By Matt Evans
With constant distractions like Netflix and social media, worries over the state of the mid-pandemic world and lockdown restrictions putting millions of jobs at risk, it's no surprise we're getting less sleep than ever before. However, it's not always easy to figure out why, or what we can do about it.
A trio of recent studies have found three reasons why we're not sleeping well these days, along with what we can do to ensure we get better shut-eye.
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Why we can't sleep: Coronavirus anxiety
Lockdown has affected our sleeping patterns in unprecedented ways. With many areas experiencing new restrictions as part of a "second wave" of cases, lots of us are back in the same positions we found ourselves in March. In the UK, overall incidences of worry-related sleep loss was said to rise from 15.7% to 24.7%, with that national average significantly higher for women and mothers.
Prof Jane Falkingham, from the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for Population Change at Southampton University, told The Guardian: “Sleep loss affected more people during the first four weeks of the Covid-19 related lockdown than it did before. We observed a large increase in the number of Britons, both men and women, suffering anxiety-induced sleep problems".
With local lockdowns and new coronavirus restrictions being implemented across the world, expect these numbers to climb back up again. To combat this night-time anxiety, you could try a weighted blanket, which has been found to be beneficial in alleviating anxious feelings and helping us to fall asleep faster.
Why we can't sleep: Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
Whether you drink coffee late in the day or you like to unwind with a cigarette or nightcap after work, any (and all) of these habits might be affecting your sleep. A report by the University of North Carolina found consuming alcohol and nicotine before bed can decrease our rapid eye movement, or REM, ensuring we are less likely to drop into "deep sleep" over the course of the night. Even if the alcohol makes us initially drowsy, we have less restful bedrest because it.
Caffeine, as a stimulant, affects us in almost the opposite way: whereas alcohol makes us initially drowsy, caffeine prevents us from falling asleep in the first place. We can feel the effects of caffeine after just 15 minutes, and it remains in our system for up to six hours. With this in mind, it's best to cut off your coffee consumption at least six hours before bedtime.
Why we can't sleep: Bravado
Perhaps the strangest one on this list, a very recent study from the University of Chicago found men were significantly less likely to get as much sleep than women, because it was seen as more desirable for men to function well on less sleep. The phrase used by the study's authors is the "sleep when you're dead" mindset.
The study's authors analysed why this could be, polling over 2,500 Americans to rate the masculinity levels of men and their sleeping habits, by asking the participants to rank imaginary men who got variable amounts of sleep. Most of the participants found men who slept less were perceived to be more masculine than men who slept more.
In actuality, the reverse is true, as a separate University of Chicago study found a healthy amount of sleep actually promotes the production of testosterone in men. If anything, a full eight hours of sleep will make you more manly.
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