How many hours of sleep do you manage in a 24-hour day? Do you sleep solidly for the recommended eight hours or more, make do with cramming in four hours around your busy schedule or do you find yourself tossing and turning for hours on end, waking up frequently, early and feeling un-refreshed?
The importance and benefits of a good night’s sleep cannot be ignored. A lack of sleep or disrupted sleep affects our energy, mood and ability to function during the day leading to a lack of concentration and impaired judgment in all areas of our lives.
Common sleep disorders
Snoring, sleep apnoea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome are some of the common disorders keeping us awake at night. Snoring and sleep apnoea are both caused by muscles at the back of the throat relaxing and blocking the entrance to the windpipe. Sleep apnoea is a potentially life-threatening condition, which is associated with cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attacks. Both of these sleep disorders can usually be treated with behavioral changes such as weight loss, cutting down on alcohol intake and regular exercise. However more severe sleep apnoea may need to be treated with a CPAP machine, which provides constant positive air pressure to the windpipe – helping users to breathe more easily at night.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), which causes unexplained itching, tingling, and aches and pains in the lower limbs, affects around 5.6% of the UK population. Those who suffer often have disturbed sleep due to a strong urge to move the legs, stand up and walk around. In mild cases, cutting out alcohol and caffeine, having a warm bath or massaging the limbs may be enough to alleviate symptoms. For more severe cases, a range of pharmacological treatments are available.
Insomnia, which symptoms include struggling for hours to get to sleep, having a disrupted sleep and waking up feeling exhausted can be either chronic or acute. Sufferers of chronic insomnia have these symptoms at least three nights a week for more than a month, while acute insomnia lasts for shorter periods of time, between one night and a few weeks. Causes of insomnia can range from stress, anxiety and depression to medical problems such as asthma and Parkinson’s disease or even from medications which contain alcohol such as cold and flu remedies.
Shift-work affecting your sleep?
However it is not only psychological or physical problems which cause insomnia, but also the lifestyle we choose to live. For example, if your job involves shift-work this could cause major disruption to your sleeping pattern.
The Sleep Council, who provide advice on how to improve your sleep and how to go about getting the best possible bed, recognise the potential of shift-work to cause insomnia and provide tips for shift-workers to get a better nights sleep. These include keeping your biological clock tuned into your sleep with anchor sleep. Aim to have at least four hours sleep at the same time every night/morning I.E. from 3am to 7am in order to keep your sleep regular. Make sure the sleeping environment is as conducive to rest as possible. A comfortable bed in a dark well-ventilated room is essential to keep both body and room at a satisfactory temperature for sleep. Invest in some black-out curtains and drown out as much surrounding noise as possible – especially during the day- by using ear plugs and by installing double-glazing. These tips in particular will all help to re-set that all important body clock. Also use the weekend or days off to get in some “recovery sleep” and don’t forget to try the crème-de-la-crème “sleep sandwich” which consists of banana, lettuce and marmite, as the banana and marmite contain natural substances that help to induce sleep.
However if sleep doesn’t improve in the short-term, and the condition becomes chronic there are many treatments available, both medical and alternative, which can help improve sleep and reset your body clock.
As stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia and sleep deprivation, whether that stress is linked to personal or financial problems or indeed the lack of sleep itself, holistic therapies such as aromatherapy and reflexology or herbal supplements such as chamomile and passionflower which relive stress and anxiety can be very effective.
A combination of practical solutions and alternative treatments should help you to get the good sleep you deserve. If you continue to suffer or would like to speak to someone, you can ring the insomnia helpline which aims to advise and reassure those who are having trouble sleeping. Phone the helpline on 020 8994 9874 Monday to Friday, 6pm to 8pm.
SEE ALSO: Treating Insomnia