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Learn the key ideas of the book by Nick Littlehales


How to improve the quality of your sleep

Sleeping well does not only mean having enough energy to face the day ahead, but it also means improving our physical and mental health. To restore good sleep, we need to know the mechanisms behind it and the mistakes to avoid which can inhibit it. Sleep. The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind provides precious information on the physiology of sleep and the rules to follow if we want to “get a good night”.

Read in 12 min.
Listen in 15 min.

Our alarms wake us up, but we should be listening to our circadian rhythms in order to sleep, and live well

Sleep was not considered very important until we realised the direct correlation between lack of rest and various health problems, such as heart disease, obesity and anxiety. Until the mid-1990’s, our pace of life was simpler: work ended when we left the office, shops were closed on a Sunday and the idea of being constantly connected did not even occur to us. Then, very quickly, even the idea of eight hours’ sleep became an extravagant legend!

In the UK, people sleep an average of six and a half hours a night, but the majority sleeps only six hours and 7% of people admit to only sleeping three hours a night. Artificial light, technology, and travelling by aeroplane, are all enemies of the natural process that we call sleep. We are extremely adaptable creatures, but we cannot maintain this pace for too long.

The circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle managed by our body clock. This clock works from the depths of our brain, to regulate sleep patterns and eating habits, hormone production, the regulation of our body temperature, our mood and digestion, in a process that lasts 24 hours, and is the product of millions of years of evolution, which works in perfect harmony with the earth’s rotation. For example, our bodies produce melatonin between 9 at night and 6 in the morning, at 3:30 am our body temperature is at its lowest of the whole day, the moment when we are most vigilant is around 10 in the morning, and our cardiovascular efficiency reaches its peak at 5 in the afternoon.

Sleep is regulated by another component, the homeostatic pressure of sleep, which is the indicator of our need to rest. This intuitive need is activated from the moment we wake up, and the longer we are awake, the greater it becomes. In healthy mice, during waking hours, about eighty proteins accumulate chemical markers at regular intervals, which add up the time elapsed since they last slept. The more markers there are, the more the need for sleep becomes urgent. Sleeping resets the system, returning the proteins to their initial condition, and wiping away the markers.

When we sleep regularly, our homeostatic pressure, which is our need for sleep, will reach its peak in coincidence with our circadian impulse, allowing us to hit the ideal window for sleep. During the night, we tend to reach our ideal time-frame for effective sleep around 2 or 3 in the morning.


The key ideas of "Sleep"

Our alarms wake us up, but we should be listening to our circadian rhythms in order to sleep, and live well
Light is our body clock’s main switch, and there is nothing better than natural light to help it adjust
Larks and night owls: our chronotype depends on our biological clock – early risers have fast clocks and evening types’ clocks run slow
The unit of measurement for sleep is not time, but the cycle, which is made up of 4 phases, which last an average of 90 minutes
The before and after set us up for a good sleep: to the 5 cycles we need to add a pre and post routine
Mattresses, partners and bedrooms: getting in the right position depends on your body type
Post lunch nap? A power nap is better
Take-home message
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