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New research suggests that you can live longer by sleeping less – but only if you sleep more effectively.

Canadian science writer Jessa Gamble argues that unlike exercise and diet, other factors we consider heavily when deciding how to live a healthy life, we do not invest time into making sure our sleep is healthy and effective. Rather, “we go to bed and close our eyes and hope for the best.”

Gamble’s key tips for a good night’s sleep firstly involves keeping yourself in the dark. Your room should be as dark as possible, less than eight lux – a measurement which means that you should not be able to see the other side of the room. Light above this level gives a signal to the brain indicating that it’s daytime, and so checking your phone in the night or switching a light on will put your brain in a state that mimics the waking hours, decreasing the quality of your sleep. Secondly, warming your feet before going to sleep will also reduce the length of time it takes to fall asleep. Psychology and Biological Natural Sciences applicants should explore how the rods and cones of a human eye respond to light, and how the eye’s response can impact upon the brain’s attentiveness.

Archaeology and Anthropology applicants should consider how humans have evolved their sleeping patterns over time, particularly prior to the advent of artificial light. Our ancestors had a ‘second sleep’, in which they slept for a few hours after dusk and woke at midnight in a state of relaxation and meditation. This ancient idea mirrors some current psychological beliefs of creativity being heightened in the middle of the night, after a few hours of sleep. Overall, ensuring your sleep is deep and restful takes precedence over low quality, longer sleep – though it should be remembered, as Medicine applicants will be familiar, that too little sleep can have negative health impacts.

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