We’ve all been there – lying in bed, tossing and turning, trying to get to sleep and nothing will work, not even counting sheep. Having trouble sleeping is increasingly frustrating, especially if you already feel tired. If you’re experiencing sleep trouble, you’re not alone. It’s now affecting so many of us that it’s now described as a “major public health concern”. So what can you do if you’re one of the many people experiencing problems getting your 40 winks a night?
Why sleep is important
When we are asleep, our bodies fall into a shift of consciousness that is important for our health and well being. We require between seven and nine hours sleep every night, where our bodies go through what is called The Sleep Cycle. According to The Sleep Council, during this cycle our bodies experience “complex changes in brain activity”, where our heart rate slows down and our body temperature also reduces. During this cycle, we go through four stages, varying from lighter sleep to deeper sleep. Each cycle lasts around one and a half hours, and it is thought that we need to go through all four stages and experience five or six cycles a night in order to wake up feeling like we’ve had a good amount of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep a night can lead to a range of health problems. Not only can it cause us to function poorly the next day, but it can also result in mental health problems and stress.
What causes sleep trouble?
It is thought that in the UK today, around a third of the population is having trouble sleeping, a worrying statistic. If you are struggling to get a good amount of sleep every night, also known as Insomnia, there are several reasons why this could be happening:
- If you are suffering from anxiety or stress
- Lifestyle factors, for example suffering from jet lag, or working shifts
- In today’s society, we are more reliant on technology such as our smart phones, and research suggests that one in five teenagers has trouble sleeping as a result.
- Having a poor quality sleeping environment
- If you take certain medication such as antidepressants
Another sleep related condition that affects two per cent of adults in the UK is “night visions” or “night terrors”, also known as Parasomnia. Here, during the first two to 15 minutes of sleep when our bodies have not yet entered the deepest stage of our Sleep Cycle, the individual experiences something similar to a nightmare, but with a far more dramatic feeling of terror or panic. This can result in them thrashing around, jumping out of bed, and screaming. A night terror can be triggered by being over tired. Although it won’t usually result in physical harm, a night terror can be distressing and affect your quality of sleep.
If you’re struggling to sleep, what can you do?
If you are struggling to sleep, there are some easy tips you can follow to try and eliminate the factors that might be causing you to stop drifting off:
- Ensure your bedroom is the right environment for sleep – make sure it isn’t too hot or too cold (between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius is the optimum temperature for sleep) and remove any clutter
- Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible – use blackout curtains or an eye mask if necessary
- Turn off any mobile phones, or any electronic devices with an LED display – or better still, leave these objects in another room during the night
- Try and go to bed at the same time each night – this will help you get into a routine for sleep
- Consider whether you need to buy a new bed – The Sleep Council recommends that you change your bed every seven years, and your mattress should not be too hard or too soft either, but should correctly support the alignment of your spine and be comfortable.
- Avoid eating and drinking the following food and drinks before bed, as they are known to impact sleep – spicy curries or fried food, coffee or soft drinks that contain caffeine, and alcohol.
If after trying the tips above you are still having trouble sleeping or are having night terrors, it’s important that you don’t suffer in silence and get the help you need. Make sure you speak to your GP, but also visit The Sleep Council’s and NHS Choices websites for further tips and advice.