Why TV’s Dr Zoe Williams Swears By Prioritising Good Sleep

In this exclusive interview, Dr Zoe Williams tells us how to put sleep to the top of the agenda…

Why TV’s Dr Zoe Williams Swears By Prioritising Good Sleep

Dr Zoe Williams knows all about the importance of a good night’s shut-eye. “Sleep is essential for human survival and good sleep is necessary to be able to enjoy good physical health and mental health, says the NHS doctor and health educator who competed at a high level of athletics (and an ex Gladiator no less). If you can’t sleep or suffer from general sleep deprivation, Dr Zoe says the key is to be patient and consistent, rather than expecting a miracle overnight. “Fixing a sleep issue can take some time, work and effort, but it is worth putting in the graft.” Read on to hear more…


Q: It might sound like a silly question but why is sleep so important?

A: Complex and essential processes take place during sleep, ranging from cell repair and immune system optimisation to emotional regulation. We also form memories and process what we have learnt in the day.


Q: How many hours of sleep do I need a night?

A: The typical adult is recommended between 7-9 hours and will go through 4-6 full sleep cycles each night. Each cycle has four different stages, and one complete cycle lasts an average of ninety minutes. REM sleep is the final stage. This is when the brain activity picks up again and the most vivid dreaming occurs. REM sleep is thought to be essential for learning, memory and creativity.


Q: What is social jetlag?

A: A consistent sleep schedule helps to maintain the body’s internal clock, which is also known as a circadian rhythm. (You can read more about this here). Whilst it’s tempting to stay up late and lie in at the weekends, it can bring on a concept known as ‘social jetlag’, which isn’t great for our sleep quality or health. Heart rate, blood pressure and other cardiovascular functions follow circadian patterns so altering the sleep schedule in this way can have detrimental effects. It’s best to get enough sleep and stick as close to the usual sleep time and wake time as possible throughout the [whole] week.


Q: Is sleep anxiety an actual thing?

A: Many people who have suffered with insomnia will be aware of the vicious cycle that can occur when the anxiety of not being able to sleep can impact the ability to sleep even further, so- called ‘sleep anxiety’. It can be frustrating, distressing and ultimately lead to serious physical and mental health issues.


Q: So how can we fix our sleep without getting too fixated on it?

A: Fixing the issue is not as simple as just taking sleeping tablets. Whilst hypnotic medication may get you unconscious and keep you unconscious, you don’t necessarily get the same benefits as moving naturally through the various stages of sleep. Sleep hygiene measures and a consistent bedtime routine are the first measures to address.


Q: What can we do if we can’t sleep?

A: Have activities that you do immediately before bed, such as reading, having a bath, or a hot milky drink. You can train the brain to associate these activities with sleep, and this effectively is training the brain to be better at sleeping. A special form for talking therapy called CBTi can also be helpful.


Follow Dr Zoe for more health and wellbeing advice - @drzoewilliams