Clean sleeping

Aidan Innes, health and wellbeing physiologist at Nuffield Health, uncovers the truth about Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest trend – clean sleeping – and whether it can improve your sleep quality for good

Actress and health mogul Gwyneth Paltrow recently announced that we should place the same importance on achieving ‘clean sleeping’ as we do on ‘clean eating’. This means getting “at least seven or eight hours of good, quality sleep (and ideally even 10),” according to Paltrow. “Sleep plays such a powerful role in determining your appetite and energy levels that I believe it should be your first priority.” That’s all very well when you’re a Hollywood actress, but how can it work for the rest of us?

We ask Nuffield Health’s health and wellbeing physiologist for his expert opinion on whether the ‘clean sleeping’ trend can benefit your health, how you can recover from a bad night’s sleep and how you can begin to make sleep one of your top priorities – even if you’re short on time.

1. Do you think getting enough sleep is as important as eating healthily?

Yes, poor sleep can affect both our physical and mental health in so many ways. It can make us feel less alert, trigger higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and affect our performance and decision-making.

Lack of sleep can also increase our levels of the hormone ghrelin, which increases appetite, and reduces the effect of the hormone leptin, which tells us when we are full. Therefore, a chronic lack of sleep can cause weight gain – working against a healthy diet.

Sleeping too little is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

2. Gwyneth suggests getting as much as 10 hours of sleep per night. What would be your realistic recommended amount of sleep?

The average night’s sleep in the 1960s was around 8.5 hours. Today the average has decreased to around 6.5-7 hours.

Sleeping for 7-9 hours will be sufficient for the majority of us, however teenagers or people recovering from illness may need more. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that sleeping for longer than 9 hours regularly is a health risk, but it’s unlikely to be additionally beneficial.

3. What counts as ‘good quality sleep’?

I’d say quality sleep is mainly down to how the individual feels, so it’s more of a subjective measure.

When you wake up, you should feel rested and relaxed, and once you are up, you should feel alert. If you’re constantly feeling tired, lethargic or finding it difficult to focus at work, it might be time to review your lifestyle to see if there’s anything you can change to improve your sleep quality.

4. Gwyneth suggests the following things can be helpful for ‘clean sleeping’. Are they worth trying?

Gwyneth says: Finish dinner at 8pm and avoid snacking or meals any later

Aidan says: I suggest leaving a few hours between an evening meal and sleep as this will help you digest your food properly before going to sleep, otherwise you may struggle to nod off.

Gwyneth says: Wear heated or wool socks to regulate the temperature of your feet while you sleep

Aidan says: Cooling down before bed can make us feel sleepy, which is why taking a hot bath before bed can help us sleep. We lose heat from our hands, feet and head fastest and therefore, wearing something that keeps them warm, and then removing them before sleeping may help you nod off. Unless you’re camping or live in an extremely cold climate, I would say there isn’t any benefit to wearing wool socks in bed.

Gwyneth says: Try a magnesium supplement, known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’

Aidan says: I wouldn’t recommend taking supplements to improve sleep as there are some simple actions you can take to improve this, including adjusting your pre-bedtime routine and making sure you exercise regularly. If you’ve tried altering your lifestyle to improve sleep and found no improvement, I would recommend you visit your GP to discuss this before taking any supplements.

Gwyneth says: Meditate before bed to calm the mind

Aidan says: Practising meditation and mindfulness can alter brain waves, making us feel relaxed – it’s definitely worth trying if you are struggling to sleep. (Find out more about how meditation can improve your health here.)

5. Can worrying about sleep and following guidelines make us less likely to achieve good quality sleep?

If you find it difficult to relax and switch off before bed, worrying about the latest trend or scrolling through wellbeing websites and apps could have a detrimental affect.

With the surge in wearable technologies, people also have more information than ever at their fingertips. It’s important to remember that sleep apps only monitor your movement while you sleep. This is because our bodies are at their most still during deep REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep), but how much you move in your sleep really depends on the individual. I would prioritise getting regular exercise and a regular bedtime routine to improve sleep quality.

6. Can getting 8 hours of sleep slow down the ageing process, as Gwyneth claims?

Getting enough sleep can have an affect on how long we live. The main benefits of getting enough sleep include reducing your risk of becoming obese or developing cardiovascular disease or type-2-diabetes. It will also help manage stress, improve memory and brain function and therefore, all of this will help slow down the ageing process in the long term.

7. What would be your advice if you’ve had an interrupted night’s sleep?

Try hard to continue your normal lifestyle. The next day, you may want a coffee to wake you up, but try not to overcompensate with caffeine ­as it can make you dehydrated, making you feel more tired.

Try to fit in some exercise and the next evening, try meditation or yoga to relax you, and go to bed a little earlier.

8. If you’ve had a busy weekend with little sleep, how long does it take us to catch up?

This will depend on how much sleep you’ve lost, as we accrue a ‘sleep debt’ if we constantly lose out on sleep. ‘Sleep debt’ is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep – a large sleep debt or many hours of lost sleep may lead to mental and physical fatigue.

So, if it’s one night of sleep that’s been affected, then typically you can recover the next night but if it’s longer, then it may take a few nights or even a week to fully recover.

9. What are your tips to help busy people reprioritise their sleep?

  • Try creating a bedtime routine that you follow in a similar way to your workday morning. Whether that’s having your evening meal a few hours before you sleep, dimming the lights to stimulate sleepiness, or avoiding bright lights such as phones and TV screens in the final hour before bed. Having structure gives you time to focus on winding down for the night.
  • Try opening a window 15 minutes before you get into bed to cool the room down.
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible as this will increase your level of sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
  • Place your phone face down if it’s charging, place black electrical tape over the red light on the TV and consider blackout blinds.

Finding it difficult to unwind at the end of the day? Read our 7 tricks to de-stress before bed.


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