When I first mentioned to others I planned to do research on the subject of sleep, I was surprised at how many people from all ages and backgrounds had a problem sleeping.
I discovered I was not the only one who struggled with sleep.
Stars such as George Clooney, Madonna and Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post admit how difficult it is simply getting a normal night’s sleep.
In particular, Huffington acknowledges her wake-up call occurred when she woke in a pool of blood on the floor of her office after passing out from sheer exhaustion and banging her head.
My sense of surprise grew as I came across a number of statistics on sleep which were quite worrying. Most mammals sleep when they need to; human beings are the only mammal that willingly delays sleep.
According to the 2016 UK Sleep Survey 74 per cent of respondents admitted they were actively worry about not getting a good night’s sleep.
According to a 2016 report of the Royal Society for Public Health, the average person is under-sleeping by about an hour a night.
In the report, the poll of 2000 found that the average sleep time is 6.8 hours, compared with the 7.7 hours people feel they need.
Poor sleep is the Cinderella of illness and is often overlooked and undervalued when considering its impact on health.
In fact, poor sleep is known to increase the risk of developing serious medical conditions such obesity, heart disease and diabetes and can shorten life expectancy.
Furthermore, it can affect mood and concentration levels, lead to periods of worry, stress and depression and can even be fatal.
In fact, you can survive longer without food than you can sleep.
The longest recorded period without sleep is only eleven days.
Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert for over 34 years, suggested that the reason more Brits are more exhausted than most countries is because of our 24-hour culture with overnight television, 24-hour supermarkets and open all day and night pubs.
This makes it harder for Brits to switch off at night.
Dr Stanley sums it up this way, ‘We feel we should be functioning 24-hours a day, but we&’re not a 24 hour country. It gets dark and cold here’.
Sleeplessness is often linked closely to what is already happening in our lives. Triggers include life stress such as relationships problems, work problems or worries over finance. Medical conditions such as arthritis, angina, and back-pain. Chemical such as alcohol, caffeine intake and cannabis. Psychological disorders such as depression or OCD. And unresolved childhood trauma can be quite debilitating.
Ironically, sleeping pills, which are often seen as the first solution we look to for a good night’s sleep are not the best answer.
However, there is hope. Dr Guy Meadows, founder of the Sleep School suggests the most effective way of getting to sleep is by establishing sleep patterns.
He suggests there is no quick fix and we need to give ourselves time to establish a new way of sleeping.
What does this look like in practice?
Week 1: Find out those factors that hinder your sleep such as triggers, risks and amplifiers.
Week 2: Focus your energies on relaxing rather than trying to sleep.
Week 3: Welcome your unwelcome thoughts. Getting them out of your head and onto paper can work wonders.
Week 4: Behave like a normal sleeper. Go to bed at the same time of night and establish sleep preparation habits such as a bath, milky drink and a good book.
Week 5: keep your focus on living and sleeping better and watch how much alcohol you consume, late night meals and caffeinated drinks and ensure you get good, regular exercise.
The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are probably the best reason for us not to take sleep for granted. These include a happier mood, mental clarity, better memory, stronger willpower, and less stress.
Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the sleepless trigger bugs bite!