News, Culture & Society

So how much sleep do you need?

What price a good night’s sleep? According to a new study, we value it so highly that we would rather have 40 winks than a 50 per cent pay rise.

Researchers from Oxford Economics and the National Centre For Social Research asked a national panel of 8,250 people what made them happiest. They found healthy sleep habits to be the highest indicator of wellbeing, with income one of the lowest overall.

So would you sacrifice your salary for a peaceful night’s rest? We asked a panel of movers and shakers, from CEOs to surgeons, how much sleep they need . . .

According to a new study, we value it so highly that we would rather have 40 winks than a 50 per cent pay rise


Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield

Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield

Baroness Susan Greenfield, 66, neuroscientist

To my friends’ disgust, I like to rise early. Really early. I surface slowly: opening my eyes at 4am before listening to the World Service and drinking hot water and lemon in bed. I don’t actually get up until around 5.30am.

But there’s a high price to pay for my early morning routine. I go to sleep around 9pm, which makes me extremely unpopular socially.

Sometimes I read, but on the whole I like watching TV. I tend to climb into bed at 8pm, drift off an hour later – and then wake up with the remote in my hand. I keep my bedroom cooler than the rest of the house, and I hate any noise when I’m sleeping, so I keep the windows closed, even in warm weather.

In the summer, I love to leave my curtains open and wake up with the light streaming in — absolute bliss. I have an aversion to alarm clocks, so it’s a lovely natural alternative.

I’m addicted to monitoring my sleep patterns through my Fitbit, a digital fitness tracker which I wear round my wrist when I sleep. It tells me all the different stages of sleeping and dreaming. It’s reassuring to know I get a good seven hours most nights.


Dr Guy Meadows, director of The Sleep School

Dr Guy Meadows, director of The Sleep School

Dr Guy Meadows, 40, director of The Sleep School

My life revolves around sleep. I spend all day talking about it and all night doing it.

My wife and I devote a lot of care to our sleep. We stick to a regular pattern.

I’m a lark, so I’m in bed between 9.30pm and 10.30pm and then up between 5am and 6am — and make sure everything is geared towards a perfect night’s sleep: the light, the temperature, the duvet. I adore my mattress: it’s soft, springy and good quality.

I love sleep so much that in 2008 I even built my own bed. When I got married, my gran gave me £250 and I used the money to buy some 200-year-old oak fence posts which I fashioned into a bed. I don’t know how much difference it’s made to my sleep, but it’s satisfying to sink into a bed you’ve built yourself.

Several years ago, I suffered from insomnia and found myself in that awful position of trying to help people to sleep when I wasn’t sleeping myself. The solution, I found, was mindfulness and acceptance: rather than struggling to do more in the day, I learned to let go and do nothing.

Lots of my clients would pay anything to get a good night’s sleep. I value it immensely — far above a pay rise.


Today presenter Justin Webb

Today presenter Justin Webb

Justin Webb, 56, presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme

Take it from me, father of twins, presenter of an early-morning radio show: I know about sleep, or the lack of it.

I vary between four and six hours a night. It all depends on what I’m doing the night before.

If Bath Rugby are playing late at night, I sometimes get even less.

For years, I have felt it strangling my capabilities, stunting my life. But do I care enough to change anything? Not really.

The great thing about those who don’t sleep by choice (as opposed to genuine insomniacs, for whom I have huge sympathy) is that we are usually not sleeping because we have something better to do.

To you supercilious folk, bragging about your sleep and sex-filled nights, I say ‘Pah!’ You don’t know what it’s like to live until you have lasted a couple of 24-hour shifts.

I remember the night the allied invasion to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait began in 1991: a night of no sleep, but for a young reporter who had eaten a meal with some jolly Egyptian soldiers and was about to drive a lightly armoured vehicle across the desert into God knows what, I needed no sleep. Yes I was knackered, but I was witnessing history.

And now? Well, it’s an early start. The alarm goes off at 3.30am — just at the very moment the body is in the deepest of sleeps. It’s such an ungodly hour that, when I’m presenting the Today programme, I sleep in a David Cameron-style shed at the bottom of the garden so as not to disturb my family.

But there’s an upside: sitting next to John Humphrys is sometimes just as exciting as invading a small country.

My secret to functioning in the small hours? I don’t eat the night before working: an empty stomach is key to waking up feeling good, not the amount of sleep you’ve had.


Novelist Jeffrey Archer

Novelist Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer, 77, novelist

You simply cannot put a price on a good night’s sleep. It is essential to everything.

I have slept well all my life, even throughout the more stressful periods. I’ve always been able to put my head down and switch off.

My mother tells me I was always one of those children who had to be coaxed and cajoled out of bed every morning. Being able to sleep well is a blessing.

