants were then restricted to four hours in bed each night (from 4am to 8am) for five nights in a row. They were then allowed a single night’s “recovery sleep” of varying lengths, up to 10 hours. The other 17 participants made up a control group, who were allowed 10 hours in bed every night.  During the experiment, all participants were asked to complete tests every two hours while they were awake.

As expected, the study found that the participants whose sleep had been restricted performed consistently worse in the tests than the control group. After just one lie-in, test scores improved and the more “recovery sleep” they had the better they did. But, even after 10 hours of “recovery sleep”, the sleep-restricted participants had worse test scores than the control group for reaction times, lapses of attention and levels of fatigue. Dr David Dinges, the study leader, is quoted as saying “The additional hour or two of sleep in the morning after a period of chronic partial sleep loss has genuine benefits for continued recovery of behavioural alertness. The bottom line is that adequate recovery sleep duration is important for coping with the effects of chronic sleep restriction on the brain”.

The conclusion: A weekend lie-in can help you to recover from lost sleep during the busy, working week, but 5 lie-ins in a row is even better!!!! My happy face is back!

Eating, drinking, sleeping

Will these carrots improve my sleep? Or help me to see better in the dark?

Eating, drinking and sleeping….Three of my favourite pastimes! We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales and sleep experts’ warnings about the effect of your eating and drinking habits on your sleep. Without even thinking, the following examples spring to mind: “Steer clear of caffeine – it’s a powerful stimulant and it’ll keep you awake”; “A hot milky drink before bed helps promote sleep”; “Drink chamomile tea in the evenings – it’s a natural sedative”; “Don’t eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime”; “Avoid alcohol in the evenings – it may help you to fall asleep but it’ll disturb your sleep patterns”; “Avoid protein, eat complex carbs instead before bedtime” …..Rules, rules, rules…

I wonder: Do our eating and drinking habits really have such a huge impact on our sleep as we’re led to believe? Is it really realistic and practical to, say, avoid alcohol in the evenings – should I be pouring a glass of wine on my cereal in the morning, instead? Am I really going to suffer from terrible sleep if I eat a chicken breast before bed rather than a bowl of brown rice?

According to an article published on the Financial Times’ website earlier this week (“Carrots and sticks” published 6 July 2010), Truett Tate, the Group Executive Director for wholesale banking at Lloyds, certainly believes that diet has an impact on sleep. It was reported on the Financial Times’ website that Mr Tate has started distributing carrot batons and celery sticks around the office to encourage his staff to adopt a healthier diet, with a view to improving their sleep patterns. It was also reported that senior staff are said to be keeping diaries on what they eat and how much sleep they are getting.

It’s an interesting idea and, as they say, “eat well, sleep well”. Whether it’ll work or not, I don’t know yet. But it’s great to see employers looking after their employees’ welfare and acknowledging the importance of a healthy lifestyle and good quality sleep.

Over the next few weeks or so I will be testing the impact of certain foods and drinks on my sleep quality. And, since it’s almost the weekend, I will be commencing this exercise by investigating the effects of alcohol on my sleep – hurrah!

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could a lack of sleep be making you fat? UPDATE

Since I wrote about this in May 2010, a new research study has come to light that reinforces my earlier conclusion – that your sleeping habits could be to blame for those extra pounds.

The research study, “Sleep problems and major weight gain: a follow-up study” by P Lyytikäinen, T Lallukka, E Lahelma & O Rahkonen (published online in the International Journal of Obesity on 8 June 2010), shows that middle-aged women who have trouble sleeping are more likely to gain weight than those who sleep well.

The study followed over 7,300 middle-aged (40 to 60 year old) women and men for five to seven years. The researchers found that the women who had reported suffering from “frequent sleep problems” (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep on at least 14 nights in the past month) at the start of the study were more likely to report a “major weight gain” (11 or more pounds) over time than the women who slept without difficulty. Even when other factors, such as physical and mental health and lifestyle, were taken into consideration, the link between sleep problems and major weight gain remained – for the women, anyway.

Strangely, there was no association found between the men with troubled sleep and major weight gain, however. Whilst the reason for this difference is unknown, it’s possible that the fewer male participants (1,300 men compared to more than 5,700 women) could have made the link more difficult to spot.

Lead researcher, Peppi Lyytikäinen, told Reuters Health that while the findings do not prove cause-and-effect, they raise the possibility that improving sleep quality might help stave off excess weight gain.