Grazia Magazine Sleep Coach

A recent feature on overcoming insomnia in Grazia Magazine Sept 2019

‘Back to the Forest’

Become more connected to nature to improve your sleep. Latest research confirms what most of us already know, that when we get outside we become happier and more positive people. Getting closer to nature with eco-therapy is showing extraordinary results for wellness, well-being, and also helps you to re-discover how to sleep better.

Simply by being in nature, can be the antidote for all the negative effects from fast modern life.

‘Imagine how amazing a few days at Forest Holidays could be,” the advert reads… ‘Surround yourself with nature in an eco-sensitive cabin in the heart of some the world’s most beautiful forests. Wonder in the woods, and even unwind your very own hot tub.’

The Japanese word for the healing way of the forest is ‘Shinrin-yoku’, forest therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest, Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the atmosphere of the forest” or ‘forest bathing’. This was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become the cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Forest medicine is using nature to heal yourself.

Interestingly, the ancient Japanese religion called ‘Shinto’, which believes that the spirits are not separate from nature, they are actually within it.  

This modern approach of immersing yourself in woodland ‘without your phone’, in order to heal your body and mind, has expanded into the West. It seems that now in greater numbers middle-class families are acquiring plots of land in woodland, so that they can interact with nature in their own retreats at the weekend. In Sweden you can take up residence in isolated glasshouses that measure just large enough to put a double bed in a glass box. No electronics, usually situated by a river or a lake in a forest. In the middle of wild countryside and thousands of lakes, you can visit and experience a dramatic physiological shift as you immersively enter the natural world, as your stress level drop by 70% after just three days, and studies have shown that lifestyle close to nature can improve well-being.

Dr Cecilia Stenfors has been awarded a three-year grant from the Swedish Research Council to study the role of environmental and biological factors in reducing stress levels and fatigue. “A lot of people spend a great amount of their wake time indoors and detached from natural environments, which prevents them from the benefits that contact with nature can have on wellbeing and performance,” she says. “Research has been consistent in showing that even brief contact with nature for short moments — or even exposure to nature-like stimuli — can improve one’s mood by increasing positive emotions and decreasing negative emotions and thoughts, and make people feel more relaxed and de-stressed.”

Many studies have found that everything from the soundscape of water and birdsong to woody and grassy scents improve our sense of wellbeing, but Stenfors says that “real nature seems to have greater effects than artificial nature” — so you can turn off your smartphone’s birdsong app and listen to real nature. Benefits include “improvements in mental performance, such as working memory” and tasks with high demands on “executive or focused attention”.

A 2015 study looked at brain scans of people who had taken either a 90-minute walk in a natural environment or an urban environment. Those who went on a nature stroll not only felt better but had decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with the rumination of negative thought.

We become happier and more positive people if we get outside in the sunlight.

The irony is that most of us spend less time than ever in tune with our natural surroundings. Totting up the time you are cocooned within four walls with a roof above your head can be a wake-up call. A survey of 1,000 adults found that they spent, on average, only 8 per cent of their weekdays — less than two hours — outside. Last year another poll revealed that three quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.

Even small changes can bring huge effects.

Some doctors are now taking the concept of eco-therapy seriously, prescribing outdoor activity — and that’s everything from a walk to a bit of gardening — as a means of improving mild to moderate depression. “Our own findings suggest that 94 per cent of adults felt that nature benefited their mental health,” he says. “Its effects are indisputable.”

Sue Waite, an associate professor of education and a researcher at Plymouth University. :“For the mildly depressed, regular exposure to the outdoors and in sociable groups was a viable alternative to taking a pill to raise mood as it provided a real boost.”

Waite says that research suggests that 30 to 60 minutes spent outdoors is a good dosage for mood boosting, but for a serious detox, a 72-hour get-away is optimal. But you don’t have to head for snow-capped mountains or pine forests — even a trip to your local park or municipal golf cause can do you good. “Our aim should be to reintroduce nature to our lives as much as we can,” she says. “Stress hormones, such as cortisol, plummet when we are outside with nature; happy hormones, such as serotonin, are enhanced. We become happier and more positive people if we get outside.”

So whether you visit a luxury sleep retreat to learn how to optimize your sleep, and to relax and unwind, or you explore ways to get ‘closer to nature’, one thing is for sure, these ideas are food for thought, and we can dream about, finding a wonderful place to get closer to nature.

