In our increasingly busy lives, sleep – or at least, enough sleep – has become a rarity. A new book, Why We Sleep by neuroscientist Matthew Walker, explores the “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” we’re facing. So why is it so important to get a good night’s rest, and how can we try and tackle this “epidemic” when designing and constructing buildings?
Why our health depends on getting enough sleep
The World Health Organization recommends adults get eight hours of sleep a night, but two-thirds of the population in developed countries don’t achieve this. In Britain, over a third of people only get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, with more than a quarter (27%) experiencing poor quality sleep on a regular basis.
When we sleep, our minds and bodies perform a lot of complex functions which are vital for our mental and physical health and wellbeing. If we don’t get enough sleep – especially over a long period of time – it can have a hugely negative impact on the mind and body.
Sleep deprivation can affect our concentration, which could lead to students struggling at school or in their exams, employees making mistakes at work, and even increase the number of accidents on the road.
Getting enough sleep also keeps us healthy, as it gives our immune system a chance to reboot, and the change in our hormones, blood pressure and insulin levels can also help negate the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Furthermore, studies have shown a link between lack of sleep with developing Alzheimer’s. There are even reports which show a severe prolonged period of sleeplessness could in fact kill you. Experts argue you couldn’t last two weeks without sleep, and an adult who only gets 6.75 hours of sleep a night is likely to only live until their early 60s unless they have medical help.
What’s keeping us awake at night?
There are many factors impacting our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Nearly half of Brits (47%) say stress or worry keeps them awake at night, while caffeine, alcohol, young children, snoring partners, and failing to switch off electronic devices are also shown to negatively affect our sleep too.
Environmental factors and our sleeping environments are another area which can help or hinder the amount and quality of shut-eye we get at night. A quarter of Londoners and 18% of Brits in general say noise at night keeps them awake, while one in ten of the population is disturbed by artificial or street lighting.
Temperature is also a key factor. Your body’s temperature drops slightly before you go to sleep, which is why it can often be difficult to get to sleep during the summer or a heatwave. On the other hand, if it’s too cold you may feel too uncomfortable to drift off into a slumber.
Finally, air pollution has also been found to affect sleep efficiency. A research study found greater exposure to nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles can lead to a restless night as these pollutants can irritate our throat, nose and sinuses and also impact our breathing.
What conditions create the perfect sleeping environment?
According to The Sleep Council, there are six factors that need to be considered when creating the perfect sleeping environment:
- Temperature: Temperatures over 24°C and under 12°C can make you feel uncomfortable and restless at night. The optimum temperature for bedrooms should be 16-18°C, although babies, young children and the elderly may need a slightly warmer temperature. Draughts can also impact your sleep.
- Light: We sleep best when it’s dark because our bodies release melatonin, which relaxes us. Also read our previous article about building thermal efficient buildings without compromising on natural light.
- Comfort: A comfortable bed and mattress can help give you a good night's sleep. Experts advise these should be replaced every seven years.
- Gadgets: People should switch off their laptops, TVs, mobiles and other electronic devices in the lead up to bedtime, and keep them out of the bedroom.
- Noise: A quiet environment is best for sleep as sudden, loud or repetitive interruptions can wake us up.
- Relaxation: Establishing a relaxing routine, such as switching off electronics, reading, drinking herbal tea or taking a bath can also help sleep.
How can a Multi Comfort building help our sleep?
The Multi Comfort design concept is about building and renovating our homes, office, schools, hospitals and other buildings in a way that gives us improved comfort, health and wellbeing, whilst protecting the environment.
The four key elements of the Multi Comfort concept can help us to create the perfect environment to encourage quality sleep, boosting our wellbeing and health as a result.
- Thermal Comfort: Determined by air temperature, air velocity and humidity. By choosing the right materials, heating sources and ventilation methods we can ensure temperatures are maintained at a comfortable level to help aid a good night’s sleep.
- Visual Comfort: We need dark conditions to sleep, so natural and artificial light at night needs to be controlled and kept to a minimum, both inside and outside the home. It’s also important we get enough natural light during the daytime too, as a study found employees working in offices with large windows that let in lots of sunlight can help to boost their sleep at night.
- Acoustic Comfort: Whether it’s noise from the street, your neighbours or nearby traffic, noises can be transmitted through the building fabric or air. The right design and choice of building materials, such as insulation and glazing, can help to minimise unwanted noise and increase acoustic comfort.
- Indoor-air Comfort: As outlined above, pollutants can irritate us and disturb our sleep. Having the right ventilation, air filters and active scavenging materials in place can help to keep the air we breathe fresh, clean and with lower levels of pollutants.
Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.