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A Life in Sleep How sleep plays out over a lifetime

Steven Willis  By Steven Willis   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Last updated: Tuesday 17th September 2013

A Life in Sleep  How sleep plays out over a lifetime

Our new survey took a step back from the daily issues of sleep, and instead took a long-term view of the subject. How long-term? Well, an entire lifetime. Looking at sleep from this perspective gave us the chance to really put sleep into context as a major part of our lives, revealing some particularly staggering statistics in the process.

By taking individual elements of sleep and expanding them over the course of an average lifetime we were able to highlight just how much time we actually spend sleeping, along with some of the various things that happen when we’re asleep. Some of the most interesting findings in the survey were based on sleep disruptions, and particularly how many of these disturbances add up over time. From joyous life events such as the birth of a baby to the everyday occurrence of sleeping with a partner, the amount of sleep that we lose for different reasons can sometimes reach quite shocking levels, especially when viewed from this long-term perspective.

The survey gathered responses from a group of 1,812 people over the age of 18 in the UK, and put the facts and figures of their sleeping lives under the spotlight. Here are some of the highlights from the study…

Newborns and Sleep Loss

One of the most starling stats that came out of our survey results wasn’t from a long-term collation of time over an entire life, but the sleep-loss that happens over the course of a single year with the arrival of a newborn. Losing 44 days of sleep during the first year of a baby’s life is an incredible adjustment for anyone, let alone someone tasked with the difficult job of caring for a baby. While a nightly sleep time of 5.1 hours, revealed as the average for new parents, may be suitably rejuvenating for some people it’s not likely to be long enough for most – and will lead to sleep deprivation quite quickly.

The effects of sleep deprivation range from mild – such as being irritable and unproductive - through to severe, in which serious health issues can arise. In short, sleep deprivation should be avoided in any form, yet the 24/7 role of a new parent makes such an aim almost impossible. Although the first weeks of a newborn’s life may feel like a whirlwind of emotions and never-ending demands, there are some ways to reduce the severity of the inevitable sleep loss.

Sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s a well-worn piece of parental advice, but it endures because it works. New babies, for all their crying, milk-guzzling and nappy-filling, sleep for a massive portion of the day. Although a frazzled new parent may struggle to believe it at times, newborns sleep for up to 18 hours a day. That leaves plenty of opportunities to get some shut-eye yourself without neglecting your parental duties. Of course, these 18 hours are staggered over the 24 hour period, and new babies have no regard for night or day, but you’ll likely get some two-hour windows where the baby is sound asleep between feeds. Take the opportunity and get used to power naps – alarm-timed twenty minute sleep sessions that will give you the energy top-up that you need to refresh and get through the day without descending into a zombie-like state.

Treat night-time accordingly. One of the harsh realities of a baby waking up every couple of hours is that it’ll be awake – and loudly demanding – at various points in the middle of the night. These are the dreaded ‘night feeds’, and they can become a brutally incessant factor of the early stages of a baby’s life. However, just because you’re awake it doesn’t mean that it should be all-go. Keep the environment as low-light and quiet as possible, and don’t be tempted to turn on the television, phone, computer or any other stimulating entertainment. By keeping the feed as night-like as possible you’re demonstrating the characteristics of the time to your baby, and giving yourself the best chance of a quick return to sleep when you do climb back into bed.

Accept help when it’s offered. New babies often have a magnetic effect on family and friends, and you might be on the receiving end of lots of offers of help, from baby-sitting to grocery shopping and, if you’re very lucky, cleaning and household chores. If you’re comfortable that these offers aren’t infringing on your private time and space with the baby then it’s a good idea to accept them sometimes. Anything that reduces your daily demands, even occasionally, will help lower stress levels and aid your sleep quality.

Remember yourself. It’s entirely natural to want to devote your every waking moment to the happiness and comfort of the new baby, but if you neglect yourself then you’re reducing your ability as a parent. The effects of sleep deprivation aren’t helpful characteristics to have when you’re so busy. Make sure you maintain a healthy diet. Again, by eating the right foods you’re giving yourself the best chance of sleeping well when the opportunity arises.

Drink-fuelled sleep… or lack of it

Alcohol-effected sleep made a small but notable appearance in the survey results, with the finding that Brits go to bed drunk on average 7 times a year. Drinking is often associated with a common misconception when it comes to sleep, in that it is widely believed to assist in the process thanks to sleepiness being a typical symptom of being excessively drunk. Despite bringing on tiredness in some cases, the sleep that follows is invariably low quality and not restorative. Alcohol’s diuretic effects also make night-time toilet trips a frequent necessity, interrupting sleep and continually disrupting the natural progression through the sleep cycle.

With the average number of ‘drunk sleeps’ amounting to just one week a year it at least leaves plenty of time to catch up on lost sleep.