Get 100% sleep optimised by re-connecting with nature. Photo by Christian Regg

As always, I wish you a great night’s sleep.

Max Kirsten aka The Sleep Coach

If you snooze, you lose!

Three rules for effective weight loss:

1, Always wait at least 90 minutes after eating before you go to bed, and if you can eat earlier that is even better. A research study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that eating easily digestible carbs 4 hours before bedtime led people to fall asleep faster, because it gives your blood sugar a chance to balance out before sleep.

So eat that Mediterranean salad, (with a few carbs) earlier in the evening so that your blood sugar has a chance to recover, so that your quality of your sleep will become deeper. 

*Note: If you need to eat a light snack before bed make sure that it’s high-fat, and low carb, such as avocados, a few nuts such as almonds, a small piece of dark chocolate, or perhaps even try eating a few small fresh tomatoes, before preparing for bed.

2, Make sure that you have a balanced healthy diet with long gaps between the meals to help you to digest what is eaten. Sip water between your meals to help this process. Avoid all foods that say they are low-fat; these are foods that have been interfered with and usually even filled with hidden sugar, and sometimes palm oil and so forth. Stay natural, eat natural and then become naturally slim and healthy, with even your skin quality improving, so it even slows down the ageing process!

And make sure that you get enough sleep (8 hours each night ideally), don’t compromise, being sleep deprived reduces your leptin hormone levels, which then increases unwanted feelings of hunger all day. Fact.

Enjoy the gaps between your meals, hydrate regularly throughout the day, and get enough oxygen in your bloodstream by taking regular walks whenever you can. This will help your body to burn calories whilst at the same time giving you an oxygenated mind full of ideas throughout the day.

3, Start your day with smoothies, but go more for the green smoothies with loads of leafy vegetables, spinach, kale, cucumber, avocado, kelp, maybe some blueberries and strawberries but keep fruit to a minimum as the point of this mixture is the focus on green and to not to cause a spike in your insulin.

Also a handful of almonds or some protein, perhaps a boiled egg or a fried or poached egg and some fresh smoked salmon on a piece of rye bread (*if you’re not vegan or vegetarian), so that you are turning your body into a fat burning machine instead of eating foods that turn you into a fat storing machine like toast, fruit smoothies, cereal with milk, bagels, pancakes, processed sugar, maple syrup and oatmeal, which will all cause your insulin to spike straightaway in the morning, for all the fats to be stored instead of burned!

And recognise that drinking alcohol is one of the classic sleep architecture destroyers. In other words drinking alcohol causes us to have poor sleep which affects those hormones and makes us want to eat more again. This is why most people who’ve got a hangover crave all the wrong foods for losing weight; they just want to eat carbs, fatty foods and processed foods, all of which sabotage becoming slim and healthy. 

All forms of alcohol contain high amounts of ‘empty calories’.  

For example: just one glass of wine has the equivalent calorie value of packet of crisps

So you have been warned!

The most important reason for not using alcohol in the evenings is that it can seriously ruin your sleep quality. So even though alcohol has been shown to improve sleep quality if used very occasionally in low amounts, and earlier in the evening, it does in fact ruin your ‘sleep architecture’.

REM sleep is significantly disrupted by alcohol, which means that you won’t be able to achieve deep sleep, and it damages dream sleep REM, so that your brain and body won’t have the chance to fully recover and rejuvenate from the day before. Alcohol can also affect your memory, as (both) NREM deep sleep, and REM ‘dream’ sleep are damaged by alcohol. It also causes you to become dehydrated, and wake more frequently in the night; even if you drink enough water before bed you will probably be going to the bathroom all night for one reason or another, and in the morning feel fairly ghastly, needing caffeine, headache pills, and all the ‘wrong’ foods to try to ‘kick-start’ your metabolism, and hold back the mental fog in your mind.

By getting enough good sleep, you are increasing your memory processing. This means that your daily short-term memories and experiences get converted into long-term memory. Eight hours of sleep will actually make you become smarter and perform better.

The five pillars of successful weight loss are:

1, Only eat natural ‘real’ foods

2, Take regular daily exercise

3, Get eight hours of regular sleep

4, Avoid alcohol if you want to lose weight

5, Last meal of the day must be two hours before bed

By following these five simple suggestions you are literally guaranteeing yourself a slim and healthy body, as well as a longer and healthier life.

