What happens if we don't get enough sleep and how do we get more? Insomniac Michael Mosley investigates.
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We're told we should spend a third of our lives doing it.
But we don't.
Making Britain one of the most sleep deprived countries in the world.
ALARM CLOCK RINGS
According to the British Sleep Council,
a massive 70% of us feel we get less shut eye than we need.
I'm Dr Michael Mosley.
I'm a medical journalist and a chronic insomniac.
I don't have any problems going to sleep,
but at three o'clock in the morning, almost every morning, bang,
I'm awake, and I take ages drifting off again.
I'm simply not getting enough sleep.
MUSIC: Can't Sleep by K. Flay
But how much sleep do we really need?
And if we are not getting enough, is that a problem?
I'm convinced we are sleepwalking into a sleep crisis.
So many of us are waking up feeling ghastly in the morning,
but we don't do anything about it.
Could our lack of sleep cause significant risks to our health?
There are some big studies that have suggested it is associated with
the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
I'll be teaming up with world-renowned experts to pick apart
cutting-edge research and conduct pioneering tests
on sleep deprived volunteers...
I'm going to turn human guinea pig to try and discover what's causing
my insomnia, and see if there is anything out there
that might actually help.
I'll investigate top tips for all of us to get a better night's kip.
Could dietary fibre hold the answer?
It's coming, guys.
What about chilling before bedtime, literally?
And could having coffee just before a sleep help save your life?
A lovely espresso.
# Long nights, no peace
# I feel like everybody's eyes on me... #
What I've discovered has turned a lot of what I thought I knew about sleep
on its head.
So, if you fancy a good night's kip, keep watching.
This is The Truth About Sleep.
Over the last 60 years,
the amount of sleep we've been getting every night
has fallen by an average of one to two hours.
And, it seems, not only are we sleeping less, we are sleeping worse.
According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation,
up to a third of us say we suffer from insomnia.
That means that either you find it difficult to go to sleep,
or, like me, you wake up in the middle of the night.
So, what's going on?
# Deep in the bosom of the gentle night... #
It's recommended we should try to get seven to eight hours' sleep a night.
Nine hours if you're a teenager, older people a bit less.
But it seems that we Brits just aren't getting enough.
Insomnia is just one of the causes of sleep deprivation.
Shift work, partying and our modern lifestyle
are all conspiring to stop us getting enough kip.
# I can't get no sleep... #
How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
Probably six or seven.
Four hours, five hours. As little as three sometimes.
-Six, seven hours.
-Is it enough?
Two nights on the trot I don't think I've hardly slept at all.
It's clear that lots of us feel we are not getting enough sleep.
But how can we tell?
Well, there is an easy test to try at home.
One way to tell if you're sleep deprived
is to go to bed in the middle of the afternoon
and find out how quickly, if at all, you fall asleep.
To do that, you need a watch, a metal spoon and a metal tray.
The fancy name for this is the sleep onset latency test.
You check the time, then shut your eyes.
When you fall asleep, the spoon should hit the tray. Bang!
And wake you up.
If you fall asleep after 15 minutes, you're OK.
Ten, you're sleep deprived.
But if it's five minutes or less,
then you may have severe sleep deprivation.
Oh, that was just over ten minutes.
So, I guess that's just... I'm, er...
moderately sleep deprived.
'As I suspected, I'm not getting enough sleep.'
I decided to do this test on some willing office workers.
Three out of ten who fell asleep, nodded off in around ten minutes.
That's not surprising because 40% of the UK population
say they regularly get less than six hours of sleep a night.
And that's not enough sleep.
Bleary-eyed workers are bad for business.
Their poor productivity and absenteeism
cost the UK up to £40 billion a year.
So, what's causing us to sleep so badly?
I'm always on my phone, and I hardly get any sleep at all.
The internet, videos.
You always think, "Oh, one last video", and then you watch 50.
-Do you do social media?
-Yeah, that keeps you up.
On my phone, laptop, there's always loads of distractions.
My partner gets up and disturbs me.
I just have thoughts whizzing round my head.
I can't sleep after going to the gym or playing sports,
that wakes me up too much.
If something wakes me up, I can't get back to sleep.
I know I can't.
We all lead busy lives, but is there a more fundamental cause?
'Sleep problems run in my family.'
Is it particularly common?
Because I don't know that many people who wake up
in the middle of the night and then can't get back to sleep.
It tends to be more, they can't get to sleep in the first place.
I think it is. I think, particularly as you get older,
because I used to have no problems with sleep at all when I was your age,
and it's kind of come on me, probably sort of 40s onwards.
We're a family of strange sleep patterns.
You have difficulty going to sleep, don't you?
Yeah, it's definitely one of those cases where you can be tired all day,
and, as soon as I put my head down, everything starts going through my mind,
and suddenly it's impossible to get to sleep for the next 40 minutes or so.
But then when I am asleep, I remain asleep.
-What, throughout the night?
What do you do to try and go to sleep?
It's quite hard to just, like, shut my brain down,
so I normally find it easiest listening to repeats of Blackadder.
-OK, to just try and bore yourself to sleep?
One of these things just to distract you from what's going on in your head.
I have a collection of very fine economics books which I read
at three in the morning, and they bore me into submission.
