the brave front episode 4 professor matt jones

The Brave Front Episode 4 – How Sleep Affects Mental Health

The quality of our sleep is central to our mental wellbeing, but the relationship between the two is complex. Professor of Neuroscience at Bristol University, Matt Jones, spends his days analysing other people’s nights, so we spoke to him to find out more about the science behind how sleep affects mental health. From grumpy mornings and insomnia, to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD, the amount we sleep could impact our every waking moment. Finding the answer to a perfect night’s sleep, meanwhile, could be as simple, as a siesta in a hammock. Make yourself a cocoa and settle down for a dreamlike Episode 4.

Show outline:

00:00:07 – 00:02:18 – Welcome to the episode

00:04:56 – 00:11:15 – Why do we need a good night’s sleep?

00:11:27 – 00:21:44 – Sleep and mental health

00:21:51 – 00:28:41 – Talking and other possible ways to improve sleep

00:28:42 – 00:31:14 – The power nap

00:31:08 – 00:38:34 – Sleep hygiene, exercise and racing thoughts

00:38:35 – 00:45:00 – Sleep changes with age and future studies

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Full Transcript


00:00:06 Tim

Hello again, welcome to another episode of The Brave Front, a podcast with a single purpose – To talk about men’s mental health.

00:00:16 Tim

My name’s Tim Beynon, and in each episode I’m going to be talking to someone who either has an incredible story to share or some thought provoking insight to give us in regard to what’s going on in our heads.

00:00:28 Tim

And by talking to people with lived experience and professional credentials, I hope we can give you something to mud over each fortnight so that you can hopefully take aspects of what you’ve heard into your own life, whether it’s simply through being inspired by someone else’s story or by taking the advice of an expert. If we can play a small part in boosting your mental well-being. Well, that’s pretty much job done for me.

00:00:50 Tim

In this episode, we’re settling down with a hot cup of cocoa to talk about sleep with Matt Jones, professor of neuroscience at the University of Bristol and an expert on the science behind Sleep.

00:01:03 Tim

Unsurprisingly, there’s a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Indeed, I’m sure we’ve all had time when we’ve slept well, and then again when we haven’t, and I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that on those days, after a bad night’s sleep, we’re probably not the nicest people to be around, and probably not at our most productive either. I’ve seen it in my professional life too, working for a charity that supports fire service personnel with their mental health. I’ve talked to firefighters in the past who’ve had trouble sleeping as a result of their work, both in terms of the impact of shift working and the impact of working around trauma. Unchecked, such regular sleep disturbances can have serious physical and mental health implications as people become trapped in a cycle of increased anxiety and sleeplessness, with one feeding the other.

00:01:47 Tim

Professor Matt Jones has thrown himself into sleep, though, in an effort to find some answers for us all in regard to what happens inside our minds and our bodies when we sleep and how all this is linked to our mental well-being. So I spoke to Matt to find out more about the science behind the one thing none of us can do without a good night’s sleep.

00:02:12 Tim

Matt, thank you very much. Lovely to meet you. Great to have you on the on the show. I’m really delighted that you’ve been able to join us and you can.

00:02:18 Tim

Give us your your time today. How are you?

00:02:21 Matt

Thanks, Tim. It’s a great pleasure to be here. Really appreciate the invitation. I’m OK. Thank you. That’s what I always say. Yeah, I’m fine. Quite a busy time in the academic calendar, cause the new two is about to start. But I’m more or less keeping on top of it.

00:02:38 Tim

I suppose I’ve got to ask you. Did you sleep well last night?

00:02:40 Matt

That’s a pertinent question.

00:02:43 Matt

Unfortunately I don’t sleep as well as I used to, so I used to be quite a smug good sleeper, but.

00:02:49 Matt

In my old age I’m 51 and given various anxieties, mainly mainly work induced. I don’t sleep as well as I used to.

00:02:57 Matt

So I often wake up pretty early and then struggle to get back to sleeping and.

00:03:03 Matt

So that’s OK last night, but not brilliantly, no.

00:03:06 Tim

Well, that’s that’s interesting.

00:03:07 Tim

Now listen. I’m fascinated by your role and fascinated by by the subjects of sleep. I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve I’ve struggled a bit in the past with with sleep issues and and not being able to get to sleep sort of racing thoughts in my mind and that kind of stuff. But before we dig into a bit of the detail, perhaps you can tell us a little bit about your role, your job.

00:03:28 Tim

What it what it involves as a, as a professor.

00:03:30 Tim

Of sleep as it.

00:03:31 Tim

Were and and a bit of.

00:03:32 Tim

An insight perhaps into your?

00:03:34 Tim

Your day-to-day. What? What? What does?

00:03:35 Tim

It involve so.

00:03:37 Matt

Technically, I’m not a professor of sleep much.

00:03:40 Matt

Like today. So I’m a professor of neuroscience here at the University of Bristol that involves a bit of a juggling act between doing research. So running a team of science.

00:03:52 Matt

PhD student and postdoctoral research just with and sort of integrated A array of projects. It involves administering research, which is a polite way of saying begging for money to do the research. We want to do so writing funding applications to the government and to charities, for example.

00:04:10 Matt

And involves teaching, of course, and so trying to inspire the next generation becomes the researchers.

00:04:17 Matt

So it’s never dull, but like a lot of people in modern Britain, we just tend to complain too much of everything. So so today actually just recently we submitted a a big funding bid to the Medical Research Council, which involves a bit of sleep and mental health research and. And so I’m raking through the ashes of all the things I didn’t do.

00:04:36 Matt

You know, writing that funny bit.

00:04:39 Tim

I wanna I wanna look.

00:04:40 Tim

Definitely look at that. You mentioned mental health. I wanna look at the link between sleep and and mental health in in a bit.

00:04:45 Tim

More detail but.

00:04:46 Tim

Perhaps before we sort of delve into that side of things, so we go back to basics and could you just tell us what, why is a good night’s sleep important? Why?

00:04:54 Tim

We need all need that good night’s.

00:04:56 Matt

Sleep for more than one reason. As you might imagine, and and just to sort of frame my perspective a bit. I mean firstly I’m not a doctor, I’m not a medic. So everything I say is is given by the science that I know and understand and which may be incorrect of course. And what got me into sleep, which I ignored.