So the secret for successful weight loss, is to increase your sleep, eat the healthiest foods, last meal two hours before bed, and take lots of regular exercise.

As always, I wish you a great night’s sleep.

Max Kirsten aka The Sleep Coach

What is Clean Sleeping?

‘Clean Sleeping’ was most recently popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow, in her Goop: Clean Beauty book, which is (mostly) based on sensible and sound sleep hygiene rules and principles.

The essence of clean sleeping, Is basically a ‘natural drug-free approach’ to regularly get the best night of sleep, boosting your wellness, and to achieve optimal health and daytime performance.

To achieve this, you have to follow a series of basic rules:

  1. No drinking caffeine after 2pm.
  2. No electronic devices at least an hour before bed.
  3. Set a strict bedtime and follow it even through the weekend.
  4. Keep the bedroom dark and cool.
  5. Buy a copper pillow.

The basics of this list except (5) are the fundamentals of any good sleep coaching system.

This is not a bad place to begin. The fundamentals are here, although the importance of getting blue light in the morning preferably from the actual sky, with it’s bright full spectrum of light (Lux from the sun), seems to be missing. However I note with great interest reading a book before bed is considered to be the best approach (I would say only for some), but I would also suggest that you get a lower level brightness lightbulb that ideally points only onto the page of the book without spilling directly into your own eyes as you read, or a dimmed (night setting) kindle or tablet.  Or perhaps you might like to practice some relaxation techniques in bed instead.

It’s a classic sleep coaching advice to step away from caffeine after 2pm is good. 11-12pm is better!

Zero the electronic devices of any kind I would say ideally at least 90 minutes before going to bed. A minor tweek difference.

Ideally fall asleep at the same time every night, good, (although occasionally you should be allowed to be bad, and have some fun).  Alcohol also fragments and reduces both your deep and REM (dream) sleep. After a night off, you’ll need to get back to the strict rule of regularity. Consistency is absolutely the key.

No alcohol before bed, or a glass of wine with dinner as long as it’s early. Then ideally drink water!  I would add that most liquids should ideally be consumed in the daytime, and less at night.

Using a copper infused pillow, may be a good idea? However, I am skeptical, but if it works for you, you’re an early adopter. There are plenty of copper infused pillars on Amazon, but always read the reviews first. A good pillow is definitely an essential item, but I would say that more important is getting ‘enough’ sleep (7-9 hrs), combined with a natural healthy ‘drug-free’ lifestyle and diet, this will give you the most incredible skin, slow down the ageing process, and will give you a sparkle in your eye, and clear mind ready for each brand new day!

Unlike some sleep experts and sleep coaches, I cannot really condone the use of smart devices or any other form of electronics in the bedroom. Even though there’s some great sleep apps out there, unless they can help you to relax and fall asleep, or can monitor/track your sleep from outside the bedroom unobtrusively. Perhaps linked to your wearable tech such as Oura ring, Fitbit, Garmin or even Circadia Sleep Tracker that are seamlessly invisible, monitoring your sleep, for analysis the next day. Other than these, I would generally rule no electronics in the bedroom. No TVs, computers, devices. Stay 100% natural in the bedroom. Keep water by the bed to stay hydrated, particularly if you are a mouth breather, but only sip in the night as needed.

The cool dark bedroom rule is classic non-negotiable, I would add the importance of a good supply of oxygen perhaps leave a bedroom window slightly open an inch in winter, and obviously more so in the summer. 

I also want to point out the importance of a balanced healthy diet, including ideally in the evenings some form of carbohydrate that keeps your blood sugar steady during the night, protein clean meals at night time cause your blood sugar is to drop in the middle of the night during a sleep causing you to wake.  So many American diets these days are afraid to even mentioning the word ‘carbohydrate’, Carbohydrates help achieve good sleep. Fact. They are not evil.

If you’re frightened of carbohydrates get more exercise regularly.

Taking regular exercise ideally in the mornings, or afternoons, or early evenings also but not late night. Fact.

The rule of setting a strict bedtime even at weekends is definitely something that I would dispute, particularly if you’re a sleep deprived Monday to Friday parent, or recovering from a particularly good night out on Friday or Saturday night, as the latest sleep research shows that you can make up for the loss of sleep over the following days and/or take an afternoon nap for up to 30 minutes before 4pm to make up the difference.

