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Why we need to take sleep seriously

Grown-ups need set bedtimes too, says Lucy Dunn

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By Lucy Dunn on

A new sleep report today by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has announced that the average Brit is under-sleeping by an hour a night. This amounts to losing an entire night's sleep over the course of a week. The poll of 2,000 adults concluded that the average adult only manages 6.8 hours a night, below the 7.7 hours they feel they need. 

The phrase “feel they need” is one I can totally identify with and, I confess, the number of hours I sleep has become a bit of an obsession recently. It's all thanks to my new friend Fitbit, and its helpful – and very detailed – sleep graph. 

Previously, I never gave how much I slept a thought – some days I woke up tired, some days I didn’t. It was not insomnia per se –  in general I've always been a good sleeper and have every sympathy for those who aren't. It was just that my actual bedtimes were rather scattergun. They were just when I finally drifted off to bed, or when I decided there was nothing left worth watching on telly. Those times got later and later as I raced through the week, sleeping less and less, ending it scrambling around for carbs, sweets, wine, chocolate – anything that would give me an energy boost and make me feel better.   

But I’m working on it, trying to get better about sticking to a set bedtime. Thanks to Fitbit, I have started clockwatching after the 10 o’clock news. Every morning, I religiously tap my app and check my stats. I’m tired today though – and I know this because my phone informed me that, last night, I only slept six hours 10 minutes. And the week started so well – Monday (a bank holiday), I managed a full eight hours 48 minutes. Now that was a cause for celebration… 

Previously, I never gave how much I slept a thought – some days I woke up tired, some days I didn’t. My actual bedtimes were rather scattergun

What my Fitbit fixation has done is not only made me aware that I'm under-sleeping, but that it could actually be a problem. And today's RSPH report confirms what I'm starting to realise: that we all need to value a good nights sleep. You only have to look at the facts: poor sleep is known to increase the risk of developing conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and to shorten life expectancy. Infact the RSPH is so concerned that it is now calling for a national strategy, including a “slumber number”: guidance on how many hours of sleep people should be getting according to their age. 

My own personal goal is eight hours a night (nine in a perfect world) and I know that I still have some way to go in reaching it  – the phone by the bed needs to go and I really need to be stricter with myself about turning off the lights at a set time. But, as from today, I’m resolved to take sleep more seriously, studiously analysing my graphs along the way.


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