00:05:14 Matt

Many years actually, and the memory researcher that somebody started out what? What got me into sleep was.

00:05:21 Matt

When I came to realise how how rich with possibility the brain is overnight in humans and there’s so much going on in our brains during sleep, it’s not just like turning down the volume and having a, you know.

00:05:34 Matt

Our brain cells are neurons, putting their feet up, and there really is a lot of active processing.

00:05:40 Matt

And so and sleep makes vital contributions to blessing our mental model of the world if you.

00:05:48 Matt

I mean, what it brains for brains are for making our mental model of the world so we can understand our surroundings and other people and we can optimise our our behaviour as best we can to get as much as possible out of life and sleep, mix vital contributions to that through its role within the porting memory. So sifting through what’s important.

00:06:08 Matt

What isn’t integrating new stuff we learn with our existing knowledge. It regulates our emotions. We all experience that to some degree. We tend to be less able to regulate our emotions when we’ve had a a rough night or many rough night.

00:06:25 Matt

But it also does.

00:06:26 Matt

Other sort of non cognitive things like dealing with the housekeeping, you know, brain metabolism, it regulates our helps to regulate our immune system, our inflammatory state. So I mean the good thing about sleep is that it matters to all.

00:06:43 Matt

Of earth, and it percolates through almost every aspect of our waking lives.

00:06:49 Matt

And the bad thing about sleep?

00:06:51 Matt

Is that as well? Yeah. It’s so hard to tick entangle and chicken and egg cause and effect as a sleep researcher, you know, am I sleeping badly because I’m anxious? Am I anxious? Cause I’m sleeping badly. Probably a bit of both. So I think the field at large.

00:07:09 Matt

Kind of grappling with going around in those circles and try to come to terms with that.

00:07:15 Tim

I imagine as well is. Is there such a thing as a typical night sleep or does it vary hugely for multiplicity of different reasons and with different people? I’m assuming assuming that it’s the case, but is there such a thing as a as an average night sleep?

00:07:32 Matt

Yeah, it’s a great question and well, well, there is such a thing as an average, but whether the?

00:07:36 Matt

Average reflects something meaningful to individuals, possibly not. I mean it’s there one key determinant of what sleep.

00:07:44 Matt

Should look like on average and what lead contributes to our lives is his age.

00:07:50 Matt

Ohh not ageing again, but you know as as everyone appreciates, sleep in a newborn baby. It’s very different from sleep in a pensioner and that’s because you know our bodies are different. Our brains requirements are different and and sleep is structured in different ways and observes different roles at those different stages in life. And then.

00:08:10 Matt

That also applies from across individuals.

00:08:14 Matt

And yeah, if everything was completely stable, our routines were all the same, and we all did. All you know, all avoided those things we’re not supposed to do. And all the rest of it at the luxury of those options. Then perhaps our sleep would be would sort of converge to a pretty steady average. But life ain’t like that, is it? So, you know, as I commented.

00:08:33 Matt

When we first met my sleep, unfortunately it’s not as good as it used to be.

00:08:37 Matt

And that reflect my age. It reflects the nature of my working life, you know, amongst other things, so.

00:08:45 Matt

Yeah, it’s a weird uh.

00:08:48 Matt

Medium to grapple with because it is meaningful to everyone, but in different ways and and then there’s also that vicious cycle of.

00:08:58 Matt

You know, focusing too much on on sleep and worrying about it too much makes it.

00:09:03 Matt

Even more elusive. So. So we have to.

00:09:05 Matt

Be kind of temper our approach to sleep, I think.

00:09:09 Matt

Particularly at the moment where every week there’s another.

00:09:13 Matt

Kind of ChatGPT generated article on you know, 10 things you should do to sleep well. All that kind of stuff. But yeah, I think we can just saturate people with that type of media and and people will stop believing it or we’ll stop paying attention, which would be a shame because it is, as I said, you know, the nature of brain activity during sleep is is so rich with opportunity.

00:09:35 Tim

Just looking at that that that sort.

00:09:37 Tim

Of look at the population as a whole there, I know you as you rightly talked about that sort of you know, OK to talk about averages, but then you got to accept the reality that everybody, every.

00:09:46 Tim

Individual is different.

00:09:48 Tim

But is there?

00:09:49 Tim

Largely speaking, any differences between the way men sleep and the way women sleep when you look at that and sort of.

00:09:57 Matt

Uh, well, uh biology.

00:10:01 Matt

Has this role, and so that depends on age I I guess you know in young adulthood, for example.

00:10:08 Matt

Not huge differences, although there is an effect of the menstrual cycle, which men are blessed with not having to grapple with.

00:10:16 Matt

Menopause in older women typically is a famous disruptor of sleep, and that’s the disruption exacerbates all the challenges in menopause, for instance. And you know for for the average healthy.

00:10:30 Matt

Young adults there aren’t major differences, or there shouldn’t.

00:10:35 Matt

I mean, increasingly, you know, sleep equality is coming to the fore as an issue we need to deal with as well. So you know that the quality or the the, the opportunity to sleep and the environments in which we sleep varies hugely across the globe across different levels of society, between cities and the countryside.

00:10:54 Matt

And they all, all these other factors play in and and mean that you know the average highs quite a wide variety of different.

00:11:06 Matt

Quantities and qualities of.

00:11:08 Tim

Sleep and just looking at at mental health in particular. Obviously this this podcast we we like to take a sort of close look at the things that impact men’s mental health in particular and but mental health improved terms as well what what are those most significant factors that can impact your mental health if.

00:11:27 Tim

That are sleep related. You know a positive and a negative way. You know if you sleep well, what’s the positive impact on your mental health? And if you don’t sleep so well or you have trouble with sleeping, what are the sort of significant in potential impacts on your mental well-being?

00:11:39 Matt

Well as I.

00:11:39 Matt

Said it’s very difficult to cleanly separate cause and effect in this kind of scenario, so if we if we talk about mental health disorders, are diagnosed, leave, then depression, for example, is famously associated with disrupted sleep and people living with depression and struggle to get to sleep or to maintain.