You kind of need something that is completely non-stimulating.
Both of us have a tendency towards insomnia,
which means we either struggle to get to sleep or stay sleep.
But does this matter?
What happens during the night?
To find out what I get up to when I'm asleep,
I've got an infra-red camera here,
and I've also got this activity monitor
which will measure my every move.
Tonight, I'm going to go to sleep here in the spare room
and see what happens.
OK, this is slightly weird.
I assume it's working.
I'm quite tired and I'm going to bed.
It's going to be strange being filmed while I'm sleeping.
I'm not entirely comfortable about it.
I should sleep in a series of roughly 90-minute cycles.
Stage one is where you drift in and out of consciousness,
before moving to stage two,
when your brainwaves slow.
Then you move to stage three and four.
Deep sleep, where breathing also slows,
and there is little muscle movement.
You go back to stage two before REM sleep, rapid eye movement,
when your eyes flick from side to side and you dream.
And this cycle should be repeated
five or six times throughout the night.
But this is what happens to me.
It's kind of, er...
In the morning. 3.45am.
And I am...
I think I might...
..read for a little bit and try and go back to sleep again.
Doing pieces to camera at this time in the morning is not fun.
During deep sleep, our brains are busy laying down memories.
It's also a time when scientists
think our brains are being spring-cleaned.
Toxins and waste washed away.
And our bodies should be getting some well-earned rest.
But in my case, this clearly isn't happening.
I'm waking up during the middle of the night,
which is annoying and rather worrying.
So, should I blame my lifestyle or my genes?
To see how genetics affects sleep, I sent my blood off for DNA analysis.
And now I've come to the Surrey Sleep Research Centre
to meet Professor Simon Archer.
'He's been looking for any genetic markers which may reveal
'what kind of sleeper I am.'
We've looked through more than 500,000 of your DNA.
OK, that's a lot. Yep...
And we specifically looked at your sequence variance for
51 genetic locations that have been shown to be reliable markers
for different characteristics of sleep.
'Simon claims he can tell whether we are morning or night people,
'larks or owls, simply by looking at our genes.'
I know what I think I am,
that's why I'll be very interested to see what this says.
You have three genetic markers
that would predict you are a morning-type person.
Which is absolutely right.
OK. You then have five markers for long sleep duration.
So, from that we would predict that, on average,
-you need slightly more sleep than usual.
I get really, really grumpy when my sleep is cut.
In fact, one of the reasons I gave up being a doctor
was because of that.
I became really quite unpleasant when I was sleep deprived,
which is not a good thing in the medical profession, on the whole.
-So, morning person, need your sleep.
'These genetic markers have been identified from DNA studies
'involving hundreds of thousands of people.
'And Simon has discovered even more about me.'
We also then found a marker for increased insomnia.
OK. Blimey! You're scoring well.
So, I can blame my genes, at least in part, can I?
Yes. And also a marker which has been associated
with poor sleep efficiency in people
who are exposed to high levels of work-related stress.
So, increased insomnia, so it might take you longer to get to sleep,
so you may have disrupted, fragmented sleep during the night
and you might wake up during the night.
And particularly when I'm stressed, particularly when I am very busy, that's what happens.
-Right. OK. So that fits.
-I respond very badly to stress.
That fits. So, morning preference, slightly longer sleep duration,
insomnia and a bit of poor sleep efficiency.
And then lastly, there's a marker for increased sensitivity to caffeine,
and caffeine-induced sleep disruption.
How interesting, because I would have said the exact opposite.
I kind of assumed that I can drink caffeine with impunity.
Whereas my wife, if she drinks caffeine after midday, she twitches.
But possibly, I'm just not recognising the effect it's having on me.
Exactly. So, it may be that drinking too much coffee is causing you
disrupted sleep during the night.
Now, that was really interesting,
and was also slightly spooky that he could tell so much about me
just based on my genes, my DNA.
It was striking how much of my insomnia was in my genes
and the fact that I find it difficult to sleep under stress
was also quite revealing, and absolutely accurate.
The only thing that genuinely surprised me, though,
was the fact that I seem to be very sensitive to caffeine,
so I should obviously try and reduce that as much as possible.
Even without knowing what your own genes are telling you,
caffeine really isn't a good idea if you struggle with sleep.
And there's another drink that isn't great either.
Many people use alcohol to help them get off into the land of nod,
but the truth is it can cause interrupted sleep,
and sleep quality will be poor.
Plus, it relaxes your throat muscles, causing snoring.
It can then keep your partner awake, too.
So, I can partly blame my insomnia on my genes,
and it certainly isn't helped by my love of coffee,
plus the odd glass of wine.
But I am worried about the long-term consequences
of getting too little sleep.
I know after I've had a terrible night's sleep, I become irritable,
impulsive, and it really messes with my memory.
A lack of sleep can also be extremely dangerous.
Rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity are rocketing in the UK.
They are associated, in turn, with an increased risk of heart disease
But is there a link to sleep?
I'm on my way to Leeds University,
where they're doing some really interesting research on diabetes.
Now, if you are a diabetic,
it means you're not able to properly control your blood sugar levels,
and I'm particularly concerned because my dad was a type 2 diabetic,
and he died early from complications.
I know that I'm at high risk of type 2 diabetes.