My routine rarely changes. I go to bed between 10pm and 10.30pm and sleep for six hours. I write between 6am and 8am every morning. Another rule I have is never to eat after 8pm and two days a week I won’t eat after 6pm.

I am also very particular about my pillows: they are made from swans’ down and if I could I would take them with me everywhere.

Surprisingly for an author, I do not read before bed — I do all my reading in the afternoons. Within 20 minutes of my head hitting my favourite pillow, I am gone.


Comedian Griff Rhys Jones

Comedian Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones, 63, comedian

I used to sleep like a baby, when I was a baby. Since then . . . oh dear. The older I get, the more my sleep is disturbed.

I try to exercise — I run four or five times a week, and I lift some weights, too — so when my body settles down at night it creaks like an old ship.

I can’t do afternoon naps. If I drift off during the day, I know that’s it. I’m never going to sleep at night. I go to bed around 11pm. Why? Residual guilt, I guess. And daily exhaustion.

I only read on planes, trains and in bed. It does the trick: I am off halfway through whatever I’m reading, and then I wake up an hour or two later. After that, I’m up and down all night.

I don’t drink, smoke funny substances or do any of those useful things that might help knock me out. I eat too late, and often have too much cheese, which provides alarming dreams.

I thrash around at 4am and wake my wife. I need the loo.

I may find myself having a restless, unhappy night — but then I’m so delighted to have made it to the other side that I tend to have a great day. So bad sleep provokes daytime happiness, if you ask me.


Broadcaster and diet expert Michael Mosley

Broadcaster and diet expert Michael Mosley

Michael Mosley, 60, broadcaster and diet expert

As someone who’s been an insomniac for many years, I wholeheartedly agree that a good night’s sleep trumps a pay rise any day. I long to put my head on the pillow and know I’m going to sleep solidly for seven to eight hours. When I was young I could sleep anywhere — a telephone booth, a railway platform, a bathtub and a graveyard.

But when I hit middle age things changed. I still went to sleep at 11pm, but I began waking at 3am and struggling to drop off again.

What makes this particularly stressful is I know how bad insomnia is for the brain and the body. When you sleep your brain should be busy doing things like storing memories and removing toxins which accumulate during the day.

Chronic sleep deprivation puts you at greater risk of dementia, but it also does terrible things to your blood sugar control, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Most people need at least seven hours. It is a myth that we need less as we get older.

Down the years, I’ve tried all the recommended things to improve my sleep, with little effect.

Then, while researching my recent book, The Clever Guts Diet, about the ways that gut bacteria impact our health, I came across new research suggesting that changing my diet would make a difference.

One recent study found that increasing the fibre content of meals increased the amount of deep sleep people enjoyed. It has certainly been working for me. My sleep’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it was.


Author Victoria Hislop

Author Victoria Hislop

Victoria Hislop, 58, author

My ideal is eight hours, but I can manage on seven. The crucial thing is my pillow. I spent more on my pillow than on the mattress — it’s almost flat and my head sinks right down.

There is nothing more exciting than a hotel that offers a ‘pillow menu’ — the thread count of the sheets is unimportant to me, only the pillow makes a difference. If there is some lavender spray, that’s even better.

Other habits make a difference, too: no coffee after 3pm, exercise every day. I never go to bed unless I am really tired — and I can honestly say that at the end of each day, this is how I feel: mentally and physically spent.


Shirley Conran, 85, author

Author Shirley Conran

Author Shirley Conran

Successful people — not necessarily famous — are often quoted as needing eight hours’ sleep and being in bed by 11pm. I start going to bed at 10pm and it’s lights out at 11pm. I sleep on a baby’s pillow for neck support.

I usually get up at 7am, but rise at 6am if I want an uninterrupted period to plan or write, in which case it’s lights out at 10pm the night before. Also, I have an hour’s nap after lunch. I hate doing this, but I need that sleep.


CEO of Virgin Money UK Jayne-Anne Gadhia

CEO of Virgin Money UK Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, 55, CEO of Virgin Money UK

I’m lucky because I can manage on whatever sleep I get. But how much sleep I’d like to get, and how much I actually get, are very different things.

Ideally I’m in bed by 10pm and asleep by 10.30pm. But most days it’s more like 11pm or later — life gets in the way. Once I’m in bed, I have no trouble getting to sleep. I turn the light off and I’m out.

I’m up by 6am at the latest. I don’t understand why, but my body clock always wakes me five or ten minutes before my alarm.

I tend to wake up only once in the night. As any woman my age will understand, I sometimes feel rather hotter than I should do, and that can disturb my sleep.


Broadcaster Winifred Robinson

Broadcaster Winifred Robinson

Winifred Robinson, 59, broadcaster

I get perhaps six hours’ sleep most nights. I’d like more — at least another hour or two. I don’t sleep so well before work through a mixture of excitement and information overload. I’m excited because my work involves a live performance every day.