00:12:02 Matt

Hards who categorically demonstrate that which came first. You know, of course, if you are depressed, then often you have things on your mind to ruminate on stuff, and that can keep you awake.

00:12:16 Matt

Equally, if you take a healthy individual and stop them from sleeping experimentally, for example, then they’re more likely to become depressed, so there’s almost always a bidirectional relationship, but.

00:12:29 Matt

We do know.

00:12:31 Matt

That you know that there is a weight of evidence showing that sleep disruption prior as to the onset of the mental health disorder can if not cause at least, exactly abate that disorder.

00:12:43 Matt

You know a A. A useful example is a jet lag, for example. So people living with bipolar disorder, for instance, often have a sense of which days they’re in, and they and you know, depressed phase or romantic phase.

00:12:58 Matt

And and, you know, fly across the Atlantic. And that’s abrupt shift in your daily rhythm. Your circadian cycle will often trigger some sort of episode or shift in symptoms in bipolar disorder. So yeah, that’s it’s not a nice example, but if it’s the case that which shows that.

00:13:17 Matt

Disrupting sleep and.

00:13:19 Matt

Need to or exacerbate mental health problems and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are associated with sleep disruption. Almost any brain disease you guys mentioned, Parkinson’s disease outside of the thinking are also associated with sleep disruption. So it’s always been the mix there. It doesn’t mean it’s.

00:13:39 Matt

The only culprits and the only thing we should be treating or worrying about.

00:13:44 Matt

But often it’s.

00:13:45 Matt

Overlooked, and I think the field is catching up a bit and fracturing sleep into the the.

00:13:51 Matt

Both the mental well-being and the mental health disorders that people live with.

00:13:55 Tim

It’s the converse true as well in respect of the fact that if somebody does present with any of those those range of mental health issues that you you mentioned, if looking at how they’re sleeping and helping them to sleep better, does that have a positive impact on?

00:14:11 Speaker 2

All those situations as well.

00:14:13 Matt

Yeah, there’s good evidence now that that is the case, and even in the general populace, some evidence that.

00:14:20 Matt

Pretty well, very low risk and relatively cheap and easy to implement. Interventions like improving sleep hygiene can improve sleep quality and that has a knock on benefit for mental well-being.

00:14:35 Matt

And and that seems to apply in patients as well and that’s great news because it gives us a real toolkit which allows us to try and improve people’s sleep without taking any risks really or even spending much money, you know, just giving people advice on how to approach their sleep.

00:14:52 Matt

And I guess the next stage would be something like cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia. It’s a very safe. There’s no side effects and you know.

00:15:01 Matt

If they work, that’s.

00:15:02 Tim

Fantastic. Looking at some of the some of the men that you that you’ve studied over over over time and and and that have come to you, you know looking looking for some some answers what.

00:15:11 Tim

What are some of the most?

00:15:12 Tim

Common you mentioned depression there and as being a potential cause for.

00:15:18 Tim

Poor sleep is.

00:15:18 Tim

There, you know, one of the.

00:15:19 Tim

Most sort of common reasons why people.

00:15:21 Tim

Into you or all that you see in the.

00:15:24 Tim

Field as being the.

00:15:25 Tim

Most most common.

00:15:28 Matt

So again, you know, I’m. I’m not a doctor, so nobody comes to me, don’t haven’t say, go to a side and. And so it’s rather us going to them. I haven’t worked directly on people living with depression. My my own research programme is focused on and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

00:15:46 Matt

And you know the most common symptom of sleep in those kinds of disorders is a fragmentation, so.

00:15:53 Matt

And overall on average, the amount of sleep might be in the normal range, but it.

00:15:58 Matt

Tended to occur in these.

00:16:00 Matt

Daughter bouts. You know, it’s interrupted frequently during the night and.

00:16:03 Matt

That, as everyone or most people unfortunately know is is not restorative as, as we say, you know, you don’t wake up feeling refreshed.

00:16:13 Matt

It’s the recurring theme really, I mean.

00:16:14 Matt

That’s true of.

00:16:15 Matt

Age-related reduction in seat quality as well.

00:16:20 Matt

I mean, we’re particularly interested in my own research in.

00:16:24 Matt

Children and young people who are at risk of developing psychiatric disorders and.

00:16:31 Matt

Measuring sleep in those populations to understand whether, firstly, if it is sleep disruption as a Canary in the coal mine which which highlights people who are most vulnerable. And secondly, of course if so can we intervene early?

00:16:45 Matt

At the time, at an age when the brain is still developing because you know your brain is still being polished off into your early 20s, typically you know coming into being early and keep people on a happier track if you like.

00:16:58 Matt

I mean sleep disruption.

00:17:01 Matt

Is a major problem in. In other disorders like post traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, for example. Whether the nature of this instruction is quite different there. So you know that often features recurrent nightmares related to the trauma that’s that’s triggered the the diagnosis. So it it’s not. Yeah, the disruption is prevalent.

00:17:21 Matt

Comes with the different flavours in different groups of.

00:17:24 Matt

People you know.

00:17:25 Tim

That’s suggesting you mentioned PTSD there. Are I work for the firefighters charity, which is the charity that supports fiscal service personnel.

00:17:32 Tim

Who come to us for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons they sometimes they do come to.

00:17:35 Tim

Us is exactly.

00:17:36 Tim

Because they’ve worked around trauma for most of their professional lives, they’ve seen a lot of things they’ve suffered psychologically with some of some dealing with some of those things, and nine times out of 10, those people report issues with their sleep, and we offer sleep workshops at the charity to help people.

00:17:52 Tim

The you know with their sleep.

00:17:53 Tim

Hygiene and and to help them sort.

00:17:55 Tim

Of get get.

00:17:57 Tim

You know.

00:17:57 Tim

Get get a good.

00:17:58 Tim

Night sleep at the.

00:17:59 Tim

End of the day and those are the most probably one of the most well attended Sessions that we run that people really you know, see the see the benefit of it. So there seems to be a close link doesn’t there between you know especially around trauma and working around those kind of situations and the impact of those kind of things can have. And I imagine it’s the same with stress, stress and work on any kind.

00:18:16 Tim

Impacts, you know, impacts how well you sleep at.

