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Are you sleeping well? A stressful life can affect your quality of sleep, but there are strategies to help you get a good night’s rest. Photo: Getty Images

Sleep deprivation and how to avoid it: from waking at the same time every day to wearing socks in bed, expert strategies for a good night’s rest

  • For ‘Sleep Doctor’ Michael Breus, getting enough rest is simple: understand how much you need, and work out the best time for you to sleep, work and exercise
  • Always sleep at the same time, and wake up the right way, he also says. For Dr Jess Andrade, there’s one thing you must wear in bed for a good night’s sleep

We have always been obsessed with sleep. But despite the technology and data at our fingertips, it seems some of us are consistently unable to get the good night’s sleep we crave.

In the United States alone, 50 to 70 million people complain of sleep deprivation or suffer from a sleep disorder. It is estimated that one in three people is sleeping badly and one in 10 suffers from insomnia, according to the Global Wellness Institute in its report Defining the Mental Wellness Economy.

The choice of sleep aid gadgets is endless: weighted blankets, noise cancelling headphones, white noise devices, circadian light therapy, specialised pillows, countless wearables, and “sleep-healing” cafes targeting sleep-deprived workers on their lunch breaks. The sleep aid market is predicted to top US$114 billion by 2025.

In Hong Kong, Red Doors Studio near Aberdeen on the south side of Hong Kong Island has been offering twice-weekly power nap sessions at lunchtimes, in which participants can relax to the sound of meditation gongs. UK chain David Lloyd Gyms recently introduced a “napercise” class that involves, quite simply, having a 45-minute catnap.

Sleep influencers such as London native Alex Shannon – better known as @FollowTheNap on Instagram – have social media accounts that focus solely on sleep, with followers running into the hundreds of thousands.
Stress and lack of sleep are frequent bedfellows. In a 2019 study of more than 11,000 adults worldwide, 54 per cent said that worry and stress affect their sleep. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist based in California with 23 years of experience as a practising sleep specialist – and nicknamed the Sleep Doctor – says that this is a particularly difficult time in all of our lives for sleep.

The final third of the night is where you get the most dream sleep. So if you extend that sleep, you are getting more vivid dreams
Dr Michael Breus, the “Sleep Doctor”
“A lot of that has to do with isolation as a result of lockdowns, which is leading to greater caffeine and alcohol consumption. Stress and anxiety are probably at their highest level ever for many, and people are falling out of good habits like getting up at the same time every day, going to bed early and having daily exercise.

“People need to understand that sleep is recovery. If you’re not moving, your body has nothing to recover from,” he says.

He points to the myths around sleeping. One is that an optimal night’s sleep should be eight hours. Breus says he gets around six hours of sleep every night, doesn’t use an alarm to wake up, and still feels “full of energy”.

Naps are good for you – just ask any Chinese office worker

“The amount of sleep you need is as individual as you are,” he says. “Everyone has a master biological clock ticking inside them. If you’ve ever heard someone say, ‘I’m not a morning person,’ there’s a reason for that.”

In his book The Power of When, Breus talks of the four different “sleep chronotypes” of people. You need to use your natural rhythm to work out the best time to work, exercise, sleep and have sex.

The four types – which can be identified through a free quiz on his website – are the lions (the early risers, often Type-A people who rise at 4.30am to work and go to bed early), the bears (solar sleepers, the extroverted glue of society, this includes most people in the world), the wolves (the late night creatives, often introverts), and the dolphins (those with erratic sleep schedules, also often Type-A personalities, light sleepers, often with high anxiety levels).

Red Doors Studio in Hong Kong offers power nap sessions.

“Knowing when to do things is the ultimate personalised life hack,” he says. “If you knew when your body would function optimally for any specific activity, wouldn’t you rather do that when you would be at your best?”

He rejects the idea that you can catch up on sleep. While many people sleep less during the week in the belief that they can make up for it with a weekend lie-in, he says that confuses the circadian rhythm.

“When sleep has a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync and all of your other bodily functions will go smoother,” Breus says.

He suggests it is better to wake up at the same time every day, 365 days a year, regardless of what time you went to bed, or if it is a holiday.

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“Circadian consistency turns out to be one of the best things you can do now. That is the anchor to the entire programme,” the doctor says.

Weird, stressful dreams have become a consistent complaint throughout the pandemic, says Breus, which he puts down to people rising later.

“The first half of the night is the most physically restorative. But the final third of the night is where you get the most dream sleep. So if you extend that sleep, you are getting more vivid dreams.”

Have you tried wearing socks in bed? Photo: Shutterstock

Breus says our waking up routine is an important part of the sleep schedule. “When you wake up, take five deep breaths to wake up your respiratory system.

“Swing your legs over the bed and take a drink of water at room temperature. Get some light into your eyes, whether sunlight or even light from your phone. It will help to turn off the melatonin (the sleep hormone) in your brain.”

As the pandemic continues to disrupt the world, Breus offers one final piece of advice; gratitude. He advises getting into a habit of “acknowledging gratitude before bed”, which “not only helps you fall asleep more quickly, but it makes more positive dreams.”

And that is something we could all use.

Another key to a good night sleep? Socks

A US doctor went viral on short-video platform TikTok earlier this year for her unusual advice on how to fall asleep more easily: wear socks to bed.

Boston-based Dr Jess Andrade published a video captioned, “I wear socks to bed so don’t come at me I’m not weird,” which has racked up 3.6 million views.

Dr Jess Andrade. Photo: Instagram

She said: “So let’s talk about people who wear socks to bed. Wearing socks makes your feet warm and this opens up the blood vessels that cools the body down.

“The body being cool tells the brain that it’s time for bed. So actually, people that wear socks tend to fall asleep faster.”

The theory is backed up by a 2007 study published in Physiology and Behaviour, which showed that changes in skin temperature – like cold feet – could slow down falling asleep and interfere with staying asleep.

Sleeping problems? How music and light therapy can ease insomnia

The doctor added in a later interview that any type of comfortable socks can be worn, including cotton, wool or artificial fibre, although it is important to make sure they are not too tight or they will impede blood circulation.

Andrade, who is known for answering medical health and wellness questions on TikTok, also advises on the 10-3-2-1-0 hourly countdown method for a better night’s sleep.

Ten is the number of hours before bed you should stop drinking caffeine. Three hours before bed, stop eating food and drinking alcohol. Two hours before you turn in, stop work to allow your brain to unwind. One hour before bed, turn off devices and screens. And in the morning, when the alarm goes off, hit the snooze button zero times.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Are you among the sleep deprived? Here’s how to get a good night’s rest