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“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together,” wrote the forward-thinking English dramatist Thomas Dekker in 1609. And of course, it’s still true.
In fact, an American study done for the Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research estimated that more than 20 percent of U.S. adults suffer from chronic sleep problems, and that these interfere with daily functioning, overall health, and longevity.
The estimates for Brits are even higher.
An article in The Telegraph reported that the Great British Sleep Study, done in conjunction with the University of Oxford, found much greater numbers.
The survey, the largest in the UK, found that 61 percent of adults in the UK suffer from sleeping problems, including insomnia (the inability to get to sleep or to get back to sleep), bruxism (night-time teeth-grinding), sleep apnoea (a temporary obstruction of the airway during sleep causing the sleeper to struggle for breath), and too much sleeping (getting more than seven to eight hours, which The Great British Bedtime Report calls “the standard”).
Insomnia is the country’s most prevalent sleeping problem, afflicting 37 per cent of UK residents, but another 24 percent suffer from teeth-grinding, sleep apnoea, and too much sleep.
According to the study, women have slightly more sleeping problems than men. The Scots fall asleep more easily than those elsewhere in Britain, with Edinburghers needing only 47 minutes, on average, before they start to snooze. Brummies, on the other hand, take more time than anyone else in Britain to fall asleep, needing nearly an hour.
Another survey, conducted by the UK Sleep Council, reports that the average Brit goes to bed at 11:15 p.m. and sleeps just over 6 1/2 hours—less than the standard of seven to eight hours. Worse still, a third of those in Britain regularly get fewer than six hours of sleep.
The Council further noted that while more than 30 percent of young people between 16 and 24 report that they sleep “very well,” 80 percent of those aged 45 and 54 say they don’t.
So how can we solve our sleeping problems?
Getting sufficient amounts and quality of sleep is critical to physical, emotional, and mental health. Sleep is as essential to survival as food and water.
How you feel when you’re awake can be affected by sleeping problems. Without sleep, your body becomes unable to form and maintain important pathways in your brain; thus, deficient sleep affects how you think, learn, react, work, and interact with others.
In adults, the sleeping body repairs problems caused by fatigue, sustains the healthy functions of all organs, and maintains overall good health. In children, sleep also supports the young bodies’ development.
Sleeping problems lead to a deficient quantity and/or quality of sleep. The results may be sudden and instantaneous: for example, an industrial or a mechanical accident such as a car crash. More insidiously, the effects of sleeping problems may go unnoticed at first but can cause harm over time, possibly bringing about diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
Of course, sleep is a vital part of your daily routine. After all, you spend one-third of your life asleep.
Yet the process of sleeping so complex and dynamic that researchers are only just beginning to understand it.
Sleep is the naturally recurring human process during which interactions with surroundings are reduced, sensory activity is inhibited, most voluntary muscles cease their normal function, and consciousness is altered.
Sleep is typically distinguished by the sleeper’s diminished capacity to react to stimuli.
Sleeping problems can diminish the body’s ability to remove brain toxins that accumulate during wakefulness, and sleep is critical to numerous brain functions, including communications among nerve cells (neurons).
Besides the brain, sleep affects almost every other tissue and system in the body. These include metabolism and disease resistance, as well as organs such as the heart, liver, and lungs.
Sleep ideally takes place at regular, repeating periods.
The act of falling asleep begins with a neurotransmitter—a chemical that acts on neurons—signalling your body that it should fall asleep. On receiving the signal, your neurons switch off other signals that keep you awake.
During sleep your body conserves energy, with your body temperature dropping by as much as 10 percent. Breathing slows down and becomes extremely regular—this regular breathing is one way to tell if someone is asleep. The heart slows, as well.
Sleep occurs in repeating periods in which the body alternates between two distinct modes: known rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Both states are highly complex; suffice it to say that both are essential to health, that REM sleep stimulates the brain for learning, and that a lack of REM sleep has been linked to certain health conditions.
Perhaps the best-known feature of REM sleep is dreaming. The dream may be defined as “a series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.” Although the word “dream” has positive connotations—as in “it’s my dream to open a restaurant”—the emotions of dreaming may include not only happiness but fear, anxiety, and other negative feelings.
Speculations about the functions of dreams date back to ancient times. Modern researchers tend to believe that the content of dreams is based on one’s present concerns and emotions. Dreams may be a way of addressing these issues to console the sleeper and facilitate dealing with concerns and emotions during waking hours.
According to The Great British Bedtime Report, 41 percent of Britons feel positive after a good night’s sleep, 33 percent feel happy, and 24 percent feel productive.
If you’re not one of these, you may wish to try the following remedies:
Alcohol can actually inhibit sleep—unless you consume so much that you pass out! And certain meds can have harmful side effects.
Having a regular sleep schedule teaches your body to fall asleep at the designated time.
They might not look sexy to your partner, but by warming your feet loose and woolly socks can reduce your sleeping problems.
If you sit in bed working on your computer, you teach your body that the bedroom is for work. If you can’t keep the room dark, use a sleep mask. If possible dim the lights throughout your house an hour before bedtime; this tells your body that it will soon be time to sleep.
Some people have a cuppa in the late afternoon or early evening with no sleeping problems, while others need to limit caffeine drinks to mornings only.
In America, the National Sleep Foundation found that those who regularly exercise report better sleep. However, don’t rev up your body with exercise right before bed—work out in the early evening, at the latest.
A light snack is okay, but a heavy meal before bed may cause sleeping problems.
Warm water on your body right before bed may make it easier to fall asleep.
It might be that your old lumpy mattress or worn-out pillow is the problem. Consider replacing one or both.
As a last resort if you can’t fall asleep after more than an hour, get out of bed and go do something. Make sure, however, that the activity is relaxing and doesn’t involve bright lights or electronic devices. Reading a print book, magazine, or newspaper, or leafing through a photo album are great options. Then, after about half an hour, go back to bed. Chances are good that you’ll fall asleep.
America’s National Institutes of Health recommend massage as remedy for sleeping problems. And according to the American Massage Therapy Association, massage can improve sleep among children, adults, and the elderly.