'I'm meeting Dr Eleanor Scott,
'who is doing ground-breaking research into a possible link
'between type 2 diabetes and lack of sleep.'
Now, I think most people know that lack of sleep makes them tired...
-But what other things does lack of sleep do?
This is a really interesting area of research.
We know that a lack of sleep alters the levels of different hormones
that are involved in how we perceive appetite and hunger,
so we get more of the hormones that cause us to feel hungry,
and less of the ones that cause us to feel full.
And an additional effect may be to do with the stress hormone cortisol.
And we know that if you don't sleep as well,
that it effects the levels of that,
and that may be another factor as well.
There are some big studies suggested that people who sleep too little,
and, indeed, those who sleep too much,
its associated with the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
I really feel that people don't, at the moment,
realise quite how profound the effects are.
Dr Scott has agreed to undertake an exciting study for us.
She'll monitor the glucose levels of a group of volunteers,
and then deliberately disrupt their sleep.
We'll see if their levels rise,
an indicator of the increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
What we want to do is to get some healthy participants
who are just living ordinary, everyday lives,
and get them to sleep two nights where they sleep as normal,
two nights where they restrict their sleep, just by three hours,
and then two nights where they are allowed recovery sleep,
and we want them to wear a continuous glucose monitor
so that we can see, every five minutes, what that's actually doing
in real life to their glucose levels,
and also to wear an activity and sleep tracker,
so that we can check that they do alter their sleep.
Fingers crossed, OK?
I shall catch up with you in a few weeks' time.
-By then you should...
-By then we'll know!
For better or for worse.
Exactly. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
It will be the first time a study like this has been undertaken
outside the lab, in the real world.
People going about their daily lives, but on less sleep.
Right, let's check some blood.
and brace for the pain.
There we go, that's done it.
We'll all record our sleeping patterns for a week,
and keep a diary of our progress.
Didn't get that good a sleep last night for whatever reason,
so I'm going to put it down to a three.
Restricting your sleep isn't pleasant,
especially when you're ready to go to sleep,
but it's hours before you are allowed to hit the hay.
It's 10pm, and I'm absolutely ready for bed...
..but I don't get to go to bed for another three hours now.
This morning, I'm so groggy.
Fed up with the whole world.
And all the time, we're busy monitoring our blood sugar levels.
I had about three-and-a-half hours of interrupted sleep,
and that was part of this experiment.
I've just taken my blood sugar levels.
I had breakfast recently, but, nonetheless,
I think you can probably see that that's 9.8.
Actually, about the highest I've ever seen them.
I mean, they do go up after breakfast, but not that much.
That's pretty bad.
I'm back in Leeds to see Dr Scott and our volunteers
for the results of our sleep deprivation experiment.
I wonder if, like me, they found cutting back on sleep
really hard going.
I have never felt such craving for sugar, and I felt really limp,
and I couldn't be arsed.
My mental capacity wasn't on it, but also the hunger,
I really wasn't expecting.
I wanted, like, lots of biscuits.
And I didn't just have one. I'd go for, like, ten.
And I wrote it down in my diary.
Ten Custard Creams.
-Is that abnormal?
-Yeah, that's abnormal...
for a breakfast.
OK, results time.
What we've done here is, as a group, so all six of you,
we've taken your average glucose across the 24 hours
for your two normal nights.
And you can see that on the black line here.
So, you can see that your glucose normally dips overnight,
but you get a slight peak when you have your breakfast,
another peak when you have your lunch,
and then another one with your evening meal,
and then it falls down again.
But then on the purple line, here,
you can see what happens to your glucose level
when you've had your two nights of short sleep.
And you can see that your glucose level is running higher
across the 24 hours.
Why is that a bad thing?
Because we know that raised glucose is one of your biggest risk factors
for going on to develop diabetes,
and if it's over a certain threshold,
it means you have got diabetes.
I found that when I was sleep deprived,
my blood sugars went up into what's called a pre-diabetic range.
And that was kind of worrying.
Certainly, a lot of the other evidence from big studies suggests
that people with short sleep,
they are more likely to become obese and also develop type 2 diabetes.
Were you surprised by those results?
I think to be able to show it in a small group of subjects,
and for everybody to have exactly the same response,
that they raised their glucose, I was surprised to see that.
And reassured, because it suggests that we are on the right track
I want to know, why is it that I felt hungrier
with a higher level of sugar in my system?
Yeah, I suspect it was more the fact that you were sleep deprived
that made you feel hungrier.
And we know that that alters your appetite hormones.
So, it makes you more likely to feel hungry and less likely to feel full.
We also know that people crave very sweet,
very high carbohydrate content foods.
So, as you did with the Custard Creams.
Also, if you're awake when you're not meant to be,
actually, that's quite stressful to our bodies.
And we know that you produce more of the stress hormone cortisol,
and that can influence your glucose level as well, the next day.
I certainly found I was both incredibly irritable, very hungry,
craving carbs, but resisting them,
but even despite the fact that I didn't change my diet at all,
my blood sugars just went crazy.
And the other thing is that, over time, we know that the amount
of sleep that the population has been having has been declining.
So, over the last 50 years or so,
people have been curtailing their sleep by about two hours.
