How to sleep better: Scientists pinpoint ‘sweet spot’ of shut eye to avoid health issues

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As incredulous as it may sound, too much sleep isn’t all that good for you. And the same is true of not getting enough shut eye, which according to the NHS can be detrimental to your health. It is estimated about one out of three people in the UK suffer from poor sleep linked to stress, computers and work-related activities.

The consequences? Bad mood, lack of focus, increased risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Conventional wisdom states people should get at least eight hours of sleep every night to wake up well-rested and functioning.

But according to a 2018 survey of 2,000 UK adults, most people across the nation get considerably less sleep throughout the week.

The poll, which was commissioned by Sainsbury’s, found some 38 percent of those surveyed never even hit the eight-hour target.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, have now concluded an investigation into just how much sleep is ideal for a healthy lifestyle.

The study’s results were published in the journal Brain and exposed some worrying links between sleep and the risk of Alzheimer’s.

According to the study’s authors, too much sleep, as well as too little sleep, has been linked to cognitive decline.

The multi-year study followed a group of 100 adults who sleep for longer or shorter periods of time.

The researchers recorded the participants’ cognitive function over several years and analysed it against levels of Alzheimer’s-related proteins and brain activity measured during sleep.

Brendan Lucey, the study’s first author and associate professor of neurology, said: “It’s been challenging to determine how sleep and different stages of Alzheimer’s disease are related, but that’s what you need to know to start designing interventions.

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“Our study suggests that there is a middle range, or ‘sweet spot,’ for total sleep time where cognitive performance was stable over time.

“Short and long sleep times were associated with worse cognitive performance, perhaps due to insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality.

“An unanswered question is if we can intervene to improve sleep, such as increasing sleep time for short sleepers by an hour or so, would that have a positive effect on their cognitive performance so they no longer decline? We need more longitudinal data to answer this question.”

So what is the sweet spot for sleep? According to the research, it’s between 5.5 and 7.5 hours a night.

However, there may be other factors at play, such as the quality of sleep and not just the total amount of shut eye.

Co-senior author David Holtzman said: “It was particularly interesting to see that not only those with short amounts of sleep but also those with long amounts of sleep had more cognitive decline.

“It suggests that sleep quality may be key, as opposed to simply total sleep.”

According to the UK, if you wake up and spend the day “longing for a chance to have a nap”, chances are you’re not sleeping enough.

Many factors can contribute towards poor sleep but in most cases, health experts claim, it’s down to bad sleeping habits.

Study co-author Beau M Ances said: “I ask many of my patients, ‘How’s your sleep?’

“Often patients report that they’re not sleeping well.

“Often once their sleep issues are treated, they may have improvements in cognition.

“Physicians who are seeing patients with cognitive complaints should ask them about their quality of sleep.

“This is potentially a modifiable factor.”

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