I’m a great believer in the 80/20 principle, to that means doing everything right but is covered here, but avoid perfectionism.  Allow yourself the 20% freedom to do what ever you want, sleep well, but live a life without regrets, have fun, and then get back to the plan. 

Finally, I’m pretty sure that I will never own a copper pillow.

I wish you a great night’s sleep.

Max Kirsten

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Napping In The Daytime Increases Children’s Academic Performance By 7.6% On Average

Sleeping Teenager - Napping In The Daytime Increases academic Performance | The Sleep Coach
Sleeping Teenager – Napping In The Daytime Increases academic Performance

There is growing evidence that adolescents should be encouraged to take naps during the daytime at school.  A large study of almost 3,000 Chinese children showed that the ones who took a nap of between 30 and 60 minutes at least three times a week, were not only found to be cleverer, but were also happier. They also had greater self-control, higher IQ’s and more of that hard to find yet precious thing called ‘grit’.

Napping in the daytime increases children’s academic performance by 7.6% on average. And unlike in China, where Chinese children regularly are encouraged to take mid-day naps, western thinking: including the United States and Europe are only just beginning to wake up to the fact that children not only need more sleep than they are currently getting on average, but that they also need to start later in the morning. The ideal time is 10 AM, with a longer day until about 6 o’clock in order not to be sleep deprived, because they always go to bed later than adults, as their body time clock’s become delayed in teenage years.

The scientists collected the data from the Chinese research, on both napping frequency, and psychological measures, including happiness. They also asked teachers to give them behavioural and academic information about each student.  Then, they analysed the associations, adjusting for sex, age, school location, parental education, and bedtimes. These findings have since been published in the Journal of Sleep.

“We had the chance to ask real-world, adolescents school children questions across a wide range of behavioural, academic, social, and psychological measures. The more students sleep during the day, the greater the benefit of naps on many of these measures,” said Sara Mednick, a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside, US.

There are growing concerns that British children are becoming chronically under-rested and sleep deprived. Very little research has been done on napping for children, with the exception for toddlers. This new Chinese research study, sheds a light that if we are to be competitive in future with the rest of the world, our UK children need to sleep for England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Poor sleep causes low cognitive skills, also poor memory, and exam results. It’s time to value our sleep, and to brush up on our nightly sleep quotas. Never before has napping with children been shown to perhaps be the difference that makes the difference. Sleep is the secret weapon for higher academic performance with children and teenagers.

As always I wish you a great night’s sleep.

Max Kirsten


Finally as a free gift from me, why not also download my ‘Better Sleep Drifting’ Relaxation for sleep MP3 download. Visit https://www.maxkirsten.com/better-sleep-mp3-download/

Bedtime books that help children to sleep better

Kids love to fall asleep after a good story

Sleep experts and child psychologists have known of the years the importance of bedtime rituals. They encourage a seamless transition from the playful day to quiet slumbers. The bedtime story is probably the most potent bedtime sleep aid for children.

Here is a selection of my top five books for parental reading for small ones.

The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

One of the best books for young children in recent years which is topped the Amazon bestsellers list is called ‘The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep’. It’s been written by a Swedish psychologist structured with a focus on design to help to all children into a deep sleep. it encourages the parental reader to vary their voice allowing and leading their child or children into slumber.

How  Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen

This is a really enjoyable way to have some fun and make your child snigger before bed. You can’t go wrong with this amusing book that helps them to laugh at themselves and at dinosaurs!

Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse

 A wonderful book about the rituals that we as parents create for our children. This book will appeal to parents all over the world, as it will remind you of what it was like when you were little.

Interrupting Chickenby David Ezra Stein

 This is a wonderful story of children who like to discuss and go through the story and sometimes get so excited if forgotten that the meant to be getting ready to fall asleep. This book is also good for parents who may wish their reading-age children to do role-play, as is great fun taking the roles, including their role as the over eager, interrupting chicken.

 The Sleep Bookby Dr Zeus

 The book begins with a yawning little bug,  and continues as all of Dr Zeus’s books, imaginative classic. And this one is particularly good to read and listened to at bedtime. The only challenge is for parents to stay awake through the entire book without yawning themselves!