So, given that you have done it just for three hours for a short term,
if that's what's happening to the nation, then, potentially,
that's increasing their hunger, increasing their obesity,
increasing their risk of type 2 diabetes.
Early night for me tonight, then!
I was really struck by the way our volunteers all reported having these
desperate, sugary, carby cravings when they were sleep deprived.
And also the way this played havoc with their blood sugar controls.
Now, this was only a few days,
but longer-term studies have shown that people who sleep for less
than seven hours a night are at significantly greater risk of both
obesity and type 2 diabetes.
So, it seems that our blood sugar levels really can be
seriously affected by a lack of sleep.
But why is this happening?
And what is going on in our bodies?
There is a lot of really interesting research going on at the moment
into the impact that your gut bacteria,
also known as your microbiome,
has on your health and also your weight.
Now, I'm particularly interested in the effect that sleep,
or lack of it, has on those gut bacteria.
So, what I've done is, I took poo samples after a good night's sleep
and then after a bad night's sleep, and sent them off to be analysed,
and I'm off now to find out what the results are.
It should be really interesting.
'This is Dr Jonathan Cedermaes.
'He's been doing research into the impact of lack of sleep
'on gut bacteria.'
You've got all these microbes living in your gut.
What are they doing? What are they?
You can basically sum them up in this,
which is over a kilogram of gut microbes.
This is about 100 trillion cells,
which equals approximately the number of cells that you yourself
are composed of.
So, you can say that we are equal bacteria as we are human cells.
So, what are these gut bacteria doing?
They're helping us absorb nutrients
and they are a barrier against infectious agents
that might otherwise enter our body,
and they basically help us promote both a normal metabolism,
but also a normal immune system.
But what is the link between how I sleep and my gut bacteria?
So, what I did is I took a poo sample,
I was sleep deprived for a couple of nights, took another one, sent it to you.
-You had the pleasure of looking at it.
-What did you find?
We found an increase in the ratio of two sets of bacteria that have
also been found to be shifted in a similar direction in obese humans.
The mechanism by which they change, or why they change,
is that they promote an increased energy uptake.
So, basically, when you eat food,
the bacteria greatly determine how much calories your guts absorb,
and that is then circulating in your system.
Basically, your gut becomes more efficient in absorbing nutrients.
You might think that if you had less sleep,
your gut bacteria wouldn't work as well.
But it seems to be the reverse.
When you are sleep deprived,
you appear to extract more calories out of the same amount of food.
Do you think there is a link between the fact that we are reducing
our sleep and obesity rates are going up?
I do think that, yeah.
The concurrent rise of obesity and sleep deprivation in society
would certainly suggest that there is a link.
So that would obviously be good if you were out in the jungle
and don't have very much access to food,
but in modern society where we have a hamburger or chips and pizza,
it's obviously not a good thing,
and that's also what the high rates of obesity tell us.
The thing which strikes me, making this film,
is that people have no idea, or very little idea,
of how widespread the impact of sleep deprivation really is.
Exactly. It's very new,
so we definitely need more studies to see how sleep
influences the gut microbiome
and how we can utilise changes in our gut microbiome
in association with changed sleep to promote better health
and perhaps reduce the risk of obesity.
So, the experts really are finding new and unexpected ways
in which lack of sleep affects our bodies.
The link between sleep and weight is getting stronger.
A recent study, for example,
found that half of those who sleep for less than five hours a night
If lack of sleep really is a hidden cause of one of the biggest health
crises we currently face,
then we need to take sleep very seriously indeed.
But these days, there are more and more obstacles to getting
a good night's sleep.
Our work patterns.
The stress of everyday life.
So, what's the solution?
What do people turn to?
A glass of water for me.
-Nesquik for me.
-Or sometimes, like, lavender oil on your pillow.
I sometimes take a paracetamol.
A little bit of mindfulness stuff.
Put the radio on and listen to some white noise.
Recently, I've been reading, like, an easy-read novel.
I think one glass of red can help you go to sleep.
Anything more than that is a different question.
It can be a sleeping pill.
And I have been taking sleeping pills for ten years.
A medical solution might be sleeping pills...
..but are they a good solution?
Over 15 million prescriptions are issued every year.
Last year, the NHS spent more than £50 million treating insomnia.
I'm meeting a GP in south London, Dr Sara Kayat,
to find out what she thinks of sleeping pills.
Do you prescribe many sleeping pills?
I try not to. Usually, if I do prescribe it, it is short courses.
It'll be a matter of prescribing it if, for example, they're jet-lagged,
or they've had a really bad week at work and they're just not getting
back into their rhythm of sleep.
Or if they're having a really acute time with depression,
or a bereavement, something like that.
But we try not to prescribe it as a long-term solution.
What's wrong with sleeping pills?
Unfortunately, they are addictive, and you do build a tolerance.
So, you end up needing to use more of them in order to get the same
quality of sleep, and at some point you're going to hit a wall where
you can't have any more, and then what do you do?
You need to find the underlying solution.
If we know that sleeping pills are pretty bad for you,
certainly in the long-term, why are prescriptions still doing that?
There's going to be a group of people that will doctor shop,
for example, and, eventually, the next thing you know,
they've had a whole month's worth and we don't know how it's happened.
I think it's also a matter of desperation.
