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4 Lessons from Sophie Bostock on Sleep Deprivation

In your effort to end sleep deprivation, perhaps you have come across plenty of articles about why you sleep. Often, they don’t help you understand what is preventing you from sleeping.

Self-proclaimed sleep evangelist Dr. Sophie Bostock, a graduate from Nottingham University, with a PhD from University College London, and founder of, flips that question upside down and addresses why you DON’T sleep, rather than why you DO.

Sleep scientist, Dr. Bostock provides four reasons why she believes you don’t sleep and more importantly, solutions to each of the four issues to help you tackle your sleep loss.

What’s This Sophie Bostock Google Talk All About?

If you want to sleep better at night, it’s important to understand exactly why you aren’t sleeping well to begin with.  This Sophie Bostock Google Talk outlines four main reasons why a good night sleep eludes you.

Are any of these statements true for you?

  1. I rely on an alarm clock to wake up
  2. I fall asleep within 5 minutes of getting into bed
  3. I use caffeine to keep me going through the day
  4. I can doze in long meetings or talks
  5. I sleep for longer at the weekends to catch up

Dr. Bostock explains that if you answered yes, these are “all indicators of potential sleep deprivation.” She is a passionate advocate for healthy sleep.

If you find yourself tossing and turning night after night, read on to learn about why that may be and what you can do to fix it.

4 Important Lessons About Sleep Deprivation from Sophie Bostock

If you’re not sleeping well, you’re not alone. 

While sleep experts recommend a minimum of 7 hours of sleep for optimal health and functioning, Dr. Bostock reveals that according to a study from the Rand corporation, “At least 40%of the population in developed countries is short of sleep.”

Here are four reasons why you aren’t sleeping.

1. Stop sleep self-sabotage

Dr. Bostock opens her talk by providing some background on the science of sleep and how humans evolved. In modern times, many of us aren’t honoring what our bodies were designed by nature to do.

Go all the way back to your infancy, Sophie Bostock explains.

“Nobody teaches us to sleep. We have an innate ability to sleep. It’s not a learned behavior, it’s something that is very natural…When you’re a newborn it’s really pretty simple – the longer that you’ve been awake or the more activity that you’ve done the greater the pressure to sleep.”

However, at just 3 months, our body clocks begin to kick in. And as you get older, you are able to consciously decide not to sleep, which was important for survival because it allowed us to avoid deadly threats. Which means that, “Our brains evolved to learn that not sleeping means that we are under threat.”

But in modern times, you aren’t trying to avoid being eaten by a tiger. However, your threat response persists when you force wakefulness.

“It pushes adrenaline into the blood stream. We get the heart pumping faster, blood pressure rises, muscles tense up, over time we also produce the stress hormone cortisol. All of these things are getting us raring to go – ready to either fight or flight.” 

While this is a very useful defensive response, it’s hardly conducive to sleep.

When you deny yourself sleep, our bodies respond accordingly. 

She jokes, 

“We deliberately keep ourselves awake past the time that our bodies are telling us that we are sleepy. Not realizing that we are guilty of sleep sabotage. Evolution is simply not ready for Netflix.”

The good news is that self-sabotage is something that you can fix if you just have some self-control.

First, to tackle your impulsive over-tired brain, adopt a regular sleep schedule. Get into the habit of sleeping 7 hours per night.

Second, allow yourself wind-down time in the evening. 

“Whatever you do, if you it in the same order each night, when you tune into that routine, there is a pattern recognition. The body recognizes that you are safe and secure and that you are going to unwind for bed.”

Third, develop the skill of relaxation. Whether that is meditation, yoga, exercise, breathing exercises, you should investigate and use techniques that can help you to relax, not only in the evening but all day.

2. End sleepless ignorance

Studies show that people who are sleep deprived actually believe they are just fine. She cautions, 

“I suspect you are underestimating just how harmful the impact [of not getting enough sleep] is on your daily life.”

Night after night of not enough sleep actually accumulates over time causing you to make a series of poor decisions, compounding on top of one another. What exactly is going on?

Dr. Bostock explains that studies show, 

“The less sleep that you’re getting, the more likely you are to make mistakes. But what’s really significant is that this builds up every night that you are short of sleep. The effects of sleeplessness accumulate and this is what we call a ‘sleep debt’. This is something you can build up over time.”

The objective data in the study she references shows that despite losing basic cognitive abilities, the people who are getting the least sleep actually believe they have adapted, are coping, and are just fine.

Dr. Bostock explains how this ‘I’m fine’ attitude has an insidious effect on your well-being and performance, 

“If you’re not sleeping terribly well and it’s having an impact on your performance, you might not remember it tomorrow. You’ll probably tell yourself that you’re going to adapt, all over again. And People can get in this cycle where they can’t actually remember what it was like to sleep well. They just tell themselves that they are coping. You’ve got to break this cycle and remember what it’s like to have a good night’s sleep.”