Dreamy locations for better sleep

All over the world there is a rapidly growing market for dreamy locations to improve your sleep. Sleep hotels, sleep clinics, sleep retreats, luxury spas dedicated to better sleep are opening up, often in remote or unusual places.

While millions of us are living our usually sleep deprived lives, there is an ever growing number of people willing to travel far and wide for a dream destination, or rather a location where sleep and dreams are the main event, dream vacations for optimal sleep. This is literally the stuff of dreams!

Here are some examples of the lengths that some people can go in their search for better sleep (at a cost of thousands £££££) whereas mostly all they need to do is to follow all the recommendations for sleep hygiene. However some of these dream locations do sound rather wonderful!

I was reading about an example of this as I flicked through a magazine in my waiting-room at my dental surgery. There it was, a sleep programme from Six Senses, the luxury spa hotel group.

The article said they’d created a coordinated sleep programme with the help of the renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Breus who is a member of the Six Senses Integrated Wellness Board. He has pioneered the sleep programme which consists of being met as you arrive by their sleep ambassador, who will assess your sleep requirements and help you to choose the right pillow from a vast array of options for every sleep position imaginable. That’s just the beginning. You would benefit from two years of scientific sleep research at the hotel, using high-tech sleep monitoring gadgetry, touch of a button blackout blinds that descend beautifully, enjoy sheets, duvet cover and pillowcases made from moisture-wicking organic eucalyptus and cotton. You have the choice of wearing bamboo-fibre pyjamas for breathability and comfort, although you could sleep naked. There’s a jasmine spray for spritzing in the bedroom and a variety of relaxing extras to help you to achieve a state of deep calm. Beside the bed is a little Book of Wellness, and earplugs and eye masks for the light and sound sensitive are provided.

Their beds and mattresses are all from the British bedding company, NaturalMat, hand made from natural fibres as the name suggests. All the mattresses are wired to track your sleep, with a pad underneath the mattress connecting to a device called a Withings Aura that will measure every aspect of your sleep. Throughout the night it will record the levels of your sleep cycles: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. It will also record your average heart rate and temperature, monitor the noise and light and temperature of the room, and track your physiology as the lights in the bedroom dim with red light and the room is bathed in ambient sounds.

A word of warning! When visiting these wonderful sweet retreats, make sure that you are not ruining the experience by drinking too much alcohol if any. Enjoy eating a delicious meal, but remain ideally alcohol and caffeine free, crystal clear mineral water, and not eating too late or too much, should guarantee you a good night’s sleep, as long as you don’t stay up too late over-stimulating your brain with technology, news feeds and so on. The whole idea is to learn how to improve sleep, not to remain sleep deprived. The sleep hygiene list is the key wherever you travel will increase the chances of wonderful sleep every night.

In the mornings, you’ll awaken and after breakfast, you’ll be encouraged to get some sunlight first thing in the morning whatever the weather, participate in morning yoga classes, and later on your sleep stats will be assessed by their sleep expert.

You will next undergo a full health assessment, your bio markers will be measured for sleep, serotonin levels measured, BP, heart rate and variability, cholesterol, adrenaline and cortisol levels (the hormones that are released during stress), diet, weight, toxin buildup assessment and so on…

The day is filled with yoga classes, trips to wonderful restaurants or eating in wonderful restaurants in the spa, walking through woods by the river, meditating to the sound of Tibetan singing bowls, massages all designed to help improve the next night of sleep on the sleep stat review the next day.

Regardless of how exhausted you arrived, how bad your electronics digital addiction was, these breaks of sleep optimization and rest are just what the doctor ordered!

When it’s time to leave you’ll be relaxed, and in the state of oneness and well-being. You will have learned the importance of afternoon naps, no longer than thirty minutes in the early afternoon, your sleep training will have been completed, and you will be ready to return to real life and a sleep optimized nightlife. Available throughout the year. From £334 for three nights plus accommodation. sixsenses.com.

Here are a few other dreamy locations with a very small timezone difference as returning home with additional jet lag issues is not ideal for a sleep optimisation retreat.
Lefay Resort & Spa, Italy. Rediscover delicious sleep at their ‘Sweet Dreams’ sleep retreat with breakfast, lunch and dinner included, as well as acupuncture, moxibustion, foot, body and facial treatments with the focus on relaxation and getting a better night’s sleep. Available throughout the year. From £2,228 per person for five nights, lagodigarda.lefayresorts.com.