00:18:19 Matt

The end of the day. Yeah, that’s right. So that you know, in terms of relating that to the the neuroscience of what’s going on in our heads during sleep, the the brain reactivate information that’s being learned during the preceding day.

00:18:34 Matt

And that reactivation is part of the memory processing that goes on during sleep. And part of the sort of emotional tuning of those memories, if you like.

00:18:45 Matt

And so it’s easy to imagine, and that this this is yet to be proven, really. But we do know from some experiments that, you know, aversive, traumatic experiences are more likely to be reactivated during that subconscious sleep state. And, you know, in some cases that might be useful that might help to dissipate the trauma of those fears of those experiences.

00:19:06 Matt

And in other cases it.

00:19:07 Matt

It’s not. It might kind of embed that trauma in a way that leads to a PTSD or related.

00:19:16 Tim

What? Why brains do that? Why do our brains kind of do play that awful trick on us, though if we we we’ve seen something that we’ve experienced and you know, it’s a horrible thing. We don’t want to relive it. We go to sleep and our brains reliving it. Why is it doing that to us?

00:19:31 Matt

So they don’t only reactivate.

00:19:33 Matt

Bad stuff. They reactivate good stuff as well. So for example, an unexpected rewarding experience, you know.

00:19:39 Matt

That that the neural.

00:19:40 Matt

The the brain code for that information is more likely to be react space as well. You know the hypothesis 1 hypothesis is that the reactivation in a in a healthy good sleep scenario.

00:19:52 Matt

You know, helps to set that trauma in the appropriate emotional context that you can.

00:19:57 Matt

Kind of you out a bit and put it in perspective and that will help you to deal with.

00:20:03 Matt

But if, for example, that reactivation of that trauma experience.

00:20:09 Matt

Coincides with some bad sleep or I don’t know. Something else is going on in your eye for the time that that maybe triggers those longer lasting maladaptive those those non useful changes. I mean the the field. The jury is still out really as to whether.

00:20:24 Matt

Sleep around the time of trawler.

00:20:27 Matt

Is a good thing or a bad thing, and so there’s a recent meta analysis. So an analysis to block the other study that was published, which suggests that sleeping immediately after trauma, which of course said than done that always got the opportunity. But you know, were you able to that?

00:20:47 Matt

On balance is probably a good thing. That probably then gives your brain the opportunity to process that trauma in a healthy way. But it’s not a very strong effect. It’s a little unclear and obviously it’s very hard to.

00:21:02 Matt

What? How? The nature of sleep before you experience the trauma might also influence the longer term outcomes because yeah, typically we don’t know what’s how people have been sleeping before they’ve experienced the trauma, unless it’s an experimental one. And yeah, God knows there’s lots of trauma gone on with, you know, triads and earthquakes.

00:21:24 Matt

The last week or so, and you know, it’s not like people can say, OK, well, I’ve just experienced an earthquake. I better get a good breast now because of course, you know, that’s when you’re most aware as you’re highly.

00:21:33 Matt

Strung. It’s complicated.

00:21:35 Tim

But I just wonder as well in terms of in terms of mental health and and and and what what studies say or what the research shows in regards to.

00:21:43 Tim

Whether or not people sleep better, one thing we know with men’s mental health and is that men struggle to talk about a lot of things that are on their minds. Sometimes they bottle things up.

00:21:51 Tim

And internalise things and they get worse and worse in their mind and and. And you know, they struggle to to, to sleep and they struggle to do anything because they can’t get beyond beyond what’s going on in their, in their minds and the issues behind that. But what we do find and what we what people tell us is that talking helps with that. Does the research suggest that talking and.

00:22:11 Tim

And and taking taking positive action with your mental health ultimately helps improve your sleep.

00:22:17 Matt

Yeah, there is research evidencing that and I think you know ideally it would be talking with other people, but even even a step towards that kind of documenting maybe writing down some of your own feelings and concerns, maybe even documenting the stuff you’re worried about that’s going to happen the next day before you.

00:22:37 Matt

You know, before you go to sleep and and it’s a bit cancer issues because you might think that can affect your mind racing but but actually there is some evidence that can help as well.

00:22:47 Matt

And I, yeah, I think from my own experience and yeah, I’m a.

00:22:51 Matt

Pretty average by most respects, 50 year old bloke.

00:22:54 Matt

I’m not very good at talking.

00:22:55 Matt

About stuff.

00:22:56 Matt

I do find talking about stuff quite exhausting actually, but it, but it’s quite a good way. It is in a in a kind of weight off my shoulders kind of way, which which then often does actually help me to sleep after that.

00:23:11 Matt

To that exchange. And so it’s all. Yeah, we have to be careful not to be too anecdotal, but all quite intuitive. Really. Yeah. Doesn’t mean bugs are.

00:23:22 Matt

Going to do it, but.

00:23:23 Matt

Yeah, I’m as bad as the.

00:23:24 Matt

Next man, unfortunately.

00:23:26 Tim

Yeah, I think it’s a a challenge that we that we’re that that we’re always going to face, but it’s good to hear that there is definitely that.

00:23:32 Tim

That link there potentially around.

00:23:33 Tim

You know, the fact that you do to take time and effort to to, to open up a bit, then it might actually help you sleep better.

00:23:38 Tim

At the end.

00:23:39 Tim

Of the day as well so.

00:23:39 Tim

That’s a that’s a.

00:23:40 Tim

Positive thing. Just just going back to that whole sort of conversation around.

00:23:44 Tim

Working around trauma and working in stressful.

00:23:48 Tim

Do you think there should be any kind of obligation on employers to to bear the impacts of of what they’re expecting of their employees on their sleep? And there will be sleep doesn’t seem to be something ever mentioned.

00:24:01 Tim

In the work environment, because it’s not work.

00:24:03 Speaker 2

But should that be taken?

00:24:06 Matt

Of course I’m going to say yes and.

00:24:08 Matt

Say I think it is.

00:24:09 Matt

Increasingly taken into account so.

00:24:13 Matt

For example, there’s a couple of NHS trusts around the company. Sorry, the country. Who are, you know, monitoring the sleep with their staff in hospitals, for example, factoring in sleep to the way they say, arrange shift work, for instance. It’s not routine yet, but I think it’s beginning to gain traction.