Patients are going to be so desperate to get a night's sleep,
and when you've got that patient in front of you, you know, crying,
getting really upset, you feel bad, and you want to be able to help them,
and you know that a short course will.
So, I think it's a matter of trying to manage your own patients,
and manage their expectations as well as their emotions.
It's a tricky one with sleep.
Sleeping pills are addictive.
They're for short-term use only, and they don't solve the problem.
Could the answer lie instead inside our heads?
I've come to the University of Oxford to meet neuroscientist
Professor Foster is trying to help us sleep better by doing
pioneering research into a mechanism we all have within our brains.
Our internal body clock.
This, I think, has been one of the great success stories
over the past 20 years.
The master clock within the brain resides right at the base
of the brain in the hypothalamus.
So, I suppose, an intersection between the bridge of my nose and my temple.
-And there is a clock there?
-It's about 50,000 cells,
and what we discovered is that there's a third light-sensing system
within the eye. We have the rods and cones,
which are grabbing light to give us an image of the world,
and yet there is another light sensor,
and it acts as a brightness detector.
And it's those cells that are picking up the dawn-dusk signal,
and firing the information off to the brain.
So, our eyes aren't just seeing things,
they're also sending a signal to this clock in the brain, basically,
telling it to reset?
Absolutely. So, the eye is both the organ of space,
it gives us our visual sense, of course, but it's also,
by its detection of the dawn-dusk cycle, an organ of time.
It sets the internal time to the external world.
And that's the master clock.
Right. So it's like Big Ben, just basically sending out signals...?
-It's midday, go and have lunch... Dong!
It's nine o'clock, go to bed.
Exactly. But every cell in the body also has the capacity to generate a
-24-hour oscillation. It has its own endogenous clock.
And so, the master clock is sending out a signal which is then
coordinating the rhythmic activity of billions and billions of individual
cellular oscillators, organised throughout the organ system.
So, to continue my analogy, you have Big Ben, who is the central one...
-..But we all have our own, if we're all little cells,
we all have our own watches and sometimes they're running a bit fast,
-a bit slow...
-..And Big Ben is basically dictating it.
So, it's a bit like the conductor of an orchestra sending out a rhythmic
-Now, if you shoot the conductor,
if you blow up Big Ben,
then all these peripheral clocks in the gut and the liver and all the
others, start to drift apart.
-So, instead of this beautiful symphony, we have this cacophony,
and a smear of time.
One of the reasons for my insomnia could be that my body is out of sync
with my body clock.
Anyone who has ever had jet lag will know what that feels like.
Professor Foster and his colleagues from Oxford University are looking for solutions...
in Denmark, strangely enough.
They are using natural light and an extreme living concept.
With this, they hope to reset our master clock, our Big Ben,
to get our bodies back in harmony again.
This is the appropriately named Sunshine Island,
off the Baltic coast.
Bornholm gets more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in Denmark.
And that's one of the reasons why Oxford University
has built a house here made entirely of glass.
'I'm joined by Dr Katarina Wulf
'who is leading this project.'
It is fantastic.
I had no idea what to expect.
-It's really good.
-Hello, very nice to see you.
Hello. Good to see you.
Is it nice and warm inside?
-Yeah, let's go inside.
-It's just fantastic, though,
the amount of light you get in a place like this.
So this is a house that's basically trying to mimic a normal house but
without the walls.
So, you have the kitchen, you have a bathroom, and you have a bedroom.
It has a really spacious feel, doesn't it?
So what exactly is the link between light and sleep?
Sleep and light come together in terms of our body clock.
So, really, when we are exposed to the natural light in the morning,
that would wake you up.
Equally, in the evening, when the light goes down,
it makes you more sleepy and you go to sleep.
'I'm going to spend the night here, going to bed when the sun goes down,
'and then letting the rising sun wake me.'
You have to be a bit of an exhibitionist, and I'm guessing this is my bed,
as well, because presumably people can stare in.
There are not many people around.
OK, so it's a bit like camping, but much more civilised.
-Much more civilised.
Let me know how you sleep.
-Thank you very much, I will. See you in the morning.
-See you in the morning.
Now, this place is absolutely amazing.
There's nearly 5,000 units of light coming in.
It should be about ten times more than in a normal bedroom,
and that's the whole point about this place.
It's to let lots of natural light flood into you throughout the day.
And by doing so, that helps to reset your internal clock.
And one of the biggest problems we have in modern society is the fact
that our internal clock, which is driven by the light,
is completely out of sync with our sleeping clock.
Katarina believes that modern, artificial light, from TVs, phones,
tablets and computers is interfering with our body clocks,
shifting them out of phase.
It seems many of us are suffering from a state of almost permanent jet lag.
Since I'm trying to minimise the impact of 21st-century technology,
then I suppose I'd better hand these over.
Time to bed down for the night.
Katarina is charting my sleep with an activity monitor,
to see what effect, if any,
sleeping in this glasshouse has on my body clock and my general
As dawn breaks, it's natural light,
and not an alarm clock, that wakes me.
'Soon, Katarina arrives to download the data from the monitor...'
'..which I was wearing during the night.'
I kind of slept OK, but not the best night's sleep, but not bad.
So I shall be interested to see what this says.
