Thursday, 30 April 2009

Sleep, the mood-altering drug

A study from Finland published this week proves what every parent will already have known from bitter experience. Children who don't get enough sleep can turn into bad-tempered monsters.

Researchers found that children who didn't get eight hours were more likely to become badly behaved and hyperactive. Rather than treating them as ADHD cases, it suggests they should just go to bed earlier.

"We were able to show that short sleep duration and sleeping difficulties are related to behavioural symptoms of ADHD," said Dr Juulia Paavonen.

In children, the impact of lack of sleep is immediately transparent. They get over-tired, unhappy and it ends in tears. A late night is paid for by bad moods the next morning. It really does make children miserable.

Seeing it in my own children always makes me think about what similar impacts sleep has on adult moods. We're better at disguising our feelings, we don't start screaming and howling when we're a bit tired. But it must still be changing our moods.

Children can be incredibly angry when they haven't had enough sleep. So how much of adult bad temper and irritability is attributable to lack of good quality sleep? Is road rage and those crazy angry outbursts you hear in supermarkets fuelled by people who need to get to bed earlier?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Why are so many hotels so uncomfortable?

There have been lots of recession-related suggestions that families are going to start returning to old fashioned seaside holidays, rather than travelling abroad.

I grew up by the seaside on the south coast and I've always had a soft spot for the big skies and the faded grandeur. I like the piers, the seafronts, the way it veers between seedy and scenic.

But any return to the seaside promenade needs a bit of a reality check. First of all, there needs to be a bit of back to basics on hotels. Too many really average hotels in this country are ridiculously over-priced, particularly for a family. What makes this even more annoying is how bad they are at the basic stuff.

The hotel experience, apart from the breakfast, is really a glorified bedroom. So getting a good night's sleep is pretty fundamental. So why are so many hotels so uncomfortable for sleep? Why do they have radiators which seem stuck on some pre-set temperature? Why are they so exhaustingly hot? Why do so many hotels hum like ship's engines all night?

Not that long ago, I stayed in a fancy-ish hotel where the heat was pumping out like a furnace. When I opened a window, I was deafened by some kind of extractor fan a few yards away.

Maybe you might fancy a drink to cool down? But the mini-bar has tiny bottles of industrial wine being sold at prices more suitable to vintage champagne. Bottled water is sold at insultingly inflated prices. This isn't hospitality, it's just ripping people off.

End of rant. But if you can't even get a decent kip, what are they selling?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Where there's a wool

More people are going back to sleeping under wool, says Bradford-based e-business, As well as blankets, this new fleece of life for wool bedding (sorry, couldn't resist that) is from wool-stuffed duvets.

There are claims that wool makes for a better night's sleep, providing a more natural regulation of temperature and encouraging a deeper and more refreshing rest.

I've always been sympathetic to wool, on a kind of Wallace and Gromit, comfort-blanket level. It's aesthetically pleasing, in terms of the patterns and colours of blankets, and there's a tactile, nights-by-the-fire quality. I've got a collection of Foxford wool blankets, even though in practice I sleep under a quilt stuffed with something made from ducks and plastic.

I suppose I like the idea of wool, with its associations with nature and nurture. People have slept beneath wool blankets and on top of wool-stuffed mattresses for thousands of years. It seems so natural. And like so much about sleep, it's all about expectation. The welcoming bed, the crisp sheets, the warm blankets... it's a state of mind as much as a state of sleep.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Beauty sleep

Sleeping beauty, beauty sleep... there has always been a sultry side to sleep, something sensuous. There's an undeniable physical pleasure in lying back and stretching and getting ready to sleep.

An enticing bed is a form of seduction. It has its own irresistible come hither look. So it's no surprise to see the Daily Mail carrying a picture of Lisa Snowdon wearing a small sheet and a big smile. It's promoting a Body Beautiful Bed which promises to make gorgeously rested sleepers.

It's not that much of a leap from news to folk stories, they all draw from the same well, they all appeal to the same ancient instincts of fear, greed, curiosity and dreams. A princess asleep in a skyscraper of beds is a fairytale, enchanted sleeps are a staple of classic myths, and women being made beautiful by the beds they sleep in... that's news.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

De-cluttering the brain

It's always reassuring when scientists use descriptions that actually sound like something I've experienced. So when researchers at the University of Wisconsin describe the lack of sleep as like "feeling that your brain is full of wool", they have my full attention. I have been that wool head.

Sleep creates the space needed for learning new information, they describe it as "spring cleaning" the brain so that there is a nice tidy place to put new things. Without sufficient sleep, the information received by the brain today is competing with the noise and clutter from yesterday. The brain, without sleep, is in no fit state to learn anything new.

The sleepless brain is the desk where you can't find anything. Sleep de-clutters the brain. Sleep makes the path for learning.