00:24:32 Matt

Even in the Petro corporate world, there’s.

00:24:36 Matt

Some recognition now that.

00:24:39 Matt

The the quality of sleep in the well around the workplace has a bearing on everyone in the company, so there’s some. There’s some studies showing that if if senior managers sleep well, that’s going to exacerbate their.

00:24:55 Matt

Well, it’s gonna. That’s gonna disrupt their behaviour, then more likely to become impulsive, they’re more likely to make unethical decisions and that sort of trickles down through the hierarchy workplace. So.

00:25:08 Matt

You know, the evidence is accumulating and hopefully that that will lead to some more routine action.

00:25:16 Matt

Yeah, difficult isn’t. I mean, you know, yeah.

00:25:20 Matt

It it does begin to blur the lines between professional and and and and obviously there’s a whole ethical minefield around the sort of wearable devices that people use to attempt to track their sleep as well.

00:25:34 Matt

Whether that’s risk one like a smartwatch type thing or or even a a headband you can wear to monitor your brain activity overnight.

00:25:41 Matt

And yeah, and there’s lots of exciting, really, really exciting and positive opportunity as long as we use them sensibly, which historically we don’t. But yeah, you can change that and you can change.

00:25:51 Tim

That that. Well, I think that’s that’s the fact I haven’t thought about that. But I I yeah, I mean it’s we all wear these watches, daddies, don’t we the tell us tell us you know how well we’re.

00:26:00 Tim

Sleeping and all that.

00:26:00 Tim

Kind of stuff. Do we all really, really actually need to know that or is that actually kind of, you know, it’s a bit like, you know, I run, I run a lot and.

00:26:08 Tim

I must admit I I get very obsessed with looking at the stats and everything after.

00:26:11 Tim

When I, when I look back over, run the.

00:26:13 Tim

People are doing the same thing.

00:26:14 Tim

With their sleep now is.

00:26:16 Tim

That counter intuitive in a way. Does that actually?

00:26:20 Tim

That kind of.

00:26:21 Tim

Stop. People seem better, does it? What are the pros?

00:26:23 Matt

And cons, it’s certainly candy. And again, it’s sort of an individual thing that you have to recognise, just be honest with yourself about what it’s doing for you. So I, as a sleep researcher for many years, completely avoided any self monitoring and then we started the project where we were doing monitoring.

00:26:41 Matt

On groups of.

00:26:42 Matt

Children and young people and I thought.

00:26:43 Matt


00:26:44 Matt

I should probably see what this is.

00:26:46 Matt

Like for myself and I found.

00:26:49 Matt

Even a a sort of off the shelf, cheap and cheerful wrist worn device with an.

00:26:54 Matt

App quite dense.

00:26:56 Matt

That’s it.

00:26:57 Matt

I mean, I I just don’t like wearing anything on my wrist in bed. That’s one huge, obvious thing. And then I was waking up and immediately looking in my sleep school and then yeah, it brought it to the forefront in a not a particularly helpful way for me, whereas I have spoken to other people who said actually this is really useful, you know, gives me an objective measure.

00:27:17 Matt

Even if it’s not accurate and as.

00:27:21 Matt

You know, it allows me to keep track of what other factors influence my sleep, for example. So it. Yeah, it it isn’t one-size-fits-all. Yeah, certainly.

00:27:33 Tim

I sorry, I’m sorry to interrupt. I think it’s quite amazing when you say someone, do you have a good night’s sleep and they go hang on.

00:27:39 Tim

I’ll tell you in.

00:27:39 Tim

A minute and they look at they pick up.

00:27:40 Tim

Their phone? They.

00:27:41 Tim

Have that go. Yeah. Yeah, actually did. Yes, they.

00:27:44 Matt

Can’t tell you. Just stop. They have to look it up on their phone first. I learn modern life is. I mean, I’ve said a restaurant with someone who wanted to know what was what the weather was like.

00:27:51 Matt

So she looked on her phone as they look out the window. It’s a similar kind of thing, but.

00:27:55 Matt

And I mean it does. It does present a lot of opportunities and it does allow us to gather evidence that can hopefully improve quality of life and and change policy, you know, so there’s some horrific stats about noise pollution, for example, and how many deaths per year that’s responsible for. And that’s in part.

00:28:15 Matt

Mediated through its effects on disrupting sleep. And so, you know, we can gather that evidence and.

00:28:21 Matt

Heap cities quite surprising that it will help in the long run, but yeah, like like everything it it is pros and cons and and a lot of these devices this.

00:28:32 Matt

Are very accurate. They’re made for that mythical average beast. It doesn’t quite exist. So yeah, there there’s some ways to go with the technology.

00:28:42 Tim

Yeah, just just going back a step to to employers, what are your thoughts on on the sort of we see in other countries in our sort of our European colleagues perhaps taking mid midday siestas and and and you know the the in Japan, we hear about these sleep pods and things like that that companies have for employees to go and take a take a break.

00:29:04 Speaker 2

Are they a good thing? Should we be taking those kind of approaches? Is there is there a is there? Is there something in that? Should we be? Should we be taking a a siesta at lunchtime?

00:29:14 Matt

Ohh dear. Well personally I love AI, love a siesta, preferably in a hammock, but it isn’t a hammock available off camera in my office unfortunately. I mean that’s do have to be treated in.

00:29:26 Matt

The caution because.

00:29:29 Matt

Of course, that they can easily set up a vicious cycle where you not for too long, and then you struggle to sleep at.

00:29:33 Matt

Night and so on.

00:29:35 Matt

But you know most of the evidence supports the benefits of a short 2030 million nap, but not too late, you know, close to the middle of the day. I’ve I’ve worked in universities in the US where.

00:29:47 Matt

Yeah, there there wasn’t a specific facility, but nobody cared. If you lay down on the sofa in.

00:29:52 Matt

The office and had the had this news.

00:29:54 Matt

So yeah, they may may be making the options available is is no bad.

00:29:58 Speaker 2

Thing, but the improved performance in the.

00:30:01 Tim

Afternoons if if people.