So what you see is that you go to sleep around 9.30pm,
then you have a little bit of movement just after midnight,
and then you probably wake up around four o'clock.
Yeah, that's kind of when I woke up
and I turned on the light and read for a little bit.
Yeah. But then you went back to sleep for another two hours,
and your final wake is about six o'clock in the morning.
I woke up feeling really quite perky and alert and I'm feeling quite good
at the moment. So, you think that maybe because I'm getting a good old
dose of morning sunlight?
That's what I think, and it's nice waking up.
So far, Katarina has only tested this house on volunteers,
but she's hoping that her research will make us all re-evaluate how we
use daylight to control our body clocks and sleep patterns.
What I would like to see is that we pay more attention to the 24-hour day,
and not just for when we are awake,
and that we in particular pay attention to how much light we
expose ourselves to in the morning.
So you'd like to see, basically, more windows and more light, generally,
coming into gloomy British houses?
So I can see if I can persuade my wife that we should leave the curtains
open, as long as the neighbours can't see you!
I think it's a very simple solution.
Now, we're not going to be living in glasshouses any time soon,
but this research should encourage architects to bring a little bit
more light into our lives.
And if you want to reset your own internal clock,
one of the best things you can do is go and get lots of early morning
light. I'm off for a stroll.
Other ways to reset your body clock which our sleep scientists recommend
include removing technology from your bedroom.
Take the TV out and stop answering e-mails or going on social media at
least an hour before bedtime.
And turn the clock away to stop yourself obsessing about time.
This is called sleep hygiene.
It's a set of rules for good sleeping,
like decluttering the bedroom and making it just for going to bed.
But what else can we do to try and improve our sleep?
Are there more surprising or unusual solutions out there?
I think I will just put "cures for insomnia"
into Google and see what happens.
Right. That comes up with 109 million possible websites to visit!
I'm going to narrow it down a bit.
Now, there are an awful lot of things that are blindingly obvious,
but I found four things that are slightly more unusual and which
actually have some science behind them,
they've actually had papers published on them.
I've asked GP Dr Sara Kayat to find me
three sleep-deprived patients to
try these treatments on.
I'll also be doing one of them.
Meet shift-worker Daniel,
pilates instructor Yolanda and events manager Jasmine.
Like me, they are all desperate for a good night's sleep.
I have been a bit of a bad sleeper all my life.
I think it runs in the family.
I have trouble sleeping,
getting my body clock back from sort of working night shifts.
I haven't really slept for 20 years.
OK, so top of my list here is mindfulness,
which is very fashionable at the moment.
'It's mostly used to treat stress, but could it help you sleep better?'
You concentrate your mind on the present.
It's about breathing and focusing on your breathing and thinking about
what's happening right there and then.
'What's next?' Now, this is quite a simple idea.
You have a hot bath or a shower around an hour before you go to bed.
You come out into a cooled-down environment.
It's a bit of an old wives' tale, but there is some science behind it.
According to this study,
this led to an increased likelihood of sleep initiation, in other words,
they fell to asleep faster.
Yeah, I don't mind kiwis.
Try two kiwi fruit an hour before you go to bed.
They took 24 people and made them eat two kiwi fruit an hour before
bedtime for four weeks, and it really did seem to make a difference.
Now, this is an unusual one.
It's from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Dietary prebiotics improve sleep.
What they found is that eating a particular type of fibre seems to
help sleep. At least, it does in rats.
Well, I think it's probably time for a human to give it a go.
Welcome to lab rat number four.
What I've got here is something that's called a prebiotic,
and what it consists of is a white powder,
and it's a bit like a fertiliser for the bacteria in my gut.
It looks a bit like dried milk powder.
I'm told it's completely tasteless.
It's gone into a slightly disgusting-looking lump.
But apparently my bacteria are going to love this.
It's coming, guys!
Doesn't add to the flavour.
'I'm going to persevere with my prebiotic fibre drink for a week
'and then catch up with the other lab rats.'
In the meantime, I'm off to investigate a short-term fix for
those times when being sleepy is really, really dangerous.
Up to a quarter of all accidents on major roads are caused by drivers
falling asleep. Many leading to death or serious injury.
# I've been driving all night... #
We've all had that experience of micro-sleeps, when you kind of nod off,
a bit like that, and you may not even be aware you've done it.
It lasts for a second or two seconds, whatever, and it's really,
really scary. You can travel an awful long way
along the motorway while
you are sitting there with your eyes closed.
Around one in three of us admit at some point to having fallen asleep
at the wheel.
Clearly, you shouldn't be driving if you are feeling sleepy,
but if it happens to you on a long journey, then there is a neat fix.
Research suggests that having a strong coffee just before a nap
could actually help you feel more rested.
But how does it work?
'To find out, I've got a ruler and three volunteers.
'Dave, Carl and Jo.'
Are we feeling that sort of late afternoon slump coming on?
-Getting a little bit sleepy?
Now, have any of you ever fallen asleep at the wheel?
-Your eyes closing, yeah?
-It's terrifying, isn't it?
So, what I wanted to do is show you a way that you can deal with it if that
happens to you again. And I'm going to start by measuring your reaction
time. So I'm going to drop it, and you're going to try and catch it.
And I'm not going to tell you when.
