So, are you the sort of person who goes to bed, turns the light off only to find yourself in the land of nod as soon as your head touches the pillow? Or do you toss and turn for an hour as your day plays out in your head? Do you even treat bedtime as a half-way house to sleep – more as somewhere where you can finish off that work project or hook into a Netflix boxset?
How long we spend getting to sleep can play a vital role in assessing our sleep health – so much so that it’s a large part of an online questionnaire launched by the Sleep/Wake Centre at Massey University.
Of course, at Bedpost we know that ensuring you choose a bed that suits your comfort levels and lifestyle is the first step to getting a healthy amount of sleep each night, but there are plenty of other factors, such as heat, stress and taking mobile devices into the bedroom, that influence how quickly you fall asleep.
The National Sleep Organisation says it’s normal to take 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep once you’ve climbed into bed and switched the light off (something it calls sleep latency) and highlights that taking longer could point to either sleeping too much, too much pre-bed caffeine or a sleep disorder. Even falling straight asleep regularly may be a sign that you’re not sleeping enough.
So researchers at Massey University are using people’s sleep habits as part of their research into health issues that are associated with a lack of sleep.
The study – called Who Are the Short Sleepers? – is being conducted alongside researchers from Harvard Medical School’s division of sleep medicine and is based on the fact that nearly a quarter of Kiwis get less than seven hours a night during the working or studying week.
The questionnaire asks you what time you usually go to bed as oppose to what time you usually go to sleep. It also asks you to detail aspects of you pre-bed routine and whether that routine changes during the weekend or on days when you’re not working or studying.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Leigh Signal says there is strong evidence that sleeping fewer than seven hours a night on an on-going basis, and/or regularly shifting the timing of sleep, puts people at increased risk of metabolic disorders and obesity.
“In New Zealand, 29 per cent of Māori and 22 per cent of non-Māori aren’t getting enough sleep. This can increase the risk of impaired glucose tolerance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, poor general health and premature death.
“Given most attempts to combat the rising rates of obesity and metabolic disorders have not been particularly successful, sleep interventions targeting short sleepers may have great potential as an alternative and complementary solution to existing efforts.”
Most previous research treats short sleepers as one population, but Dr Signal believes they can be split into different groups. These might include people who biologically do not need more than seven hours sleep, and people who cut their sleep short because of other commitments.
Dr Signal says those who are not biological short sleepers are probably most at risk of experiencing the adverse health consequences of short sleep and social jetlag – the term that describes the third of “short sleepers” who significantly change their bedtimes and sleep patterns on weekends o days when they’re not working.
If you regularly sleep seven hours or less and want to be one of the 1000 New Zealanders aged over 18 who take part in the online questionnaire, you can access the survey here.