This ignorance is also reversible by just taking a few simple steps.

First, find your sleep window, but repay your sleep debt first. Take a vacation and allow yourself several days to fall asleep when you get tired and wake up without an alarm. 

A weekend isn’t enough. Recalibrate your body and figure out how much sleep your body actually needs.

Second, once you have established your sleep window and natural wake time, try to ditch the alarm. Waking without an alarm is a good indicator that you are getting enough sleep.

Third, learn to power nap, but be careful about the duration. 

“Do not be afraid to nap… 20-25 minutes will get you into a deep enough sleep to restore your cognitive functions, give your mood a boost… but it’s not long enough to drift into deep sleep. Typically, after about 45 minutes or so, you get into deep sleep. And if you wake up from deep sleep, you’re properly out of it. You’ve got this thing called sleep inertia and it can take you a full hour to wake up again. So, if you’re gonna nap, do it in the circadian low after lunch and keep it to 15-20 minutes.”

3. Break the sleeplessogenic environment

You live in a world lit up 24 hours a day, which is not what your body evolved to handle. 

“Before we had watches and phones, we used to rely on the sun to tell us what time of day it was. And we evolved our level of activity to be very much guided by the level of the sun.”

Our modern, artificially lit environment does not fit together with our natural circadian rhythms.

Dr. Bostock explains the importance of natural light and dark.

“Light is an incredibly powerful driver for coordinating our body clocks all together, making us work efficiently. And darkness conversely is what enables the body to produce melatonin, the hormone that signals to the body that it’s time to sleep.”

She goes on to explain that as you do activities throughout the day, adenosine builds up in your body, gradually making you sleepier. If you use caffeine to stay alert, it masks that adenosine. However, when the caffeine wears off, the adenosine is still there and in even higher quantities than before that cup of coffee, prompting some people to dose up with that second, third, fourth cup to attempt to stay ahead of the curve.

There are a few things she recommends doing if you are out of sync with your body clock.

First, routine wake and mealtimes help your body get ready for sleep. Routine is the name of the game.

Second, light coordinates our internal clocks so you need to actively manage your exposure and get outside whenever possible.

Third, caffeine masks your natural sleep drive. If you need an alternative, consider engaging in some social interaction, getting some exercise or exposing yourself to natural light.

4. Insomnia

Insomnia is defined as, “a condition where you can’t get off to sleep, you can’t stay asleep, or you wake up feeling unrefreshed for at least 3 nights a week or more for 3 months or more. It’s very much a chronic condition.”

Insomnia doesn’t have a voluntary element like the other three reasons Dr. Bostock discusses. 

Meaning that if you suffer from insomnia, you aren’t doing it to yourself. Because there isn’t a voluntary element, treatment is a bit more clinical though she does recommend several strategies that you can try at home to help.

“Very often insomnia increases the risk of anxiety, depression as well as a number of other stress related illnesses. So, you get into this state of chronic physical and mental hyper arousal.”

People with insomnia often struggle with a great deal of anxiety simply by entering their bedrooms.

Dr. Bostock explains that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has shown to be successful in treating insomnia. The problem is, there aren’t many doctors who are trained to provide it so it can be difficult to see someone.

As an initial at home strategy that you can try, she suggests this simple activity to put your day to rest,

“When you are doing that wind down routine before bed, protect 5-10 minutes. Sit down with a piece of paper and your pencil and write down what’s worrying you… make sure that you commit it to paper and put it next to your bed. So that if you are lying there trying to get to sleep but these thoughts keep popping into your mind, you can just tell yourself ‘it’s on the page, it’ll still be there tomorrow, you do not need to think about it now’. It almost sounds too simple to be effective but one trial found that even this simple intervention alone could significantly increase people’s ability to fall asleep.”

She also recommends another technique for people suffering from sleep onset issues. 

“If you are in bed unable to sleep for more than 15 minutes, get up. Get out of your room, go somewhere else until you feel your eyelids heavy and starting to close. What you want to do is break any sort of negative connection between yourself and your bedroom and being unable to sleep. Your bedroom should be this haven for sleep and intimacy.”

Insomnia can majorly affect your mental health so if you are suffering from insomnia or consistently broken sleep, seek the advice of a medical professional.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Sophie Bostock ends with a clever acronym to help you tackle the issues of why you don’t sleep.

P – Plan ahead: Prioritize 7+ hours of sleep when you can

O – Outdoors: Get outdoors as regularly as possible

W – Wind down: Allow 60 minutes to detach before bed

E – Energize Strategically: Use light, social interaction, exercise and sometimes caffeine

R – Routine: Daily routines are important, and set reminders

Take this advice from sleep expert Dr. Sophie Bostock and say goodbye to sleep loss tonight.Want to watch the full Google talk with Dr. Sophie Bostock? Click here.