When the clocks went back on Sunday, did you get an additional hour of sleep? We’ve been repeatedly warned about the dangers of not getting enough sleep so, understandably, most of us would have seized the opportunity to get more shut-eye.

New research shows that getting more sleep may actually be detrimental to our health.

There is no question that a good night’s sleep benefits our brains. If we sleep poorly, our brains feel tired and unfocused. Long-term sleep deprivation may cause serious health problems.

It is when we are in deep sleep that our memories are preserved — and when channels open in our brains, allowing fluid to gush through and clear away any waste products that have built up during the day.

You might think that those who get the best sleep will have healthy brains. A recent Washington University Sleep Medicine Center study found that too much or too little sleep can have the same effect on older adults.

New research suggests that trying to pack in more sleep can actually undermine our health, writes Dr Michael Mosley

Research suggests that increasing our sleep hours can lead to poor health. Dr Michael Mosley reports. 

These 100 individuals, an average of 75 years old, were part of a long-term brain study that included repeated memory tests.

They were also given portable EEGs (electroencephalographs) which measured their brain waves to provide an accurate picture of how much they were sleeping.

They couldn’t rely on the participants telling them this, as previous EEG studies have shown we actually sleep around an hour less each night than we think we do. So if you think you’re getting seven hours a night, you are probably only really having about six. That’s because we often wake up during the night but don’t remember doing so.

They then compared how much time the volunteers slept with their mental performance during the five-year period.

The highest results were found in people who slept between 4.5 and 6.5 hours each night according to EEG measurements. This is equivalent to between 5.5 hours and 7.5 hours self-reported sleep. Brain power declined the most in those getting less than that amount.

The best results were seen in those getting 4.5 to 6.5 hours of EEG-measured sleep each night, the equivalent of between 5.5 and 7.5 hours of self-reported sleep. People getting more, or less, than those amounts showed the biggest declines in brain power (stock image)

The highest results were observed in people who got between 4.5 and 6.5 hours EEG-measured sleep every night. This is equivalent to between 5.5-7.5 hours self-reported sleeping. The biggest decreases in brainpower were seen for those who got less or more than that amount (stock photo).

Cleaner air is a benefit to fertility

The tiny particles we inhale from polluted air cause chronic inflammation throughout our bodies, which not only damages our heart and lungs, but egg and sperm production as well

Chronic inflammation is caused by the tiny particles in polluted air that we breathe. This not only causes damage to our hearts and lungs but also damages egg and sperm formation.

Cop 26’s talk was about the negative effects of fossil fuels on climate change and global sustainability.

 I hate to add to the gloom, but it also has a more subtle and insidious effect — it can reduce fertility. 

Inhaling tiny pollutants from the air can cause inflammation in our bodies. It also damages egg andsperm production. 

An earlier study in China showed that 26% of married couples who were exposed to more air pollution had failed to have children after one year. This was compared with 15% of those couples who breathe cleaner air.

 If you want to have kids, that is a big difference, and something to add to the long list of reasons why we should be switching to cleaner, greener fuels as soon as possible. 

This fits in with other major studies, such as one published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, which compared people’s levels of self‑reported sleep with their risk of developing heart disease and dying. People who reported sleeping less or longer than seven hours were at a greater risk for a heart attack and stroke than those who sleep seven to seven hours. (This is approximately the time most Brits claim they get. The recommendation is eight hours.

As to why sleeping more than average is linked to poor health, this may be partly because people who are already in ill health spend more time in bed, so it’s not the long sleep that is causing the poor health, but the other way round. Washington University Sleep Medicine Center research suggests that staying in bed longer can have negative consequences for your health. It leads to less quality sleep and more dispersed sleep.

In other words, if you really want to enjoy the full benefits of a good night’s sleep, you need quality rather than just quantity.

It might seem difficult to ensure you get more sleep quality, especially if you’re an insomniac, someone who gets up frequently in the middle night, then has trouble getting back to sleep. The best and most effective way to get more sleep is to limit the time that you stay in bed. The trick with Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT) is to teach your brain to associate ‘bed’ with ‘sleep’ and nothing else.

For a limited time, you can restrict your sleeping habits by not going to sleep at the usual time.

You might consider changing your bed time to midnight or 1am if you usually go to bed around 11pm, and wake up at 7am. This will improve your sleep drive and you’ll fall asleep faster, which will help you wake up less often. This can be done for about a week, and once you are accustomed to falling asleep quickly, you will gradually increase your time in bed so that you get sufficient quality sleep.

This will vary from person to person, but one of the best ways of telling if you are getting ‘enough’ is whether you feel sleepy and irritable during the day.

There are four important things you should keep in mind if you decide to use SRT.

1. Don’t reduce your bedtime to under five hours.

2. It is important to stick with it.

3. Do not nap, lie down or sleep during the day.

4. You should not drive, or use machinery, if you are experiencing severe sleepiness during the day.

Fast Asleep contains more information on SRT.

Noting: If you are suffering from severe insomnia, you may want to speak to your doctor or seek professional help from someone trained in CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Insomnia).


 Could next year’s Covid jab be given as a painless patch?

Some good news for people with trypanophobia — a fear of needles — who want to be protected against coronavirus.

A team at The University of Queensland are testing a skin patch that they’re hoping to use to deliver Covid-19 vaccines. The skin patch is made up of one-centimeter squares of plastic covered by 5,000 plastic spikes.

Once coated, they are easy to press onto the arm using a spring-loaded application.

 This is not only painless but the vaccine doesn’t have to be stored at cold temperatures either. Also, when a vaccine is given this way the tiny needles puncture just the outer layer of the skin — this is called an intradermal injection and this can produce a much more powerful immune response than a vaccine delivered via a needle into muscle. That’s because your skin is packed full of immune cells, primed to respond powerfully to any foreign intruders.

Flu vaccines can be administered at a fraction of the usual dose. This is in contrast to injecting directly into muscles. However, these benefits are not routinely used for intradermal vaccinations. Because the needle needs to be placed in the correct layer of the skin (the dermis), this requires medical personnel.

However, a Covid vaccine can be applied as a patch. This would make it easier for more people to refuse vaccines. The needles can only be inserted into the dermis and it could be done by anyone without any technical knowledge. You could also apply the patch yourself. The approach was only tested in animals, but it will be tried on humans next year.

A team at The University of Queensland are testing a skin patch that they¿re hoping to use to deliver Covid-19 vaccines. It consists of a strip of plastic, just 1 cm square, covered with 5,000 tiny plastic spikes. When coated with the Covid vaccine they can be pressed onto your arm with a single click from a spring-loaded applicator (stock image)

A team at The University of Queensland are testing a skin patch that they’re hoping to use to deliver Covid-19 vaccines. This is a 1 cm wide strip of plastic covered with 5,000 micro-plastic spikes. These can then be applied to your arm by using the spring-loaded applicator.