Why Sleep Matters.

This week's request for a solution was a tiny three words long. Indicative perhaps of how debilitating this issue is. When we are sleep deprived, everything hurts.

Lack of Sleep



Back in my twenties I used to think sleep was a waste of time, and couldn’t wait until there was a pill that made it redundant! Fast forward twenty years, and I appreciate that it’s clearly vital to our physical and mental wellbeing, and I now do several things each day to get the most out of each night in dreamland.

Here’s a major benefit to sleep that most people overlook. Having an optimal hormonal balance is critical to achieving and maintaining your ideal weight. If the quality of your sleep is poor, then your hormones will be too. This also leads to lower daytime energy, with a reliance on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar, further disrupting the hormones that will keep you lean. A well-rested brain also enables better decision making, and improves your ability to resist over-indulging on junk food!

There are dozens of habits and environmental tweaks you can implement to improve the quality of your sleep. Try starting with your bedroom:

  • Ensure that the bedroom is as dark as possible when the lights go out. Blackout blinds may be necessary.

  • Turn off anything that gives off even a small amount of light, such as the standby light on a TV. Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see your hand held up in front of your face. If this is unachievable, then try using a contoured eye-mask.

  • A sunrise alarm clock is great for waking up gradually without the irritation and jolt of a standard alarm. There are options available such as the 'Lumie Bodyclock', which is designed to gradually fill the room with light at your chosen time.

  • If your body temperature is making you too hot during the night, you can control it using a cooling blanket, reviews for market leaders here.

  • Avoid using your phone or tablet in bed before sleep, as the blue-light intensity disrupts melatonin – the primary sleep hormone. Apple and Android devices now have the option to dim and tint the screen after sunset, but this is still not effective enough. If you need to use a device in bed, consider buying some blue-blocking glasses - there are now loads of options available!


So many of us chase sleep as the ultimate nirvana. Up until relatively recently, it was deemed to be a domain of the laggard, with Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill both consigning it to the preserve of the weak. A new term of 'Sleepless Elite' has been bestowed upon a superhuman group of titans who claim to need as little as three hours sleep a night, modern luminaries include Jack Dorsey, Twitter, Tom Ford and Donald Trump. I'll just leave that right there.

But we are only just beginning to understand sleep, not just how to get there, but why we need it. A study published last year in The Review of Economics and Statistics found that workers who live in locations where people get more sleep (leafy suburbs, anyone?) tend to earn more than those in areas where people get less. Although, by corollary, earning more can be more stressful and lead to less sleep, so it's a case of be careful what you wish for. Many studies have linked stress with increased anxiety, conflict and loss of will power.

A recent study in Trinity, as part of TILDA (the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing - I don't know why it's not TILSA either!) pointed to the health risks of too much or too little sleep, with 31% of Irish adults falling into that category. According to Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester, 'just enough' sleep, the regulation eight hours, is taking on a new importance as it's the brain's way of 'Taking out the trash'. During our deep sleep, in a study that she published in Science, she claims the brain is 'like a dishwasher', flushing out toxins and in so doing, reducing the risk of Alzheimers.

The process is important because what's getting washed away during sleep are waste proteins that are toxic to brain cells, Nedergaard says. She believes that this cleansing process is too intense for anything other than sleep time "It's probably not possible for the brain to both clean itself and at the same time [be] aware of the surroundings and talk and move and so on," she says. What's being washed away is beta amyloid, the plaque associated with the onset of Alzheimers. "Isn't it interesting that Alzheimer's and all other diseases associated with dementia, they are linked to sleep disorders," Nedergaard says.

Are you, in a near desperate state, now wondering how to mitigate against the ravages of rogue toxins as you toss and turn? Maybe think about the power of draining your system before you drain your brain. Just as a build up of plaque can muddy our brain functionality, so a build up of energy, food and emotion can disturb this vital processing time. Try these simple tips for five days to drain your system, preparing it for sleep.

  • Give yourself three hours to digest before sleeping.

  • Schedule fifteen minutes exercise before bed, ( use an app for guidance - just get that heart rate up.

  • Shower away the sweat and the day. (Psst - a bowel movement would be an added bonus at this point.)

  • Write down any stresses or concerns in a journal before you turn out the light.

You will hit the pillow carrying a lighter load in all departments, five days of this brings you five days closer to creating a habit, not only in your behaviour, but also in your sleep patterns.

Night night.