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Health

Sweet dreams are made of this

The key to a good night's sleep is to keep out brains and bodies active during the day, a sleep expert tells Judy Hobson.

Do you lie tossing and turning in bed at night, struggling to get some precious shut eye? Perhaps you're trying too hard to tempt the sandman.

Or maybe you are indulging in a daytime nap at your desk or on the sofa and putting your bosy clock out of sync.

Our striving to get an unbrolken night's sleep, according to sleep neuroscientist Professor James Horne, is a recent pheneomenon. Until electrivity started arriving ini our home more than a century ago, people would typically go to  bed at 10pm, sleep for three hours, then fet up for an hour or so, have some food, check security, stoke the fire and then say their prayers. Then they would return to bed for a second sleep.

From the accounts of 17th century diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, we know they frequently got up to visit friends in the early hours.

So waking up in the middle of the night is not that unusual, but it can be distressing. According to a recent survey, the average Briton wakes up at least twice during the night, and it is often older golk who find the,sleves awake at 2am or 3am and fighting o get back to sleep.

Prof Horne says: "Part of their problem may be he fact that they're having too much sleep during the day and then going to bed before 10pm. If you need a nap in the day, keep it short - less than 20 minutes- otherwise you wikll fall into a full-blown sleep and aconsequrntly you will have a less robust sleep at night.

"Shut you eyes for a few minutes un the day if you realy must, but always remember to set your alarm so that you don't interfere with you night time sleep."

The professor, who set up and until recently ran the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre, points out that people in warmer climates who have an hour or two's siesta every day eat their evening meal quite late and stay up much latet than we do.

"If you are iun the habit of taking a regular nap of an hour or more during the day, you should go to bed at a later hour and epect your night time sleep to be shorter."

Prof Horne, whose recent book Sleeplessness assesses the sleep need in society today, says: "Just as with eating or drinking, we can sleep more than we need to, out of gratification or boredom, reflecting an appetite for sleep rather tahn a need." Man had been aware since tim immemorial that sleep is essential for his wellbeing, particularly his cognitive abilty. Indeed, our national playwright Skaespeare, recognised how important sleep is tothe human condition.

His plays are dull of quotations about it. Many readers will be familiar with this one from Macbeth (Act II, Scene II) in which he sums up the purpose of sleep:

"Sleep that knits up the ravel;'d sleeve of care. The death of each day's life, asore labour's bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second  course, Chief nourisher in life's feast"

Sleep is vital for us becasue it its the brain's way of repairing itseld. Without it we become crotchety, start making mistakes and can't function properly.

Prof Horne believes the secret to getting a good night's sleep is for uas to keep our brains active and engaged during the day.

"Older people particularly enedd to get out and about, explore new environments and be mentally stimulated. It could be something as simple as takaing a trip to the market or visiting friends. The important thinf is that they fo somewhere where they can use their eyes an ears and interact with others.

"Don't jsut sit in front of the telecision or do crosswords all say, because these activities won't engage your brain. A pair of walking shoes and a sense of exploration are the best medicine there is foran ageing brain and sleep. If you're not mobile, persuade fiends or relatives to take you out.

"REmember that while you can't teach an old dog new tricks, you can teach old humans to do new things becaus ehuman brains are plastic. For example, an older person can start to learn the rumpet or begin studying a new language and then frid out baout the customs in taht counrty. The moe you use your brain, the better sleep you'll enjoy. Don't worry. You won't wear it out."

When people retire, the professor urges them not to settle for a quiet life, but to continue being curious about everything.

"If yu don't do much during the day, the less you'll sleep and the moe distressed you'll becomoe, and eventually you may end up taking sleeping pills. Getting the dose correct can be very tricky and, if you do have to take them, you may well feel as if you've got a hangover the next day."

Prof Horne points out that as a result of heir being multi-taskers, women's brains age more slowly than men's. On average, a 75 year old wooman's braini is healthier than that of a 70 year old man.

"If a man just wants to work on a computer, he is not exercising all of his brain. We need to encourage mean to multi-task too and to interact with others lke women tend to do."

the downside for women is that at the end of the day they end up more tired than their menfolk and can then be kept awake by their partner's snoring.

Snoring, Prof Horne sayd, is much more prevalen among obese men over 50. Sometimes, if they have a fat neck that presses against their uper airwat, it causes a condition called sleep apnoea which needs medical attention."

He adds: "We also know that bright light alerts the brain and delays sleep, so working yourself up into a lather about sending texts from your iPad late at night to your granchildren is not advisable."

However, Prof Horne beleives some of us can become too obsessed with sleep hygeine and go to bed worrying whether we have done everything we should instead of just geting comfortable and falling asleep.

"I'm not saying it's wrong to do some of these things but I believe in moderation in all things. If you want to play solitaire on your iPad at bedtime, go ahead. Just ensure you're using the device for something enjoyable not stressful."

While curling up and watching TV in bed can be pleasant, he warn, that it is not a good idea if you are a poor sleeper because of the stimulation it provides and the light from the screen.

Drinking to mych coffeee late at night is also a mistake. Instead, Prof Horne advicses having a cup of warm full fat milk with a tot of whickey in it.

"Don't opt for skimmed milk because it is like water and will go straight through you. Full fat milk takes a long time.

People shouuld also remeber that drinking strong tea will keep them awake because, like coffee, it conatins caffeine."

If you do wake up in the early hours and can't get back to sleep, he advises getting up and going into another room and doing a jigsaw.

"When  you get stuck into a jigsaw, you'll stop worying about what's keeping you awake."

He also says people should not have their beds too hot.

"If you suffer from cold feet, rather than switch on the electric blanket wear socks."

When you regularly find yourself awake at 3am, he advises having a ceffeinated cofee arounf 9pm, then dozing until 9.20pm by which time the caffeine will kick in and this will help you stay awake until 11.30pm, whn you can retir. If you follow this routine on several successive nights, you should no longer find ourself awake at 3am.

Prof Horne concludes: "People shold remember there are no hard and fast rules and that sleep varies according to your pieace of mind. My peronal remesy is to have a busy day, make some nice memories then go to bed wiith pleasant plans in mind for tomorrow.

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