Why don’t I sleep well? You asked Google- here’s the answer | Paul Kelley

Every day tens of thousands of internet users ask Google some of lifes most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

We all have different sleep patterns, and almost anyone can improve theirs. So lets begin with the three keys to better sleep which might work for an average person.

The first is a healthy life style. Youre more likely to sleep well if you feed healthily, exert, and have day for a good social and/ or family life. Good nutrition and food habits benefit all bodily functions, including sleep and health; exert helps reduce stress; and good relationships do the same while also improving mood, and enabling relaxation before sleep.

The second key is the length of hour you sleep, with about eight hours a night being a good quantity for the average person. Dont be surprised if you sleep less though. Most working people in modern society are sleep deprived by an hour or two each day. But six hours of sleep is too little. Sleep matters more than we realise, so attaining time to sleep for about eight hours is good advice for almost everyone.

The third key is the time you try to go to sleep( if you think of change work and the problems this causes people, its obvious that this is important ). Most people have two different day patterns one during the working week, the other for weekends and holidays. Its no astonish that holiday timing is better for sleep. As a rule of thumb, waking at 8am and going to sleep at midnight is about right for the average person.

You may need to adjust these timings if youre different from the norm. Some of us are morning kinds( naturally getting up and going to sleep earlier) and others are evening types( naturally get up and going to sleep later ). These kinds are formally known as chronotypes. To find out if you are a morning type( lark) or evening kind( owl) its worth appearing up the MCTQ short questionnaire. This is probably the best way for a morning person to find out accurately if they are an extreme early, very early, early, slightly early or normal type and find appropriate sleep timings( the same applies for evening types ).

These timings are given in the MCTQ results: the average person aftermaths at 8-9am and goes to sleep at midnight to 1am. In contrast, some extreme early types wake at 5am and go to sleep at 9pm. This shows the huge discrepancies between chronotypes that occur naturally in a large population. These differences can affect many people. For instance, some moderate late forms would wake up at 11 am and go to sleep at 3am, if allowed to adhere to their natural rhythms, and this group makes up more than 5% of the population.

Of course, these MCTQ timings are not rigid regulations, only a rough measure of times to guide you to understanding your own sleep better. They might also help you understand people in your family. This is especially true for teenagers and young adults whose sleep patterns can alter to dramatically afterwards times.


If you work in education, its worth actively looking at later start times for secondary students. Photograph: Alamy

Lets consider some examples. Ella is in her 30 s, and works in a busy office in London. Until two years ago, she says, I could sleep like a newborn for 14 hours, but I think stress and the occasional glass of wine have had an impact on my sleep. What I find now is that its not hard to get to sleep, but I wake up three or four times during the night, and never feel hugely rested in the morning. I dont remember the last day I had a full, uninterrupted nights sleep. And in terms of the times I sleep best, Friday night is definitely always best available, and Sunday night is the worst.

Ella is typical in many ways. People working in busy office jobs are very frequently stressed, and on Friday nights they sleep best, because there is less stress, while on Sunday night the prospect of a demanding week causes poor sleep. Alcohol tends to lead to interrupted sleep , not to relaxing into good sleep. External pressures from Ellas work are causing a problem and drinking before sleep stimulates it worse.

Annie works in the same office as Ella, and says shes suffered from insomnia since she was a adolescent. I wake up at 3am, and cant get back to sleep. This used to stress me out, which obviously worsens the problem, so as Ive get older Ive stopped worrying about it so much. This doesnt construct their own problems better, but it means I merely accept that there are nights when I wont get a good enough sleep. Sunday night is always my worst nights sleep, and I try to be strict with myself I stop myself going online for a few hours before I go to bed, and I dont read anything work-related in that period either. I try to avoid email, especially, because theres always pressure to get back to emails immediately, and once youre in that zone, youre wired.

Annie took the MCTQ test, and this proved she is an early type, who would, if left to her own devices, naturally wake up earlier than 85% of the population. This would have been particularly striking as a teen, feeling tired and ready for sleep when everyone else was remaining up later and later. She is very perceptive in her adoption of her sleep patterns, especially her sleeplessness, and when it is necessary to Sunday nights, her strictness with herself is excellent we should all do that.

Understanding your sleep can put things in context. The next step is to consider whether there are changes you can make to your daily life that will help you sleep well. You can probably make a list on the basis of the three keys: better lifestyle, inducing eight hours of sleep possible, and knowing your chronotype.

What next? Run or education timings are the biggest barrier to good sleep in modern society. This is because the start times are generally too early. For instance, if you are an average person, your wake time would be about 8am. If your current task starts at 8 or 9am, it isnt possible to keep to this wake hour and be on time. These early starts punish almost everyone: government employees( too little sleep leads to poorer performance and greater health risks ), the employer( as staff are not at their best ), and the stockholders( as productivity wont be as high as it could be ).

Better work periods are better for all. Even work shifts can be improved using personnel chronotypes, as has been shown recently in Germany, where a brilliant sleep researcher called Till Roenneberg came up with the idea of using the chronotypes of workers in the steel industry to ensure that evening type employees did more night shifts, and early types did more early starts. The result? The employees sleep an hour longer each night and arrive at work feeling better.

Greater flexibility considering working hours makes sense, and is a growing trend. For instance, a company in London called dRMM architects allows employees to manage their work hours as long as they meet their targets. If youre struggling with sleep, it might( depending on your situation) be worth asking your employer for a more flexible approach. And if you run a big business, consider flexible hours for employees, to boost productivity, health, mood and performance.

If you work in education, its worth actively looking at afterward start times for secondary students. There is a clear scientific occurrence for later start times and an exciting opportunity to join Oxfords project Teensleep, which is recruiting 100 secondary schools to try out 10 am starts and sleep education in a random controlled trial to improve sleep, health and performance. If youre based in the US, try looking at Start School Later, a campaign to move school starting times to later than 8.30 am. Seattle school district, for example, has just moved all its secondary school are beginning to a later time, recognising that early starts increase health risks and emotional harm, while lowering academic and sports performance.

There are a number of other things you can do in your daily life to improve your sleep. Direct sunlight, especially in the morning, helps keep your sense of hour tuned to the 24 -hour day, so try to be outside then. In the last hour or two before your natural sleep time have a routine that helps you determine, such as a quiet, dark, comfy bedroom. In the last hour, dont employ screen technologies or bright sunlights. As a general rule, dont use drugs unless prescribed by your doctor. In the morning, dont employ stimulants like cigarettes to wake you up, or depressants like alcohol and sleeping pills at night. Coffee and tea in the morning are fine.

Sleep is merely a part of our daily pattern of run and rest; tiredness and alertness; and the various 24 -hour rhythms of our body. We tend to think differently about aftermath and sleep events, though there is no reason to do so. If you sleep in the day a nap we tend to think of it as a treat and wise. If we wake at night as most of us do then we can feel as if something is wrong and worry. So if you do wake up and cant sleep only then, get up and do something until you are interested in going back to sleep.

The benefits of sleep are now understood to include better memory, insight and health. Sleep helps clean our brains of toxins, and enables us to create long-term memories( while forgetting trivia ).

If you need more help, its always worth talking to your doctor and getting their advice. Sleep is your friend: treat it well.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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