Thousands of dreams

The subject of dreams made an appearance in the survey, hot on the heels of last week’s investigation, and we thought the results were particularly fascinating. With the finding that we experience an average of 12,597 dreams throughout our lives, the full extent of our nocturnal flights-of-fancy is revealed.

However, when factoring in some of the results of last week’s dream survey – in which worry, stress and even humiliation all featured highly – that makes a depressingly high number of dreams being negative in nature over the course of our lives. The idea of introducing a better work/life balance, as well as de-stressing to create a calmed sleeping environment where dreams are more likely to be positive is surely worth adopting.

The Mattresses of your Lifetime

One result that we were naturally interested in here at Ergoflex™ was the number of mattresses that we use over a lifetime, and according to the results this was an average of 8. This is an interesting figure, and was broken down into a neatly-ordered progression of sizes throughout our lives, from a cot mattress (1), to single (2), double (4) and finally king-size (1). This life on mattresses succinctly shows how our sleep requirements change as we get older, as well as the often-aspirational drive towards a bigger bed. It also raised some interesting questions on what we expect from our mattresses, and indeed what they should be providing.

While the survey clearly looked at the life of people, this element brought the lifespan of mattresses into focus. As there’s such a variation in the quality of mattresses available these days this isn’t a clear-cut topic by any means. Added to the fact that different mattress technologies and material compositions have vastly different longevities, and the idea of saying how long a mattress ‘should’ last becomes even more difficult. Not all mattresses are equal!

Most of us will begin a search for a new mattress based on price, looking at the options within an affordable range. It is at this point when cheaper mattresses are at their most appealing, especially among those of us with an eye for a ‘bargain’. However, this approach more often than not results in a false economy where you not only end up spending more, but you’re also risking your health and wellbeing – such is the importance of sleep. Opting for a cheap mattress will certainly be good for your bank balance in the first instance, but by choosing to save a few pounds you’re also making a commitment to an inferior product that simply won’t be able to deliver the nightly performance of a higher quality alternative, and this will result in a poorer quality sleep. The materials and workmanship on offer in cheaper mattresses don’t produce a long-lasting product - so not only will your nightly sleep be poor, the mattress will deteriorate quickly, providing an even-worse sleeping experience over time. In such a scenario you’ll be forced to replace your mattress far quicker than if you’d chosen a better quality alternative in the first place, effectively paying at least double what you’d expected to pay and getting some dreadful, potentially harmful sleep in the meantime. If you’re regularly suffering from aches and pains, or you feel that your mattress isn’t providing the best sleeping experience then it is likely time for a change.

The Ergoflex™ memory foam mattress has been developed to provide what we believe to be the optimum sleeping environment. Combining high density visco-elastic memory foam with a cool sleep air flow layer and a high quality base, the Ergoflex™ delivers a temperature-sensitive, pressure-relieving experience that positively promotes night-long comfort and body support.

When it comes to mattresses the main considerations should always be how it performs on a nightly basis, whether it sufficiently supports your body where it’s needed, and ultimately how rejuvenated you feel after sleeping on it. A good quality mattress should deliver on all of these things, from the early days right throughout the following years. Taking into account the long-term view of this survey and just how long we spend asleep during our lives, as well as the vital health benefits that good sleep delivers, you really do owe it to yourself to make a considered, balanced decision when it comes to your mattress. A good choice of mattress will repay you every single day. Think of it as an investment in yourself.

 

Disruptive partners

Another area that we’ve previously looked at in detail also popped up in this survey, that of partner disturbance. Married and coupled-up respondents claimed that on average they were woken up 2.1 times per week by their bed-partner, with snoring or ‘bedtime habits’ taking the blame. With the long-view approach of the survey this equated to 109 sleep disturbances per year – a figure that really highlights the potential sleep-loss that a partner can cause. Perhaps the idea of separate beds wasn’t such a bad suggestion after all!

26 years

Overall, the biggest stat that came out of the survey was the fact that over an average lifespan we will sleep for around 26 years in total. When you take that figure, and consider how sleep plays such a key role in the rest of our lives, it’s not hard to see why sleep needs to be prioritised. When you consider it’s something that we’ll spend more than a quarter of a century doing it perhaps warrants a little more consideration into how well we’re doing with it.

Sleep is typically something that few of us think about in detail, especially compared to the exciting and exciting things that combine to make up our waking lives. However, by giving sleep the thought that it deserves we’re increasing the chances of everything else in our lives – work, play, health and happiness – is as good as it can be.

By making sure that those 26 years are well-spent – with regular good quality sleep – we’re helping to make sure that the remaining time in our life, when we’re awake, is as rewarding as possible.


A Life in Sleep

 

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