And do it again.
''m using the ruler to measure reaction times.
And finally. '20cm is 0.2 of a second.
'I'm taking an average of three goes.'
You think you can beat Jo?
Very good. And David.
-Very good, yeah, yeah.
-OK, whoa! And again.
Whoa! Very good. So, I'm going to take you out to your cars now,
and I want you to have a snooze,
but just before you go and try and snooze,
I'm going to give you a big cup of black coffee. OK?
OK, and here you go, a lovely espresso.
-And now a snooze. Knock 'em back in one.
-Thank you very much.
MUSIC: Daysleeper by REM
'If you drink coffee immediately before taking a nap,
'then you'll fall asleep before the coffee has time to hit your brain.
'Well, that's the idea.'
Hi, there. How are you feeling?
Did you manage to have a snooze?
-I think so, yeah.
-Oh, my God, it's so bright!
-Did you manage to get a little bit of a snooze in, do you think?
-I did. Miraculously, yes, I did.
Surprising, isn't it, considering you had an espresso running around your system?
The dog was also having a little sleep.
THEY LAUGH Right, I'm going to redo your reaction times again,
and I will start with Jo, I think.
OK, here we go, Jo. Let's see if we're feeling more perky than we were.
Whoa! OK, I got that.
Now we'll do Carl.
OK. Can you beat her?
Whoa! Very good.
And that was an average of 15.
OK. So what I did beforehand, is I averaged what you had scored,
and you were all pretty much the same.
19, 19, 20.
Having had your snooze and your cup of coffee,
I'm pleased to say you all improved.
You all went to 15, 14, 15.
So you move from the kind of slower end of average to the higher end of
above average, so you're obviously perkier now.
-Are you feeling perkier?
-Yeah. I think the surprising thing is that the caffeine didn't
-stop you falling asleep.
-Not at all.
And the reason is because it takes a while to hit your brain.
Typically about 20 minutes.
Enjoy the rest of your day.
Your caffeine-fuelled day.
OK, so that wasn't the most rigorous of scientific experiments,
but it was absolutely consistent with other studies which have shown
that if you have a cup of black coffee followed by a 15 or 20-minute snooze,
then this will make you far more alert than either just having the coffee
or just having the snooze.
So if you are driving down the motorway and you are feeling a bit sleepy,
it's something I would thoroughly recommend.
This is obviously a quick-fix solution to a particular problem.
But quick fixes aren't the answer for those of us with ongoing sleep
problems, so we've been putting some longer-term remedies to the test.
Over the last few days,
I've been taking a dietary fibre drink to help me sleep.
Yolanda has been having mindfulness lessons.
Mental exercises designed to calm the brain down.
Jasmine has been having a hot bath every night before bed.
While Daniel has been eating two kiwi fruit every night.
As part of the experiment,
we've set up a thermal-imaging camera
to monitor Jasmine's body temperature.
# I can't sleep, I hope I stay awake
# Cos I've been running, running, running all day
# Long nights, no peace
# I feel like everybody's eyes on me
# I can't sleep
# I hope I stay awake
# Cos I've been running, running, running all day
# Long nights, no peace
# I feel like everybody's eyes on me
# I can't sleep... #
So, mindfulness is actually about bringing our awareness into the present moment.
What's happening here and now.
Once she's out of the bath,
Jasmine lowers the room temperature to around 17 degrees.
It's thought that this cooling of her core body temperature will tell
her brain to go to sleep.
We've given them apps to record how well they're sleeping.
Now, it's time for bed.
# I can't sleep, I hope I stay awake
# Cos I've been running, running, running all day
# Long nights, no peace
# I feel like everybody's eyes on me... #
I'm not sure if anything's working or not,
but then again it is quite early to tell.
# Long nights, no peace
# I feel like everybody's eyes on me
# I can't sleep... #
I'm really looking forward to finding out the results,
although I'm sceptical as to whether
any of these techniques will really work.
'It's night number seven,
'and I'm having my last prebiotic fibre drink,
'which acts like a fertiliser for my gut bacteria.
'Not to be confused with a probiotic, which is live bacteria.'
Much to my surprise, it appears to have been working.
And, yeah, I've been finding that,
whereas normally I would wake up at about three o'clock every morning,
since I've been taking this stuff, it's been more like five o'clock.
And I've also been able to get back to sleep much more easily, so...
..that has been surprising and really encouraging.
So far, so good.
Time to find out how the other volunteers have been getting on.
I'm back with Dr Sara Kayat.
The plan was to take a bath and then go into another room where it was
quite cool, and I think it made quite a good bedtime routine,
actually. I think the quality of my sleep was better throughout the week.
-Out of ten, what would you give it?
About four out of ten.
OK. So, OK, but not fab.
-I did the mindfulness.
OK, and do you think there was any change?
The first few nights I slept like normal...
So, badly. And then I have been sleeping quite well,
just waking up really early.
I'm going to sleep a bit quicker,
and I think I'm getting more hours together, sleeping.
So, out of ten?
Maybe a six or a seven.
-I tried the kiwi fruit.
It worked all right. On the days when I did have to get up early,
which is where I struggle sleeping the most,
I did sleep relatively well.
I'm probably going to keep doing it.
-I give it a seven.
-As high as seven?