00:30:02 Matt

Do that depends as usual, performance on what and so on. But yeah, there certainly is them having that well timed regulated naps can have many of the benefits of.

00:30:15 Matt

With good quality overnight sleep.

00:30:18 Matt

But yeah, again. Hence how you’re measuring those benefits depends on the age of the subjects and and all the rest of it. I mean, I my fear is, I mean personally the reason.

00:30:28 Matt

I love an app is.

00:30:29 Matt

That I’ll you know, chronically slightly sleep deprived like a lot of people. So I go down like a tonne of bricks and then I just struggle to wake up again. I left to my own devices. I was leaped through till the middle of the night. So it’s a slightly dangerous.

00:30:43 Matt

Thing for me.

00:30:45 Matt

Early works and my wife was there to kick me after 20 minutes.

00:30:49 Tim

Yeah, I always find if I have a.

00:30:50 Tim

Nap or something during the day? I always.

00:30:52 Tim

Stick worse at.

00:30:53 Tim

Night I find I find it hung to get sleep at night. If I’ve if I’ve slept during the day. So I.

00:30:57 Tim

Think. Yeah, definitely in that respect.

00:31:00 Tim

I’d like to talk about sleep hygiene now. It’s always struck me as it’s always struck me as a bit of a.

00:31:05 Tim

Strange term in itself it sounds.

00:31:06 Tim

Like the need to have a shower.


Before you go.

00:31:08 Tim

To bed more than anything else. But tell me. You know, what would your top tips be for people in terms of sleep, hygiene and what the things they can do, all the things they or the?

00:31:17 Tim

Sort of. The environment they should create in order to.

00:31:20 Tim

To facilitate a really good night’s sleep.

00:31:23 Matt

So it’s fair of you to ask, but I risk spraying against the territory of those and a bog standard article. Those yeah, you.

00:31:30 Matt

Come out earlier.

00:31:31 Matt

So I guess my first tip.

00:31:33 Matt

Enjoy sleep possibilities rather than fretting about sleep.

00:31:38 Matt

Which I know is easier said than done, but you know, as a society, I think that’s the kind of attitude we should start with. And I guess, you know, sure, not everyone listening as a parent, but you can probably still imagine how you might get a young child and, you know, I have. I have two kids who are.

00:31:58 Matt

Don’t need much help. Gains leave nowadays, but they did when they were babies. So what do you do? You you implement a routine. You make sure they’re not hungry. You don’t often feed babies gin and tonic. They, you know. They. Yeah. Make sure they’re not intoxicated in any way. You make sure they’ve had an active day. You make sure that in a nice cool, quiet dark room.


So all those.

00:32:20 Matt

All those things, even if you’re not a parent, that you can imagine doing in the those desperate weeks for each trying to get your blinking baby to sleep. Yeah, think about how you might apply them to yourself, I guess. And.

00:32:33 Matt

And I know that you can’t.

00:32:35 Matt

Live your life to the same rigid pattern, day by day. Nobody can but.

00:32:41 Matt

You know, within reason you can sort of aim for, you can have an aspirational sort of bedtime and you can think about when you eat and exercise relative to that bedtime.

00:32:51 Matt

If you do like and have the opportunity to exercise, that’s brilliant. If you can do it earlier in the day, you know in the morning daylight, for example, that guide that’s perfect. So again, just from my experience, I know that if I go for a run first thing in the.

00:33:04 Matt

Morning, preferably in summer time when it’s light that will really help me sleep at night. Whereas if I go for a run in the evening, I’ll still be a bit, might be strong and that won’t help me sleep.

00:33:16 Matt

It’s all pretty logical, bog standard stuff, to be honest.

00:33:20 Matt

But again, I think it’s it’s the attitude that’s that’s important. I think you know.

00:33:27 Matt

Enjoy the fact that there are lots of small circle cheap, accessible things.

00:33:33 Matt

You can do.

00:33:34 Matt

To help your brain do its job and to help you joyously. More. But you know, for some people suffering from insomnia, I know that you know without you know, beyond their reach. So.

00:33:51 Matt

So, so sorry for people who are, you know, chronically DeBarge asleep. It’s just miserable, miserable things.

00:33:57 Tim

I I it’s it’s a really, really interesting points there. I think exercise is A is a funny one, isn’t it? I mean you you you would assume well one part of you would assume if you exercise to the point of exhaustion and your neck it afterwards and you’re just gonna drop off and you’re gonna go to sleep and I know that’s not the case.

00:34:12 Tim

Is to play badminton on a regular basis, but I think you know our session was 8:00 to 9:00 PM because that’s the only time I could get.

00:34:19 Tim

My friends together to play.

00:34:21 Tim

I never slept well after.

00:34:22 Tim

That ohh I’d come back, you know and my.

00:34:24 Tim

Head would just and kind.

00:34:25 Tim

Of sort of try to put my head.

00:34:27 Tim

Down like there’s.

00:34:28 Tim

No way I could sleep, so I’d I’d end up staying up late in order to kind.

00:34:31 Tim

Of let things die down.

00:34:33 Tim

A bit in order to to get to sleep, so it’s.

00:34:35 Tim

Exercise is is is a.

00:34:36 Tim

Funny one for that you kind of, yeah.

00:34:38 Tim

One part you would assume you’re just going to go straight to sleep, you’re knackered.

00:34:41 Tim

But actually in reality that’s that’s not the.

00:34:43 Matt

Case. Yeah. And I think, you know, take a bit of time to to recognise yourself when you’re in that sort of state, you know, don’t don’t worry about uphill battles when you sort of.

00:34:53 Matt

If you’re getting down into bed thinking I’m not gonna be able to sleep, then don’t get down into bed dirty within reason. I’m not saying just there 4:00 in the morning, but.

00:35:01 Matt

Think of something else you could do that would sell easily into that state. You know, for me, it’s listening to music. Obviously the right kind of music. One the one people often ask me what I do to sleep well and I I used to tell them all, and now I have to commit and admit I don’t sleep that well. We bought better pillows. Yeah, for years. And I never really worried about.

00:35:22 Matt

Excellent. And I do.

00:35:25 Matt

Sometimes use a lavender spray and that’s not because I think there’s any biological pathway that leads from a nice waft of lavender to my brain going to sleep. It’s just part of testing the familiar scene. You know, I I quite like the smell. I I associate that smell now with.

