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Sleep poses a constant conundrum to scientists. Why do we sleep? When should we sleep? You may even ask yourself, how much sleep do I need? It has long been thought that we should all be shooting for seven to nine hours per night if we want to look, feel and perform at our best.
We obsess over optimising our sleep-wake cycles, improving our sleep quality, worry if we don’t fall asleep the minute our head hits the pillow and become anxious if we repeatedly wake up during the night. Yes, of course some of us suffer from real insomnia, but could it be that the rest of us simply don’t require the often-recommended eight hours of sleep?
New research shows us that, in fact, not everyone does need eight hours sleep per night. Sleep requirements, it seems, are highly individualised and actually vary significantly from one person to the next. Time Magazine recently ran an article to this effect, and in doing so suggested that individual circadian clocks may well be the next frontier of personalised medicine.
Many of us suffer from what we deem insomnia. But is it insomnia really? Or do we simply have lower sleep requirements than are generally recommended? Seemay Chou explained to Time that “It feels really good for me to sleep four hours,” she said. “When I’m in that rhythm, that’s when I feel my best.” So perhaps some of us really do need less sleep than others.
Prof. Paul Clayton, LYMA’s Director of Science and a world authority in nutritional science, told us that he thrives when he gets between five and six hours of shut-eye per night. Everyone, it seems, is different. We caught up with Prof. Clayton to chat about sleep, nutrition, sleep supplements, insomnia and the importance of getting a good night’s rest - and how that doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.
When we talk about the body’s internal clock, we are technically referring to its circadian rhythm. Nearly all living animals are genetically programmed to this internal clock which is adapted to the Earth’s rotational schedule of 24 hours. Every cell in our body is linked to the circadian rhythm, so it is logical that sleep should be so intrinsically linked also. Everything in the body, be that metabolism, hormones, the immune system, reproductive function, even how DNA is translated, is influenced by a circadian rhythm. Just ten years ago, scientists discovered the first human gene linked to natural short sleep and that some people possess a rare genetic mutation which enables them to gain the same benefits from six hours of sleep per night as others without the mutation received from eight hours. In 2019, two more genes connected to natural short sleep were discovered, further proving that functioning well on less sleep can be a genuine genetic trait.Paul Clayton: “I’m so pleased this research has come to light and is now in the public domain. It’s something I’ve personally been aware of for some time. The variation in circadian rhythms and therefore sleep requirements has been known for some time; I had the opportunity to study with Ian Oswald at the pioneering Sleep Lab in Edinburgh, and he was well aware of this”
Deep sleep is not the same as quality sleep and the length of time we sleep for is not the deciding factor either. Quality sleep requires the body to pass through phases of deep, light and REM sleep, therefore completing full sleep cycles. This usually takes around eight hours for the body to complete naturally and is optimised when sleep starts 2-3 hours before midnight. Taking sleeping pills is an assured way of forcing the body into a deeply sedated state but cannot create quality, restorative sleep. Supplements that create a calm, quiet mental state and feelings of relaxation are far more likely to generate top quality sleep that includes sufficient REM phases for regeneration of the mind and body.
Prof. Paul Clayton: “As the Time article spelled out, there is no universal sleep requirement and the amount of sleep required varies from one individual to the next. Listen to your body.
I need 5-6 hours, and this is not unusual. Some people need as few as four hours, or as many as ten. It totally depends on the individual. Genes linked to lower sleep requirements have been identified, and scientists are on the hunt for genes linked to greater sleep requirements too.”
Get your sleep hygiene right. This means a focus on bed quality, getting the right lighting in your bedroom, soundproofing your room or even sound cancelling if possible, taking pain relief before bed if necessary, and focusing on reducing your stress levels as appropriate.
Try not to nap during the day, do not watch television (or use screens in general) in bed, do not eat or read in bed, avoid vigorous exercise three hours before bedtime and get out of bed when you can't fall asleep or if you find yourself unable to sleep during the night. Bed should be for sleeping only.
Furthermore, experts advise that you do not go to bed until you are tired, follow the same bedtime rituals every night and set a regular schedule to get up in the morning. All of these mandates should be applied every day without fail, even at the weekend.
What we eat can certainly impact our sleep; that is well-established. Some foods can have a negative effect on sleep quality, that’s for sure. It’s almost universally accepted in the scientific community that you should aim to avoid caffeine and nicotine, unless you are what we call ‘paradoxical’ and find caffeine to be a sedative (this is rare but does occur in some people). Keep alcohol intake to a minimum, particularly in the evening, as this has been shown to have a negative impact on sleep quality.
Foods rich in L-tryptophan may be helpful for people who generally struggle to fall, or stay, asleep. High L-tryptophan foods include turkey, fish, oats, cheese, red meat, nuts, seeds, tofu, chicken, beans, lentils, and eggs.
Stress reduction via a xeno-hormetic or a VTA-agonist can help to improve sleep, as can regular supplementation with a validated Ashwagandha - such as the KSM-66® strain of Ashwagandha in LYMA - or a a validated saffron extract like affron®.
KSM-66® Ashwagandha and affron® are both top quality as far as sleep-supporting ingredients go.
KSM-66® is a validated extract of Ashwagandha that not only alleviates stress and brings calm, but actively encourages a reduction in sleep onset latency and a substantial improvement in one’s quality of sleep.
affron® has been clinically proven to alleviate low mood and its associated symptoms, including insomnia and other sleep problems.
Finally, LYMA’s anti-inflammatory curcuminoid, HydroCurc®, works in symbiotic parallel with affron® to prevent oxidative stress from taking hold in the hippocampus, further supporting healthy sleep metabolism.
As is the case with every aspect of health and wellbeing, from diet and exercise to mental wellbeing and capacity for learning, the amount of sleep required by an individual varies from person to person according to a combination of age, lifestyle and genetic factors. The key is to listen to your body and to maintain a routine that works for you. If you’re worried that you might not be getting the right amount of sleep, you should try sleeping for different lengths of time to figure out what works best for you. Assess how you feel come morning and draw your own conclusions. Most importantly, don’t listen to anybody else when it comes to you and your body: we are all different and that, after all, is what keeps life interesting.