It’s genuinely great that scientists care so much for our health, we are now being told how much sleep we need. Depending on which research you read, the average figures quoted for adults are between 6-8 hours a night. But the reality is that most of us don’t sleep for that long.
According to the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) at least 4 in 10 people aren’t getting enough sleep, with the Sleep Health Foundation suggesting 1 in 3 people suffer with insomnia – trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It’s the second most common health complaint after pain.
And it’s not just a British problem. According to some reports (scrutinised by the NHS) sleep is an issue around the world.
It makes sense that when Dr. Guy Meadows commissioned The Big Sleep Report, he identified that only 1% of the UK’s population wake up feeling completely refreshed every day. Even people getting the recommended 8 hours a night (or more) admit they don’t wake up feeling rested.
Why can’t we sleep?
Ironically, The Great British Sleep Survey identified that one of the main things (for 79% of people) that keeps us awake at night is how long they’ve been lying awake. In other words, it’s the worry that we are not getting our recommended eight hours, that’s stopping us from sleeping.
Other reasons include:
- Body discomfort (e.g illness or injury)
- Environment including room temperature, in comfy bed and noise
- Use of technology
- Persistent thoughts
What happens if we don’t sleep?
The research in the RSPH report and others explains that lack of sleep causes significant problems for us physically and mentally. People who don’t sleep well are more likely to wake up feeling depressed as well as experience poor memory, weight gain and ill health. Recent research published in the New Scientist shows increasing links in the role of sleep in causing Alzheimer’s.
So, what can we do?
First, talk to your doctor. They may be able to offer some top tips or strategies available to you locally. You could try:
- Taking care of yourself. A good daytime routine is as important as a bedtime routine. Avoiding caffeine and heavy meals in the hours leading up to bedtime, can help. A warm bath and listening to some calming music can also be relaxing before bed. We know that too much time spent on smart phones and computers, especially at night, as well as our bedroom environment can affect how well we sleep. So make sure your bed is comfy, and where you sleep lends itself to a restful night, going to bed when you’re sleepy. But also try to deal with stress during the day, so it’s less likely to come into your mind when it’s quiet. Talk to someone if you are worried or anxious about something.
- Accepting the problem. If you suffer with poor sleep, and have done for a while, acknowledging that you may not sleep well is a place to start. This can help manage the repetitive thoughts like “I’m such a bad sleeper, what’s wrong with me?” Turning your thoughts away from criticising yourself and focusing on how you spend the time laying awake instead.
- Focus on the breath. When you realise you’re awake and not going to get back to sleep, try a breathing technique. As you lay in bed, bring your attention to how your breath is coming in and going out of your body. Try not to get tangled in the commentary of thoughts that are rolling round in your mind. Every time you notice your mind wandering, accept that, label them ‘thinking’ and then turn your attention back to the breath. In one study, 91% of people who described themselves as having insomnia, were able to significantly reduce or stop using their medication after six weeks of mindfulness, 20 minutes a day (Please speak to your doctor first if you’re thinking of reducing your medication). If you’re local to Milton Keynes you may find my dedicated resource to Mindfulness called Kindfully helpful.
Everyone is different so how much sleep you need may be different to everyone else. If the aim is to wake up feeling rested, try shifting your attention to sleep quality, rather than quantity.
Copyright Delphi Ellis