Are you feeling too energetic to sleep? Is your partner keeping you awake? Or are you worrying instead of getting some all important shut eye?
According to a recent survey, here in Britain, we are the worst sleepers in the world.
Doctors fill in 16 million prescriptions each year, and we spend a massive £58million on over-the-counter sleep aids according to a new study by Aviva healthcare.
Sleep deprivation can have harmful effects on an array of things including blood pressure and brain power and, according to the Daily Mirror, it has even been linked to early death.
But help is at hand in the form of a book, The Myth of 8 Hours, written by sleep coach Nick Littlehales.
He says: “Historically, humans have always slept in what’s called a polyphasic way, which basically means for shorter periods more often.
“We’ve only slept for one long block at night since we invented the light bulb."
So is getting a solid eight hours a night actually the natural thing to do?
Mr Littlehales, who has worked with elite athletes and advocates napping, says: “I’ve never met anyone who achieves eight hours, 365 nights of every year, but I’ve met plenty of people who waste time worrying about the magic eight hours when there are other ways to get all the sleep we need.”
If you are struggling with sleeping, here's a guide for you to identify what could be keeping you awake and how you can solve it.
Why am I not sleeping?
Firstly, address if there is anything that may be affecting your sleep. The following three things can cause havoc to your sleeping pattern:
- Alcohol. After a night on the booze, you may notice you fall to sleep straight away, however, in the second half of the night, after the alcohol is broken down in the body, it has the opposite effect. So it is more likely that you will wake up at frequent intervals.
- Eating lots of protein at dinner. Protein encourages your brain to produce energy, therefore making it harder to sleep.
- Snoozing your alarm After interrupting your initial sleep pattern, hitting the snooze button will then enable you to start a new cycle, which you won't be able to finish before the alarm goes off again, five minutes later. This will make you feel sleepy during the day and interrupts sleep that night.
Here are some issues you may be facing:
As we lay our heads down to rest for the night, in the silence the worry from the stresses and strains of everyday life creep into our minds.
According to th Daily Mirror, more than 80% of Brits complain that anxiety disturbs their sleep.
Mr Littlehales says: “Thought is one of the strongest sleep disrupters, whether it’s ruminating about the day you’ve just had or worrying about the one ahead, and once we start stewing over it, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released making us even more alert.”
What to do
Meditating, breathing exercises or simple "what's on my mind" lists can prove effective.
"We can make this easier for our mind and less disruptive to our sleep by ‘downloading’ before bed,” says Littlehales.
“Putting it all down on paper means I can go to bed feeling I’ve consciously dealt with the issue for now, and can trust my sleeping brain to take care of it overnight.”
Can't get back to sleep after waking up
Mr Littlehales says: “Sleep studies show it takes our body 90 minutes to go through a sleep ‘cycle’ – which is a bit like a journey down a flight of stairs.
"When somebody wakes and can’t get back to sleep it’s usually because they’re so overtired they have entered the deepest phase of sleep much faster.
“As a result they then wake faster and can’t get back into sleep immediately because they’ve enjoyed a quick recovery period and now feel alert.”
What to do
If you can't get back to sleep, try and relax, as worrying about it will just make the situation worse.
Mr Littlehales says you could get up and do something until you feel sleepy again.
Or he also advises to try going to bed a little later to train your body to sleep through, to "cut down on that time you’re wasting and make your time in bed efficient time.”
This is a common issue for women who are going through the menopause.
The drop in hormone levels can cause hot flushes, night sweats and other disruptions to sleep.
What to do
Talk to your GP about oestrogen therapy, which boosts your hormone levels
Alternatively, set your bedroom temperature lower and wear several layers of clothes to bed, so you can layer up or down, according to how you feel.
Wide awake at bedtime
After a long day at work, many people enjoy taking part in stimulating activities, such as sport, which can raise heart rate.
Drinking coffee can also keep you awake, as can too much blue light from smartphone and tablet screens.
The light keeps the levels of"‘wake-up hormones" high, preventing sleep.
What to do
Try not to look at your phone screen for at least an hour before bed.
Don't drink coffee after 2pm.
Avoid energetic exercises for up to three hours before bed, instead partake in relaxing exercise such as yoga.
Over 50 and needing naps
Littlehales says: “Contrary to popular belief we don’t need less sleep as we age.
"Our bodies simply revert more strongly to the sleep pattern of our ancestors and want to break our sleep up into more chunks rather than a continuous block.
“Plus, as we get older we tend to go to sleep earlier which triggers earlier wake times, and the need for more daytime naps.”
What to do
“Try going to bed 90 minutes later for a week to encourage a later wake-up time.” suggests Mr Littlehales.
Napping, for around 30 minutes can also improve energy levels.
Partner keeping you awake
Duvet hogging, snoring, fidgeting and getting up at different times are all factors in sleep disturbance.
Mr Littlehales says: “The upshot is, sleeping together has some pre-sleep benefits, but in an ideal world we would spend the main chunk of the night in individual rooms where we’d sleep undisturbed, then get up fully recovered and happy to engage with our partners and the day.”
What to do:
Buy the biggest bed you can fit into your room, to allow for maximum sleeping space.
Mr Littlehales also advises those struggling with sleep to go into a separate room if they have a major event coming up and need to guarantee sleep.
He advises: “Don’t be afraid to move to the spare room or set up a sofa bed in the living room so you both get a better night’s sleep once in a while.
“It’ll be better for your relationship in the long run.”
Pain disrupting sleep
Aches and pains can make sleeping incredibly hard.
What to do
See you GP and ask if they can provide any help with sleeping.
Think about how you are sleeping, you may need to wedge pillows under some joints to ease pain.
Napping during the day can also ease fatigue.
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