SHA Wellness Clinic, ‘sleep recovery program’ in Spain. For those with sleep disorders, this retreat has been designed to help you recover from insomnia, and improve overall sleep quality. The clinical approach with sleep assessment, with doctors consultation, session with a nutritionist, and many treatments over ideally their recommended 7-night minimum but ideally a full 14 night stay to achieve the best long term sleep results. Available throughout the year. From £3,300 for seven nights, shawellnessclinic.com.

I wish you a good night’s sleep.
Max Kirsten
Finally as a free gift from me, why not also download my ‘Better Sleep Drifting’ Relaxation for sleep MP3 download. Visit https://www.maxkirsten.com/better-sleep-mp3-download/

Vampire shoppers and the vampire economy!

There is a new 21st-century phenomenon called vampire shopping, so named because sleep deprived bleary eyed parents, insomniacs and gamers go online to make purchases between 1am and 6am.

Barclaycard has reported that as many as one in three shoppers now spends more money online at night, compared to 5 years ago.

Vampire shoppers spend a third more than normal shoppers, most of whom are people who are not sleeping well, usually 1-4am er’s buying random stuff that they don’t really need, and sometimes even with nowhere to put it. 75% of people don’t send back the last thing they didn’t want!

Nocturnal shopping is a thing of the NOW.

Nocturnal shopping became possible thanks to the evolution of technological devices since the smartphone revolution. The ‘one click’ purchases on Amazon, Ebay, Paypal and other electronic payment systems makes shopping just so unbelievably easy, and therefore waiting until morning completely unnecessary when the sleep deprived make very often impulsive shopping bleary eyed random purchases before bed, or even when they wake up in the middle of their sleep (if they are experiencing bouts of insomnia), buying shoes, clothes, jewellery, and even ‘replacement lithium battery stocks after realising they’ve forgotten something essential, and two out of ten are ordering food shopping online.

And vampire economy is booming and is predicted to grow year on year, even though shoppers are often buying things that they often don’t even really need in a bleary eyed state such as holidays, and large pieces of furniture on impulse!

There are now calls for safety measures to be put into place, such as putting stops on buying habits or behavior from bedtime and to wake-up to curb out of control impulsive shopping habits. Shopping channels that broadcast late at night have known for a long time that there is a very lucrative market in vampires staying up late and feeling compelled to buy something that they’ve seen that they don’t really need, and then regret buying it or them in the morning.

And whether morally right or wrong, retailers are exploiting this new market. As humans and technology evolve driving this new lucrative ‘Vampire Economy’.

Top zombie hour vampire purchases are usually made on smart phones, tablets and laptops include: birthday presents, children’s toys, baby gear, vacuum cleaners and games consoles. Another popular late-night vampire purchase is an increasing river of new replacement pillows as people becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their sleep set-up.

There is also a growing trend to hide their arriving growing river of packages and daily deliveries in cupboards as the vampire shopping habits begin to cause embarrassment and shame. Others would call this form of late-night shopping ‘compulsive shopping’ leading towards compulsive ‘shopping addiction’.

Even bleary eyed a good question to ask before pressing the purchase button, is “Do I really need this?’ or perhaps a sensible law is to wait until the afternoon before deciding on whether to buy the item sitting in the basket at the checkout.

But maybe we shouldn’t be afraid of the ‘vampire shoppers’, and more worried about the sleepless zombies!

Sleeping cats and dogs!

 

Do cats dream of mice and men?

Cats sleep on average 15 hours each day, which if you think about it is most of their lives spent sleeping. Have you ever wondered what cats dream about?

Cats can sleep as much as 16 hours a day, and older cats spend even more time at rest — as much as 20 hours a day. That sleeping habit is a result of the cat’s evolution, nutritional habits and physiology. In the wild, cats have to hunt in order to eat, and the stalking, chasing and killing of prey burns a lot of energy. Sleeping helps cats conserve energy between meals. Of the time cats spend sleeping, about three quarters of it is what we might call snoozing. In that state, cats can get all the rest they need, but they’re still alert enough to awaken at a moment’s notice. You can tell when a cat is in light sleep because their ears will twitch and rotate toward noises and their eyes will be open a tiny bit. Even when they’re sitting upright, cats can slip into that dozing mode.