So some nights I just can’t get off to sleep quickly, and I spend ages tossing and turning. I don’t worry too much, though — adrenaline sees me through. I know I can catch up with my sleep at the weekends, and I do.

I don’t believe that the physical benefits of eight hours’ uninterrupted sleep are what makes it so valued. My husband and I were sleep deprived for years after our son, Tony, was born.

We always managed to get through the day, and sometimes I would surprise myself passing a mirror to see that I was smiling, usually over some milestone Tony had reached.

Good sleep is so precious because of what takes it away. Looking back at the times in my life when I’ve found it impossible to sleep, it’s always been down to stress. The first time in my 20s nursing a broken heart, more recently when people I love have been seriously ill.

So would I forgo half my salary for a guaranteed eight hours a night for the rest of my life? Well no, not to be rid of wakeful infants or the interesting thoughts and ideas that sometimes come between me and my rest.


Professor Kefah Mokbel

Professor Kefah Mokbel

Professor Kefah Mokbel, 52, consultant breast surgeon

I am very strict with my sleep routine – you have to be in a job like mine. I go to bed at 11pm and try to get eight hours’ sleep, so I set the alarm for 7.30am. I get five nights’ really good sleep a week.

It allows me to function in my job — and you can’t put a price on that. As a surgeon, I need very high levels of concentration, steady hands and a clear mind, and without sleep these are impossible. If I don’t sleep well, I know the next day will be chaotic.

I don’t need complete darkness to go to sleep. Outside my window there’s a very faint light and because I’m used to that, I find it comforting.

I always do two things to help me drift off: a brisk stroll at around 9.30pm and mindfulness meditation before bed. I wake up once in the night and never more.

Thanks to screens and tablets, we’re exposed to much more artificial light than we were in the past, and this increases the risk of breast cancer.

Artificial light suppresses melatonin, which is important for preventing cancer.

In contrast, a good night’s sleep keeps hormones circulating and keeps the blood pressure down. It’s no coincidence that insomniacs are more likely to get ill.

Why everyone’s talking about… Tibetan yoga

Is it yet another form of trendy yoga?

Apparently Tibetan or yantra yoga is a ‘new way to balance mind and soul by stimulating your body’s seven energy centres’ — so you decide.

Seriously, though, it’s been around since the 8th century, but has come to wider public attention thanks to a major university study into ways of helping breast cancer patients cope with chemotherapy.

Who’s making these claims . . .

Researchers at Texas University were intrigued that monks in Tibet have practised it for 2,500 years and claim it keeps them healthy and young (well, 2,500 years IS quite an age). The U.S. team discovered in tests that cancer patients who practised Tibetan yoga at least twice a week suffered less fatigue and fewer sleep disturbances — common side-effects of chemo.

The Dalai Lama recommends ¿the Highest Yoga Tantra¿

The Dalai Lama recommends ‘the Highest Yoga Tantra’

Does the Dalai Lama do it?

Of course. The 82-year-old (right) recommends ‘the Highest Yoga Tantra’, which involves ‘the power of imagination’ and meditation during which ‘you bring the vital energies into the central channel . . . and the clear light will manifest’. Simple.

Is it a breakthrough in cancer sufferers’ treatment?

The report in Cancer magazine says short-term results were ‘modest’, while long-term benefits emerge ‘over time’.

Not concrete scientific evidence, then?

Well, in the world of yoga, everything is fluid. Stress the positive at all times and let the ‘prana vayrus’ (vital energy) flow freely so you meet the force within, expunge negativity and avoid bad karma. Yikes!

What’s it all about?

Like many forms of yoga, it’s all to do with co-ordinating breath and movement, but with this version, you keep moving rather than hold a position for several breaths. So it should be easier (we hope).

Ooh, is it like Ashtanga (Madonna’s favourite) or Bikram (the one beloved by Jennifer Aniston and Lady Gaga)?

In a word … no.

Is it a high-intensity work-out, a bit like Zumba, but done in saffron robes?

Not really. It’s slow and low impact, though it involves 108 sets of movements and several types of breathing. According to a book called Tibetan Yoga Of Movement, it will ‘profoundly benefit anyone seeking authentic balance, harmony, and the understanding of our true nature.’

Okay, so is it like the tantra yoga that pop star Sting and his wife Trudie do?

Er, not quite, but Sting does 90 minutes of yoga a day — performing ‘asanas’ (yoga poses). So maybe he and Trudie do it on their Tuscan estate already?

Where can I do it?

That’s easy. The Shang Shung Institute (London Institute of Tibetan Studies) has a beginners’ course on September 30 and October 1.

I’m keen, but I expect it’s pricey?

There’S no set fee to release your inner chakra (psychic energy), just a ‘suggested donation’ of £150 (£120 concessions). But as the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’

Mark Palmer