So, Michael, tell me a bit about your fibre experiment.
It was really, really interesting.
At the moment I'd give it probably a nine out of ten.
I could feel it very clearly.
-And then I stopped taking it,
and within three or four days, I'd returned to my previous routine.
-What a good score.
But I'm going to give it another go.
My journey to find the ultimate solution to insomnia is not over,
but it's certainly been given a good old kick along the road.
'It's a small sample, but they to do all seem to have worked a bit.
'Some more than others.'
I do feel as if the prebiotic I've been taking has made a difference to
my sleep. What I want to do now is find out whether it has made
a measurable difference to my sleep.
'I'm meeting Professor Phil Burnett,
'a neuroscientist specialising in the effects of gut bacteria and
'prebiotics on brain function.
'He's been analysing data from the activity monitor I've been wearing every night.'
I've been trying this sort of fibre supplement,
and I've been surprised because it does seem to affect the quality
of my sleep, or it would seem so to me.
I felt as though I was sleeping better,
-and then when I stopped taking it I felt as though fairly soon I started sleeping worse.
That how it feels to me.
But is that what the activity bracelet shows?
If we look at the day before you took the supplement,
79% of your time in bed you spent sleeping.
-Inactive, which is what the watch measured.
And 21% of your time in bed is spent awake.
Is that a lot?
That's about average.
But, interestingly, five days after taking the supplement,
your sleep went up to 92%.
-And 8% you spent awake.
-So that is very interesting
that you should say that you did sleep better.
When you see the raw numbers, it just makes you think, "Blimey."
It kind of felt like that. but there's something quite impressive about seeing it.
The only thing that I was puzzled about, was on night three,
it went down a bit.
So, that was actually a Saturday night,
-so I don't know what you were doing...
-I had a few drinks!
-All right, OK!
-That may have undone some of the good.
I wondered at the time whether you'd notice.
-I can't get away with anything!
So, what is in that white powdery, fibre-y stuff I was eating?
Right. Well, that powder you are taking is a prebiotic.
It's a food for your good gut bacteria.
Basically, your good bacteria break down this fibre to produce molecules
called short-chain fatty acids,
and these are the things that might be having an effect on your sleep.
Of course, when this prebiotic grows good bacteria,
the bacteria themselves have beneficial effects,
like synthesised vitamins and so on,
and beneficial effects to the bowel and the immune system.
So, the white powder is acting a bit like a fertiliser for the good
bacteria in my gut, is that right?
-These bacteria are in turn producing something?
We think it is the short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, butyrate, propionic acid.
We think that's one way that good bacteria can affect the brain and
affect your health overall.
OK. But what's that to do with my sleep?
Well, the breakdown of the fibre itself is producing beneficial
molecules, and the bacteria themselves,
once they're established,
actually produce other molecules
that benefit your gut and your brain.
So, perhaps it is because of these short-chain fatty acids being produced
that it is affecting your sleep.
So, what I was doing was using a commercial dietary fibre.
-If I was looking for this substance in food, where would I look?
Well, the best ones for that particular prebiotic are lentils,
red or green, and chickpeas, or hummus.
-But it's also present in beans, different types of beans,
-butter beans, lima beans, that sort of thing.
-OK, I hate butter beans.
OK, well, you don't have to eat them.
I hate, hate, hate butter beans, but I do like lentils,
and I love hummus. It's funny, because there are so many sort of
legendary things around food,
most of which turn out to be utter nonsense...
-But I've never heard of lentils or hummus as being a sleep aid.
And yet, this one actually seems to have at least some decent theory
Yeah. And don't forget you had a supplement,
so this is probably 100 times
more fibre than a bowl of hummus, or...
OK. Does that mean the food is not going to work,
-or just means it would take longer?
-It just means it would take longer.
This is really new science, isn't it?
-Where you surprised by this?
I was surprised by it.
I was quite surprised because I thought
you needed to be on the supplement longer.
Do you know of any studies in humans?
Or am I the first who's looked at this?
This is quite novel, and I think it warrants further investigation...
In other humans as well.
Now, there could be other reasons why I'm sleeping better.
Obviously, we need proper human trials, but it is a promising start.
We're always being told just how important fibre is to a healthy diet,
so wouldn't it be great if it turned out that it also helped us
get a good night's sleep?
What I've learned about sleep is that its key not only to our mood and immediate alertness,
but it's more important for our long-term health than I had ever imagined.
If you do want a good night's sleep, there are things you can do.
For starters, make sure your bedroom is nice and cool,
ideally around 17 degrees.
And also ensure there is absolutely no electronic equipment in here to
At least an hour before bed, switch off all social media.
That way, by the time you go to bed, you'll be ready for sleep.
Earlier in the day, you will have been out for a walk to get that early morning light
which will reset your internal clock and wake you up.
For your evening meal,
do ensure you get something which is really rich in fibre.
As we've just seen, that is incredibly important.
And also, do avoid alcohol.
I've incorporated all of these things into my night-time routine,
and they really do make a difference.
So, goodnight. I hope you sleep really well.
We are one of the most sleep-deprived countries in the world. In The Truth About Sleep, insomniac Michael Mosley finds out what happens if we don't get enough sleep and looks at surprising solutions to help us get more.