Do cats really dream?

The remaining quarter of cats’ sleeping hours is spent in deep sleep, but older cats might spend as much as 30 percent or 40 percent of the time at that level. Cats in deep sleep are usually curled up with their eyes tightly closed. Sometimes, they might even have their tail over their face, like a fluffy sleep mask. Deep sleep is critical for the body’s ability to regenerate itself and stay healthy. It’s also the time when your cat dreams.

By this point if you’re a dog lover, or horse lover, or an animal lover of any other type, you may have decided to switch off and perhaps mentally go to sleep. Aha!

But I will also be asking if dogs dream?

So feline cats sleep the most up to 20 hours on a 24-hour period. I remember being told that humans were the only conscious beings, capable of asking why, and then possibly doing something about it. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that just as all animals sleep, including humans. As I have watched a number of cats in my own house fast asleep, sometimes I see them dreaming, REM sleep, their eyelids are flickering, often sleeping on their backs, I can see the arms and legs moving slightly responding to their dream. But I have no way of knowing what they’re dreaming about?

In many ways cats are faster than us, more agile than us, and can hear better than us, and can hunt better than us, because their eyesight is so good day or night, and their reactions are quicker than ours!

I was interested in the research by Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, who is a professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in New England, USA, who said in an article in Metro, that cats definitely dream.

He says that, ‘Cats exhibit all the physiological and behavioural characteristics of dreaming sleep in humans: low voltage fast wave activity, fast EEG activity – where the cerebral cortex (thinking centre) and hippocampus (memory centre) are active in the face of continued behavioural sleep.

‘Behavioural sleep is characterised by the absence of muscle potentials, super relaxed posture, unresponsiveness, and elevated auditory threshold.

‘This is the so-called the sleep of the body, where the mind is still active.

‘The fast wave EEG activity in periods of REM sleep is the dreaming phase of sleep.

What is REM sleep?

REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is one of the four stages of sleep, and should take place every 90 minutes or so while you’re snoozing.

During REM sleep, your eyes will make distinctive movements while closed. This is when dreaming takes place. REM sleep is associated with maintaining important neural pathways and even learning new information. Your heartbeat during REM sleep will be rapid, which could be a response to the dreams you’re having.

‘These periods alternate with periods of slow wave sleep (the sleep of the mind) in which some muscle tone remains (the body is not totally relaxed) and there is no dreaming.

‘During the former fast wave sleep, rapid eye movements and twitching movements of the limbs, vibrissae and ears are seen.’

Just like humans, cats have periods of deep sleep where they are completely relaxed in their bodies, but their minds are actively dreaming. Dr. Dodman also has some ideas about what cats might dream about.

He says: ‘Like us, cats will probably dream about things that have gone on in the recent or distant past. ‘Maybe stalking a bird or mouse. Maybe being petted. Maybe an altercation with another cat or dog.’

Although dogs sleep slightly less than cats do, with adult dogs getting an average of 12-14 hours sleep a day, Dr. Dodman says that the brain activity present during sleep is remarkably similar.

‘The sleeping patterns of dogs, cats and humans are all very similar.

‘However, the phase length of REM sleep vs. slow wave sleep varies between individuals and between younger and older subjects.’ This means that the amount of dream time you get depends on your individual characteristics and your age. So potentially, cats and dogs could be dreaming just as much as you do.

If you see your cat’s little legs cycling or their ears twitching as they snooze, they’re probably having a satisfying dream about catching the bird that’s always mocking them from a high tree branch in the garden, or getting the better of the neighbour’s dog.

Sweet dreams are made of Miow and Woof!

M

Max helps Jarvis with sleep on BBC Radio 4 ‘Wireless Nights Special 2019′

‘The perfect night’s sleep’ is Jarvis Cocker’s New Year’s Resolution for 2019

In this episode Sleep Coach Max Kirsten helps Jarvis Cocker find better sleep as he continues his nocturnal exploration of the human condition. He often lies awake at night trying, unsuccessfully, to nod off. But, not one to give up, his New Year’s resolution is to crack this habit and attain the perfect night’s sleep. His restless search leads him to fellow insomniac Marina Benjamin, and to even he go inside his own brain with The Sleep Coach Max Kirsten. A surreal experience.

To listen or download the podcast visit BBC Radio 4 https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0001v06