00:35:44 Matt

You know, my head’s hitting the pillow.

00:35:46 Matt

I think it just helps as part of the routine. Just. Yeah, just set the scene. And so, yeah, I’m not advocating everyone but rushes out by 11. The pillow spray of it. I think about you.

00:35:59 Tim

I think know everyone will, there’ll.

00:36:00 Tim

Be a rush.

00:36:01 Matt

On landing, give me a chance to set up 11 to spray company for somebody beat me to it, I think.



00:36:09 Matt

Yeah. You know, just.

00:36:10 Matt

Mixed up in the I mean, again, these are luxuries, and then they’re not available to every everyone. But yeah, take stock of.

00:36:15 Matt

Your bedroom. You know what?

00:36:17 Matt

Do you like about it?

00:36:19 Matt

Beef up those bits. What annoys you? Get rid of.

00:36:21 Tim

Them I wanted to talk a bit, a little bit about you. Did you just just mentioned insomnia there and.

00:36:26 Tim

And in my work and in the charity I work for, one of the things we hear a lot is people saying they can’t turn their their heads off. They wish they just turn their heads off at night. They got racing thoughts, they they lie down at night and their heads just full of full of stuff going round around in their heads.

00:36:40 Tim

That’s worries about work or what’s happening the next day, whatever that might be.

00:36:44 Tim

Is there is there a solution to?

00:36:46 Speaker 2

That is there anything you would?

00:36:47 Tim

Recommend or or or.

00:36:48 Tim

Or anywhere that people could turn to for for support when they’re they’re facing those situation.

00:36:54 Matt

Well, again, the important qualifier that you know I’m not a sleep doctor and but I’m not great at sleeping myself for those same reasons actually. So we mentioned before, you know, some studies suggesting that if you take a moment not just before bed, you know, maybe half an hour before you settle down to.

00:37:11 Matt

This sort of list, some of the things that are on your mind for the next day that can help some people. I think you know from my experience that sort of helps it. Obviously it doesn’t achieve you know it doesn’t get those things off the list, but it helps me to park them somehow. I have a kind of a go to mental scene at.

00:37:31 Matt

That I use to help.

00:37:34 Matt

Called me to to you know it, it involves deep breathing and and sort of using the breathing as as the starting point to then.

00:37:44 Matt

Relax my body physically and yeah, I guess it’s mindfulness related, and there’s certainly evidence that you know that mindfulness exercises can help sleep.

00:37:58 Matt

I mean that the sort of first line therapy have come through behavioural therapy for insomnia. You know, there’s good evidence that works and freely available through perhaps and so on. So I I get it, I guess it.

00:38:09 Matt

My sort of.

00:38:11 Matt

How to observe a type uh suggestion, though fly then you know you should go and see a doctor and and and kind of push for that CBT I and that’s saying and you know there’s good evidence it works but it doesn’t work for everyone.

00:38:26 Matt

These are all fairly generic things that are easier said than done.

00:38:31 Matt

That’s all I have to.

00:38:32 Matt

Offer at this point. Really. Yeah, that’s fine.

00:38:34 Tim

That’s no problem.

00:38:35 Tim

At all you mentioned earlier in the interview that that sleep obviously changes with age and all through our life, from from childhood, all through adulthood and into old age. But as we do get older, what can we expect in terms of changes to our to our sleep patterns?

00:38:52 Matt

So yeah, whenever I give a public lecture to the long-suffering folk of Bristol, I most of my questions come from older people who struggle to sleep and and.

00:39:03 Matt

It’s true that.

00:39:03 Matt

The duration of Sleep Drops off during Old Age, and it’s not really clear biologically why that is.

00:39:12 Matt

And yeah, the archetypal grandparent nodding off every time they sit in the armchair. That happens because people are struggling to sleep at night. We don’t know whether that is just a.

00:39:24 Matt

You know a product of the nervous system, degenerating, not to put too fine a point on it or or whether you know somehow.

00:39:33 Matt

The body is programmed to need less sleep, but so generally, unfortunately the average is you sleep per shorter time. It’s more disturbed. What can you do to stop that? Well, the usual stuff, really. Maintaining the exercise and the routine.

00:39:51 Matt

Yeah, I think this the same general sleep hygiene rules apply.

00:39:57 Matt

There’s lots of interest in sleep.

00:39:59 Matt

And its contribution to.

00:40:02 Matt

Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

00:40:05 Matt

But the pose of the flip side is there’s lots of opportunities to try and improve sleep in older agency of that at least slows progression of those disorder.

00:40:15 Matt

So lots of excitement at the moment about what’s called the glymphatic system, which you know, in science journalism terms, is normally referred to as the brain. Taking a shower overnight, though, you know, alongside all this brain activity which is processing our memories and emotions, the rules would change in the rate at.

00:40:32 Matt

Which move its move through the brain.

00:40:34 Matt

And essentially carry away.

00:40:37 Matt

The the waste products of all our daily thinking and and there’s some thought that that process might be disrupted and that might lead to the kinds of pathologies like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So we can augment in that process.

00:40:50 Matt

Maybe we can slow to generation in old age, so lots of exciting research in that space at the moment, none of which I’m doing personally. And but I think you know, again, I’m trying to give reasons for hope rather than reason to worry and and I think there are good reasons for hope, but still a lot to understand about it.

00:41:11 Matt

Yeah. As I said, the the chicken and egg.

00:41:14 Tim

And what it what? That’s if that’s not an area you’re you’re simply.

00:41:17 Tim

Focused on and.

00:41:18 Tim

What are what are your your upcoming sort of areas of study? What what’s on the horizons view in terms of what areas are you specifically focusing on in your work, not middle-aged men?

00:41:29 Matt

Because although you know, although we’re a hapless bunch and we deserve some.

00:41:33 Matt

I don’t tend to live in care. We tend to bias the too much in our favour historically, so the things we’re most excited about as the lab are, as I mentioned earlier, working with children and young people who are at high risk of psychiatric disorders and and in that case, the high risk relates to their genetics.

