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Friends of Six Senses with Dr. Neil Stanley: How to Sleep Well

It's hard to remember that we didn't even talk about sleep not that long ago,” started Dr. Neil Stanley, “but nowadays, sleep is absolutely everywhere in the media like it's never been before. But the problem is we're talking more about sleep than we've ever done but we're still not doing it. And that's the bizarre thing.”

What’s happened to sleep?

There’s so much advice about sleep out there in books and articles but for some reason, it’s just not hitting home. Why are we all so sleep-deprived? One big factor, Dr. Stanley shared, is that sleep has way more competition than it ever had before. In the old days, the TV went off at 11:00 pm. Now you not only have television 24-hours per day but there is also the internet, a never-stopping river of stories, content and communication. “We're like kids with shiny new toys,” he said, “perhaps we need an alarm clock to tell us when to go to bed!

What’s enough sleep?

Dr. Stanley shared that he’s asleep somewhere between nine and 10 o'clock every night and he wakes up about 6:30 am because he knows after 30 years that he needs about nine and a half hours to feel good the next day. Many of us, though, may only get seven or eight hours a night. Is that too little?

According to Dr. Stanley, it depends on the type of sleep you are getting, and the need is personal. Everybody has a different sleep need. There is a very small proportion of the population who can get by with much less than the rest of us but the most important thing is not the number of hours you get but how you feel during the day.

If you’re tired during the day, obviously you haven’t had enough sleep! Something Dr. Stanley hears all the time is I get by with seven hours. “That sounds a bit rubbish to me,” he continued, “You know, what is that? Is that your ultimate desire, to get by?”

Sleep is the best thing in the world for you and it’s free. Why would you want to deny yourself the pleasure of a good night’s sleep? None of us intend to be sleep deprived when we stay up late working or tending our children or watching just one more episode of a favorite show but somehow the best of our intentions to sleep get thrown out the window by the more immediate gratification or need before us.

The History of Sleeplessness

“We’ve always had this problem,” Dr. Stanley continued, “we've always had things that have taken us away from sleep. In the 18th century, shops in London stayed open until 11:00 pm. You had a pub, you played cards. And then we had a television and in the 80s, we had computer games.”

Back then, though, there was only a small group of society who did these things. It was the young men, for example, who played video games so although some people have always been sleep deprived, most of us weren’t. Now, everybody has this fundamental connection to the world 24/7. According to Dr. Stanley, one of the biggest issues today is using the smartphone as an alarm clock. Having such a tempting device right by your bedside requires more discipline than most of us have to resist picking it up and checking with friends or watching another funny cat video on YouTube. In fact, the CEO of one of the major streaming services said his biggest competitor was not another streaming service. It was sleep. And to beat this competition, his company now reduces the time between programs to such a small interval that you suddenly become hooked on the next program. And your good night’s sleep is out the window.

Teens and Sleep

What about teenagers who are notorious for staying up late and sleeping in? Do they actually need more sleep or are they, well, lazy?

According to Dr. Stanley, “Teenagers do need more sleep than adults because they're going through puberty. They have physical and emotional changes that they have to deal with and those processes happen during the night. For example, teens are laying down their memories, dealing with emotions, even growing. You actually only grow when you sleep in your bed. So teens definitely need more sleep to process all that their bodies are doing but it turns out that their biological clocks are set about two hours later than normal as well. So this drive to stay up is a real biological reality but we don’t know why evolution would do this to teens.”

Six Senses Sleep is

Sleep and Aging

What about those of us over fifty? Do we need to sleep less as we get older?

Dr. Stanley shared that this is one of the big myths about sleep. Somewhere in your 20’s, your sleep need becomes fixed for life so an 85-year-old will need the same sleep she needed at 25. But what often happens is that as you get older, you progressively lose the deepest sleep cycle. As you get older, you may be sleeping the same number of hours, but you don't feel that you've had a good night's sleep. Sleep quality does not have to diminish as you age, though. Many of the problems that keep us up at night as seniors can be fixed with a trip to the doctor like sleep apnea, snoring or too many visits to the loo. But to address the depth of sleep, there are other things you can do like making sure to get exercise, not eating too close to bedtime, and just like teens, staying off your screens before bed.

But there’s another powerful intervention for sleeping more deeply that we can do at any age… have new experiences. Deep sleep is about memory, learning and growth. As we get older, we often stop learning. Think about a child. Every day is full of novelty so they tend to sleep well because their brains need that deep sleep to process new experiences. But if you’ve lived in the same house for years and taken the same route to the store for years, your brain doesn’t have the same need for the deep sleep. So take up an instrument or travel to a new place and see if it doesn’t improve your sleep!

Sleep Tech

What about blue-blocking glasses and screens? Do they actually make a difference?

Dr. Stanley said both yes and no. There was research that showed that if you look at blue light, it stops the release of melatonin, which means you find it harder to fall asleep. The problem, Dr. Stanley shared, is if you strip blue lights out of your screen, you typically end up turning the brightness up, which counteracts removing the blue light. Any light before bed will make it harder to fall asleep so it’s important to put away all the screens at least 45 minutes before you plan to go to sleep or ideally, two hours before bed.

New sleep trackers and devices are coming out every day. Dr. Stanley finds them a mixed bag. Many overpromise what they can do so he cautions people to use the data with a grain of salt. Also, there’s been a trend where people who track their sleep then become obsessed with the sleep and therefore don't sleep as well. It’s also easy to get caught up in the gamification of these tools where you start to get more focused on your “score” than how you actually feel during the day. You also determine your entire sleep quality based on one evening’s data. These tools are great for giving patterns but the bottom line is, if you’re tired, you aren’t getting enough sleep and if you feel good, it doesn't matter what your sleep practices are. You've had enough sleep.

Sleep with Six Senses

Sleep is important to us at Six Senses because as Dr. Stanley shared, a good night's sleep is the foundation for any wellness. Whether it’s the sheets or mattress or the way we design the light in the rooms, our goal is that all our guests have the best sleep of their lives at our properties.

One of the ways we look at sleep is through Dr. Michael Breus’ sleep chronotypes. Finding out which type you are can be helpful to creating a schedule for sleeping and waking that are aligned with your body’s natural design instead of fighting it. To find out your sleep chronotype, click here to take the quiz!

Find out Your Sleep Chronotype

BIO

Dr. Neil Stanley is Director of Sleep Science at Sleepstation.org.uk and author of How to Sleep Well. He has been involved in sleep research for 38 years starting his career at the Neurosciences Division of the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine. He is past Chairman of the British Sleep Society (2000-2004) and a member of the European Sleep Research Society. He has published 38 peer-review papers on various aspects of sleep research and psychopharmacology and is widely quoted by the media as a sleep expert.


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