THE BLOG

Slumber By Numbers? Time To Wake Up To Counting Sleep

13/03/2017 13:16 GMT | Updated 13/03/2017 13:16 GMT

How many hours of sleep did you get last night? Perhaps you're feeling content after your sleep tracking app said you slept for eight hours and seven minutes. Or a little under the weather having had less than five hours? In reality it can be hard to achieve the recommended average of eight hours each night - we stay up later than intended, our minds stay active when we should be sleeping, then our alarm goes off earlier than we'd like. We know from our own research that nearly two thirds of adults in Britain (64%) sometimes, often or always experience problems with sleep or experience insomnia.

Not only can trouble drifting off and staying asleep be frustrating at the time but poor quality sleep can affect our cognitive ability, mental health and physical wellbeing in the short and longer term. For example, we may notice our concentration levels are low, we may not be as productive as usual and we may also feel irritable. Sleep and energy management play an important part in helping us to strengthen and maintain our resilience so that we can better handle life's challenges and difficulties - both at home and at work. In a second study, we recently found that nearly a third of adults (32%) rank sleep as the activity that has the greatest impact on their resilience, outscoring exercise, diet and time spent with family and friends. Worryingly, the UK is under-sleeping by an average of almost an hour every night, which amounts to losing an entire night's sleep over the course of a week.

It's perhaps not surprising then that, of the two-thirds (64%) of Britons we polled who have never used an app to monitor their sleep, 42% said they would consider doing so in the future. Sleep apps can track what time you fall asleep, wake up and how many times your sleep is disturbed in between. They can report on when you fall into your deepest slumber and, in the case of 'Sleep Cycle', allow you to schedule an alarm to rouse you during your lightest period of sleep to help you wake up feeling fresher.

It's encouraging that there is a market for sleep monitoring if it means that people are using the information to improve the amount and quality of their sleep. Sleep apps can be useful in offering an indication of sleeping pattern as well as provide supporting evidence for a doctor if an individual has a health concern. Monitoring sleep can also provide a reality check on how much shut-eye an individual is getting and, in turn, prompt them to change their lifestyle, wind-down routine or sleep environment to facilitate sufficient, uninterrupted sleep.

But it's important to use the information provided by sleep apps wisely. The wearable technology industry isn't regulated, unlike most diagnostic technology that would be used by the NHS. The information should be treated as a guide as it isn't a scientifically exact, personalised medical solution. So how accurate are our monitors? For example, if your tracker senses someone else moving in your bed, it'll affect the accuracy of your own tracker reading. People can also become dissatisfied or frustrated because their app reports that their sleep was too light, too short or too interrupted and may become preoccupied with how this might affect their mood or their concentration the next day.

Additionally, monitoring sleep too rigorously and taking the results as gospel can escalate into obsession and any obsession that interferes with your daily thoughts is a problem. At a time when health monitoring data are freely accessible through apps and wearable technology, it's easy to get hung up on the numbers - whether it's how much we've slept or how many steps we've walked. However, we risk developing a 'performance anxiety' over sleep, which can, in turn, hinder us from falling asleep and enjoying good quality slumber.

If you experience poor sleep - either as a one-off or on a regular basis - consider what might have caused it. For example, what's your bedtime routine? Do you make time for relaxing activities such as taking a hot bath, reading or listening to calming music? Or is your sleep being affected by blue light from using your phone to check your social media and emails while the TV's on in the background? Another contributing factor to poor sleep can be the amount of caffeine we have in our bodies so trying a caffeine curfew from 2pm each day may help. Ultimately, be kind to yourself - you can't change the past and worrying about your sleep won't help. Having a relaxed body and mind is the first step towards a peaceful night's sleep.

1. Royal College of Psychiatrists (2010). Sleeping well; help is at hand: http://www.nhs.uk/ipgmedia/national/royal%20college%20of%20psychiatrists/assets/sleepingwell.pdf

2. Online poll of 2,094 GB adults undertaken November 2016 by YouGov Plc.

3. Online poll of 2,000 UK adults undertaken January 2017 by Vitreous World.

4. Royal Society for Public Health (2016). Public missing out on a night's worth of sleep every week: https://www.rsph.org.uk/about-us/news/public-missing-out-on-a-night-s-worth-of-sleep-every-week.html