00:41:53 Matt

That they’ve been unlucky. Their genotype means that on average one in four of them will go and develop disorder like schizophrenia.

00:42:02 Matt

We don’t know which one in four, so if we can use sleep as a therapeutic window to understand what’s going on and to intervene early, then that you know, that’s exciting.

00:42:13 Matt

And and then on a rather different, but somewhat related note, we’re also interested in psychedelics. There’s a lot of people are at the moment the psychedelics.

00:42:23 Matt

Are exciting potential new therapeutics for depression, for instance.

00:42:29 Matt

But nobody is really fractured sleep into that equation yet.

00:42:33 Matt

And I have a sort of pet theory that may be part of what those drugs are doing. And you know, when they work, they have antidepressant properties. Actually, just a single those those antidepressant properties like the, you know, a few weeks for example.

00:42:48 Matt

So we’re trying to understand whether.

00:42:50 Matt

A single dose of those psychedelic drugs that you know, things like magic mushrooms, salesman, for example, might modulate brain activity during sleep in a way that’s useful for processing trauma, for instance. Those are the those are the two things that we’re most excited about at the moment.

00:43:07 Tim

On that first one in regards.

00:43:09 Tim

To to children and young people.

00:43:12 Tim

Is there anything that you would say that parents should keep an eye out for in?

00:43:15 Tim

Terms of.

00:43:16 Tim

As particular sleep issues with.

00:43:17 Tim

Their children? That might suggest that they might.

00:43:20 Tim

Be more susceptible to some of the.

00:43:22 Tim

Issues you, were you?

00:43:22 Tim

Were mentioning there.

00:43:24 Matt

Not really. I don’t want to cause the alarm, but yeah, factoring sleep into parenting.

00:43:29 Matt

Is, as almost all parents know, it’s really important and.

00:43:33 Matt

Factoring it in an age appropriate way so the.

00:43:37 Matt

The famous transition to adolescents where you.

00:43:39 Matt

Get a shift in your.

00:43:40 Matt

Biological clocks, though adolescents, are driven to want to sleep later and therefore to wait later. Yeah, that’s natural and healthy. They’re not being lazy, they’re just lifting their timing. And yet society doesn’t give them the chance, though.

00:43:56 Matt

Even though they shift their sleep onset later, we still wake them up to go to school or what have you.

00:44:03 Matt

So some researchers have cited as perfect storm afflicting adolescents at the moment and and and, you know, shrinking their window of opportunity for sleep. I I would say to parents and don’t worry about things that might be going wrong. Just do what you can to encourage things that can go right.

00:44:23 Matt

And yeah, the the studies of shifting school start times later, for example, for adolescents have been quite small so far because it’s.

00:44:31 Matt

A lot.

00:44:32 Matt

Hard work to make that happen, but where they’ve been implemented, it seems to benefit the young people. So you know, bear in mind next time you’re trying to drag your teenager out of bed on the Sunday morning. Very good advice. Thank you. Thank you about.

00:44:47 Tim

That the last question I must ask you is do do you have a most memorable night sleep anywhere is anywhere that you’ve stepped that you’ve.

00:44:54 Tim

Or any place you’ve been.

00:44:55 Speaker 2

In the world that you think.

00:44:57 Tim

God had a great night’s sleep then.

00:44:59 Matt

That is a good question. I’ve honestly never thought about.

00:45:05 Matt

I’m so obsessed with all the places I’ve slept terribly and I think where I’ve slept well, I would say, though, that I always sleep extremely well. I’ve never slept overnight in a hammock.

00:45:17 Matt

And you know the gentle rocking motion, your songs. It’s not too violent.

00:45:23 Matt

Some people have suggested might actually.

00:45:26 Matt

Tap in the natural brain rhythms that happen during deep sleep, so during deep sleep there’s a wave of activity about once per second.

00:45:36 Matt

That that sort of propagates from the back to the front of your brain. And that seems to be important in watching the dependent memory processing for example. So I love the idea yet to be proven, but maybe a a sort of gentle rocking like that can can help to nurture your brain’s natural rhythms during sleep and therefore.

00:45:56 Matt

Improve the sequel.

00:45:58 Matt

So I will think telling a very your question. Try to remember where I let. Well, I mean that probably in my youth is probably the answer, but in the meantime I’ll take the hammock please.

00:46:10 Tim

Yeah, well, I’ve gotta go and get myself a hammock. Now. That sounds like a great idea, Matt. Thank you very much your time. I really appreciate it. It’s been really fascinating. And yeah, I wish you a good night’s sleep. So thank you ever so much for your time.

00:46:21 Matt

Yeah, same to you, Tim. Thanks again for the opportunity.

00:46:30 Tim

That’s it for another episode. Thanks to Professor Matt Jones for giving us such a fascinating insight into the complexities of sleep, you’ll find links to some great articles by Matt further exploring the connection between sleep and mental health in the show notes there. Forget you can keep the conversation.

00:46:43 Tim

Going by answering.

00:46:44 Tim

Our episode question as well, and for this episode.

00:46:46 Tim

We’d like to know does.

00:46:47 Tim

The amount you sleep impact your mental well-being.


You can answer it.

00:46:51 Tim

On the Spotify episode page, the link to which.

00:46:53 Tim

Can be found in.

00:46:54 Tim

The episode notes.

00:46:55 Tim

Or through the link free site in the show.

00:46:56 Tim

Profile. You can also interact with the show by sending us a voice message. We’re always really keen to hear what you think of our guests and the subjects we’re discussing. So tell us whether your own sleep experiences reflect what Matt’s been telling us, or if.

00:47:08 Tim

You’ve ever experienced.

00:47:08 Tim

Something completely different. We’d like to know about that as well. You can also tell us your ideas for.

00:47:12 Tim

Topics and things you’d like us to cover.

00:47:14 Tim

Again, just head to the episode notes. All the link to.

00:47:16 Tim

Wait for more details and the link.

00:47:18 Tim

To do so.

00:47:19 Tim

And finally, you’ve enjoyed the show. Please leave us a review and subscribe on whatever platform you usually get your podcasts.

00:47:26 Tim

In the meantime, though, look after yourselves, sleep well and I’ll.

00:47:29 Tim

See you soon. Take.

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