Rise and shine

13th July 2007 at 01:00
No more late night marking or early morning dashes to school it's bedded bliss. But Hannah Frankel reveals why more time asleep may not be as good for your health as you once thought

With the holidays around the corner, you can at last dream about getting more sleep. No more late night marking and early morning dashes to school; bring on the blissful lie-ins.

Your non-teaching partner may look on with murderous envy as you enjoy an extra hour or two, but can "sleep bingeing" damage your health?

"The jury is still out on whether you should catch up on sleep debt," says Jessica Alexander from The Sleep Council. "But if you can take time out to get more sleep at certain times of the year, it is better than nothing."

Maintaining regular hours, however, is much healthier than dramatically varying sleep levels to suit holiday and term times.

"Teachers should try to pace themselves throughout the year," says Jessica. "The ideal scenario is to give your body regular sleeping hours so it primes itself for sleep at certain times. Obviously that is not always possible, but if teachers want to avoid a vicious circle where fatigue causes stress, which leads to less sleep and so on it is something they should aim for."

Just how much sleep a person needs is also under debate. Napoleon advocated "six hours of sleep for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool", although it is unclear what that would make former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who famously got by on just four.

The more widespread belief is that adults need eight hours a night to function at their peak, although even this is too simplistic, according to Jessica.

"It depends on each individual's requirements," she says. "About 80 per cent of adults will find seven or eight hours' sleep sufficient, with the other 20 per cent either needing more or less than that."

To discover which category you fit into, ask yourself: Do I feel refreshed after sleep? Do I feel awake and alert throughout the day without the aid of stimulants? Can I perform well during the day?

If the answer to any of these is no, chances are you need more quality sleep something defined by being able to get to sleep within 15 minutes of turning off the light and having a fairly undisturbed night.

There are a number of tricks you can try if you are not getting enough quality sleep. The important thing is to "let sleep find you" rather than the other way round. "You have to be in a state of mind where it can creep up on you," Jessica says.

"Instead of marking and concentrating on work at the end of the day, you should wind down and relax. Adults, like children, need a routine that allows them to feel sleepy."



* Get up and go to bed at regular times.

* Do not spend too much time in bed. If awake, it stops your mind associating bed with sleep; if asleep, it may make you restless.

* Do not nap more than twice a week: it lessens the need for nocturnal sleep.

* Do not routinely drink caffeine before bed.

* Do not use the bed for other (sex is okay) activities, eg, television or snacking.

* Buy a comfortable bed.

* Ensure your bedroom is not too bright, stuffy, cluttered, hot or cold.

* Do not over-stretch your brain before bed.

* Try not to think, plan or reminisce in bed.

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