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He snores, you steal the covers. It's 3am and you're still awake brain buzzing, hardly a recipe for a good night's sleep! We talk to founder of The Sleep School Dr Guy Meadows to get some advice on how to catch some zzzs and get a good night's sleep.
Almost half of women across the UK aren't getting enough sleep according to a recent YouGov survey of almost 5,000 adults. And women are more likely than men to feel the effect. Symptoms include:
Having trouble sleeping (46% versus 36%)
Waking up during the night and not be able to get back to sleep (36% versus 23%)
Becoming irritable during the day because of their sleep problems (60% versus 47%*)
Feeling less confidence in their appearance as a result of a bad night’s sleep (33% versus 20%*)
Most of us have problems sleeping at some point in our lives. It can be frustrating not to be able to get enough rest. But what are the best ways to beat insomnia? We've caught up with Dr Guy Meadows, the author of 'The Sleep Book' and clinical director of The Sleep School to find out how we can all have a good night's kip.
1. Follow a normal & regular wind down each night to retrain your brain to sleep.
2. Worrying about poor quality past sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don’t sleep only helps to increase night time arousal levels. Whilst noticing things objectively and without judgement in the present moment, like the touch of your duvet on your toes or the gentle movement of air in and out your nose, can actually promote sleep.
3. Go to bed and get up at ‘roughly’ the same time each night - this will help to keep your body clock on time and promote your natural drive to sleep.
4. Switch off all electronic devices around 30 to 40 minutes before going to bed. Yes that means no mobile on in the bedroom!
5. Commit to making small actions everyday that take you closer to what is important to you in your life. A happy and content brain is a sleepy brain.
What are the most common causes of insomnia?
Everyone on the planet will experience transient insomnia lasting anything from one night to two weeks of poor sleep due to work and life stress. However, once the stress is removed, normal sleeping patterns typically resume. Chronic insomnia develops when the worry itself becomes about not sleeping - the more you worry, the less you sleep.
The fast pace of modern life, longer working hours, irregular sleeping patterns and excessive light stimulation from smart phones and tablets has also resulted in us being stimulated for longer and therefore struggling more to switch off and fall to sleep at night.
Q: What are the typical mistakes people make when they try to get to sleep but can't?
Humans are fantastic problem solvers and in general we can find solutions to most them. Unfortunately sleep is a natural biological process that can't be turned on and off like a switch. In fact, the more we try to control it, the further away it goes. The biggest mistake that people make is doing to much to try and get to sleep - after all good sleepers do nothing!
All of the clients who attend The Sleep School workshops have tried everything from relaxation CDs, herbal tea, prescribed or over the counter pills or such sleepy classics as warm milk and hot baths. Most have also changed their lives by cutting out caffeine, stopping drinking alcohol or even choosing not to go for a promotion or get in a relationship for fear of not being able to sleep.
The vicious reality of insomnia is that you start to lie in bed having done all of this and yet still aren't guaranteed sleep! This leads to further worry and sleep loss! In many cases, the sleeplessness becomes worse over time because you are now reliant on having to use all manner of props to get to sleep and have lost trust in your natural ability to sleep. The Sleep School's pioneering approach starts by discovering what props you rely on and how to let go of them.
Q: Why is it that some people can get to sleep but never reach a 'deep sleep' state?
Excessive stimulation during both during the day and evening from caffeine, sugar, cognitive and emotional stress and light are known to reduce the speed at which you fall to sleep, as well as the depth and quality of sleep. Effectively you end up bouncing along the top of sleep and waking up feeling unrefreshed. Certain stages of sleep, namely REM (when we dream), is also responsible for processing the emotional baggage of the day and so if you are experiencing a lot of stress, your sleep can feel very light and disturbed as it works through everything.
Q: Do any over the counter, natural or prescription pills help? Which are the most effective and what's the risk of becoming dependent on tablets?
Everything we do at The Sleep School is 100% non drug based. Pills can offer a short term stop gap, but they are not a long term solution. In fact the majority of Sleep School clients are unhelpfully reliant on them, even though they no longer work. The average Sleep School attendees has taken between two and five pills to help them sleep and they come to us to learn how to come off them and sleep naturally once more.
Q: What's the ideal bedtime ritual for a restful deep sleep?
The best way to sign post to your brain that sleep is on its way is to get into the habit of switching off all electronic devices around 30 to 40 minutes before going to bed, dimming the lights and pottering around the house getting ready for the next day. Finally, get ready for bed, enjoy a calming book and then turn out the light.
Q: Warm milk, lavender on the pillow, open windows, scented candles…do any of these tricks work?
Having a warm bath or drinking warm milk are very nice bedtime rituals, which if repeated regularly can become part of a healthy wind down. However, if the intention behind them is to get you to sleep, then your run the risk of them becoming additional unhelpful sleep props.
Q: Are sleep tracking gadgets such as the Jawbone Up Activity and Sleep Tracking Wristband or alarm clocks such as the Illumi Ambience Wakeup Clock helpful?
Sleep tracking gadgets can be a fun way to roughly track your sleep. However, since they mostly work via detecting movement, rather than brain waves, they are not an accurate clinical assessment and should never be used in this way.
Light regulates sleep by informing the internal body clock of the time of day. Waking up gradually to light using a sunrise lamp, instead of the sound of an alarm, can therefore be a more natural and calming way to start the day.
Q: When correctly done, does meditation help?
At the sleep school we are pioneering the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for overcoming insomnia. One part of this involves using mindfulness meditation to help let go of unhelpful thoughts and strong emotions that can often keep you awake in the night.
Research demonstrates that regular daytime practice helps to reduce the size of the brain involved in worry and promote better quality night time sleep.
Dr Guy's Sleep Book Buzz Words Explained
Sleep is a natural physiological process that can’t be controlled and having a reliance on unnatural night time rituals or props (e.g. warm baths, pills and alcohol etc) can fuel sleep anxiety and further sleeplessness. Follow a normal & regular wind down each night to retrain your brain to sleep.
Worrying about poor quality past sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don’t sleep only helps to increase night time arousal levels. Whilst noticing things objectively and without judgement in the present moment, like the touch of your duvet on your toes or the gentle movement of air in and out your nose, can actually promote sleep.
Fearful thoughts or strong emotional reactions such as anxiety at night can keep you more awake. Learning to change your relationship with them by getting to know them and even welcoming them when they arrive will reduce arousal levels and lessen your sleep struggle.
Go to bed and get up at ‘roughly’ the same time each night - this will help to keep your body clock on time and promote your natural drive to sleep. If you are awake at night choose to stay in bed and conserve your energy by lying still and being calm and mindful.
The fear of not sleeping drives us to stop living our lives such as avoiding going out at night with friends or sleeping in the spare room. Commit to making small actions everyday that take you closer to what is important to you in your life. A happy and content brain is a sleepy brain.
'The Sleep Book – How to sleep well every night' by Dr Guy Meadows published by Orion on 13th February 2014 (£9.99).
The Sleep School App (£2.99) – available on IOS and Android.
Find out more about Dr Guy Meadows and The Sleep School.