Live better
Living Etc Magazine|November 2021
LET GOOD DESIGN IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP

In our new monthly series, journalist Fleur Britten investigates an area of life at home we could all improve – and the solutions design has created to help us.

When a group of American sleep scientists studied African and South American hunter-gatherers in 2015, they discovered that these tribes didn’t experience anything like our levels of insomnia. Insomnia, they concluded, is a function of Western lifestyle. ‘Modern society is not conducive to sleep,’ concurs Prof Guy Leschziner, consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London and author of The Nocturnal Brain. ‘A racing or worrying mind is not good for sleep – nor is a bright computer screen, surfing the internet or social media.’

Sleeplessness is a common problem: one-third of British people suffer from insomnia, and even more have off-nights here and there. But assuming we don’t want to return to cave life or relinquish our devices, what else can we do to optimise sleep? Fortunately, scientific progress means we’re no longer in the dark about how to improve matters. For starters, those fabled eight hours a night needn’t be the goal. ‘Somewhere between seven and eight-and-a-half hours is considered optimal,’ Leschziner explains. ‘There is good evidence that regularly getting fewer than seven hours or more than nine isn’t good for you.’ But one size doesn’t fit all, and variation depends on age and genetics. So how much sleep do you need? ‘Check in with how you’re feeling,’ says Lisa Artis, sleep adviser for The Sleep Charity. ‘If your day is still a slog by lunchtime and you find yourself turning to junk food and caffeine to get you through, then you’re not getting enough.’

Prepping for a good night’s sleep should start the minute you wake up. Experts agree we should rise at the same time daily, even at weekends – this should be matched to our chronotype (ie, whether you’re a lark or a night owl), and any more than an hour’s deviation either side will confuse your circadian rhythm. As soon as you rise, let in the daylight: ‘Bright light helps people wake up more quickly,’ Leschziner says. ‘It’s probably the strongest driver of our circadian rhythm.’ It’s why you’ll also want blackout blinds or curtains, to avoid light exposure at the wrong time of day.

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