From 5am starts to the top 5 dreams

From 5am starts to the top 5 dreams // The Guardian

In our fast-paced world, catching zzzs has become more difficult than ever. Here, wellbeing writer Kate Faithfull-Williams dives into the data and explains how we can make sure we get the sleep we need …

How did you sleep last night? If you’re yawning into your coffee as you read this, or you’re wide-eyed at 3am, it’s a fair guess that you’re among the 66% of us not getting enough sleep.

“For too long, sleep has been overlooked as we’ve focused on diet and exercise, but I believe sleep is the fundamental pillar of health,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, M&S sleep expert and author of The Stress Solution.

In fact, sleep has now become such a huge issue that a recently leaked health green paper warns: “Failure to sleep between seven and nine hours a night is associated with physical and mental health problems, including an increased risk of obesity, strokes, heart attacks, depression and anxiety.” On the back of this research, the government is poised to offer guidance on getting the sleep we need to look after our health.

Here are the numbers that mean everything to our sleep …

The sleep-loss epidemic

Exhausted has become the new normal. According to a recent survey led by biochemist Dr Libby Weaver, 97% of women wake up feeling tired. Every morning! Ninety-seven percent! And the World Health Organization has pointed to a global epidemic of sleeplessness with roughly two-thirds of adults sleeping fewer than eight hours a night.

How much sleep do we really need?

Probably more than we’re getting. A panel of academics analysed data from 320 international studies and concluded that adults need between seven and nine hours’ sleep a night to maintain good health. So, eight hours is your best benchmark. Any less than six hours a night and you’ll begin to feel the negative impacts, starting with low mood and less energy.

To make sure you are getting enough sleep, it’s essential to have a comfortable mattress. Try M&S’s Memory Cool Foam 750 mattress, from £399 – it moulds to your contours, relieving pressure points such as hips and shoulders.

Find your sleep rhythm

Our body clocks don’t follow a strict 24-hour rhythm. In fact, says Prof Jason Ellis, author of The One-Week Insomnia Cure, our circadian rhythm runs on a 24-and-a-half-hour schedule, and the exact time varies between individuals. We rely on light, food and exercise to regulate our personal circadian rhythm.

Do you love mornings?

You may be shocked to discover that some people genuinely do love mornings. Our passion/loathing for mornings comes down to our chronotype. Ellis explains: “This is the individual difference in the timing of the sleep/wake circadian rhythm.” Morning people, also known as larks, like to get challenging things done early in the day – more than 817k Instagram posts celebrate #5am.

Evening types prefer to go to bed late and sleep late and, warns Ellis, the mismatch between standard working hours and this chronotype means night owls are more at risk of developing insomnia.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead

Just one night of sleep deprivation can mess with the genes that repair DNA, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Hong Kong. “Even a single night of sleep deprivation can trigger events that may contribute to the development of chronic disease,” warns Dr Siu-Wai Choi, who led the research.Sleeping for fewer than six hours almost doubles the risk of dying from heart disease. And we’re not just talking about long-term dangers: fatigue is a factor in up to 25% of fatal or serious road accidents, estimates the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

Try M&S’s This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray 75ml, £19.50, to help reduce sleep-associated anxiety.

Sleeping on the job

If you want to get promoted, improve your memory or ace an exam, sleep is proven to increase concentration and productivity. Sleep is the magic bullet that can help your body recover after intense exercise and give you the motivation to do more. It is proven to deliver such benefits to the skin that a good night’s sleep can actually make you look younger. Sleep is also the best way to control food cravings. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that we eat 385 more calories when we’re sleep deprived. What’s more, sleep can make us feel happier and more able to cope with stress, say researchers at Harvard Medical School.

Mind the sleep gap

Did you know women are twice as likely to report insomnia as men? The gender sleep gap starts with parenthood. NHS research shows new mothers lose 62 minutes of sleep every night, while fathers sleep only 13 minutes less. It is believed that years of being the default parent (“Mummeeeeee”), combined with a restless cocktail of hormones means that mothers are hypervigilant at night, ready to wake up at the smallest sound. According to recent research from the National Sleep Foundation, 63% of women have difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or both.

Try to establish a night-time routine to calm the mind and relax the body, using M&S’s This Works Deep Sleep Bath Soak, £22, and Ragdale Hall Sleep Candle, £9.50.

Sleep heals all wounds

The old adage “sleep heals all wounds” has some serious neurological roots. Ideally we have five periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep a night, when we do most of our dreaming. These phases are essential for “nursing our emotional and mental health”, according to Prof Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep. It is believed that dreams are vital for mentally processing our day, and brain scans show that during REM sleep our brains are bathed in nourishing neurological fluid.

Welcome to dreamland

Being chased, teeth falling out, being unable to find a toilet, being naked in public and being unprepared for an exam are the five most common dreams, says psychologist Ian Wallace, author of The Complete A to Z Dictionary of Dreams, who has interpreted more than 150,000 dreams in more than 30 years of practice. Here’s a strange fact: 12% of people dream entirely in monochrome. Researchers from the University of Dundee examined why and found an unlikely cause: growing up in the age of black and white TV.

Wake up and smell the coffee

In the UK, we consume 95m cups of coffee per day, reports the British Coffee Association, an indication of how hugely we depend on caffeine to wake us up. Even if you’re that remarkable person who can sink a coffee after dinner and fall asleep OK, you might be interested in analysis from Walker. He says just 150-200mg of caffeine, about the amount in an espresso, can reduce your deep sleep by 20% when drunk in the evening. Result? We wake up feeling groggy and in need of more coffee.

The M&S Sleep Shop has everything you need for a great night’s sleep. To find out more go to or visit a Sleep Shop in your local store