Insomnia is on the rise. Not only do we live in a 24-hour society where there are more people awake at three in the morning than you would imagine, but with news of redundancies, recession and global financial problems continuing to hit the headlines, the ranks of night-time wakers and daytime snoozers are growing.
Not getting enough sleep might seem like a common complaint, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take it seriously. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep might have an impact on your immune and cardiovascular systems, making you more vulnerable to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes and exacerbating existing problems. It can also affect your risk perception, reactions and mood. Anyone who has experienced a sleepless night will be familiar with the feeling of temporary insanity that can occur, but there can be more lingering effects. Research published by the University of Texas suggests those who don't get enough sleep are 10 times more likely to develop depression.
If worry about the future is keeping you up, what can you do? Your first port of call should be your general practitioner. They can examine your lifestyle and behaviour and offer suggestions as well as refer you to specialist sleep clinics, such as the one at the American Hospital in Dubai. There, doctors will monitor and analyse your sleep patterns, offering advice and remedies. Such analysis has proved useful to the yachtswoman Dee Caffari, who as a solo sailor, has no chance of getting a seven-hour stretch of sleep when she's out on the water. The solution for her has been getting in short naps in regularly throughout the day, so that her body has a chance of recovery. Sleep analysis helped her to decide when the most beneficial time would be for her to take naps and helped her control her mood and risk perception. Caffari went on to become the only woman in history to sail both ways around the world single-handedly.
One tip to try at home is to restrict the amount time you spend in your bedroom over the course of a week. Sleep clinics advise keeping the bedroom a work-free zone, to help strengthen your brain's association with it as a place to rest, removing anything that might cause stress, worry or distraction. It's also a good idea to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on the weekends, as this will promote the body's sense of routine and rhythm.
The adage that taking a hot bath will help you sleep is true, but not for the reasons that you might suspect. Heat doesn't make you drowsy - it's the corresponding drop in your body temperature when you get out that triggers your sleep hormones and helps you fall asleep quicker and deeper. Eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal a couple of hours before you go to bed (nothing too greasy though) will also make you sleepier. By contrast, if you tend to feel sleepy in the afternoons, a protein-rich lunch should help to allay the problem a little, although our cyclical hormones naturally make us a little sleepier midafternoon.
If getting up is a problem - and it often is if you haven't had a full night's sleep - natural daylight makes a big difference. The reason for this is that light is one of the triggers for the hormone melatonin in the body, which controls sleep. If you have to get up early for work or to catch a flight, blue lamps simulating natural daylight have been proven to make a difference in wakefulness and reaction times, making the subject more alert and wide-awake faster. By contrast, if there is any light in your bedroom while you're trying to sleep, this makes it harder. Blackout blinds and eye masks are worth a try.
Stress is one of the most common reasons why we're waking up in the middle of the night. There are several things you can do to tackle the problem. If you're finding it hard to get to sleep because your mind is racing, progressive muscle relaxation is commonly used in yoga and is recommended by sleep therapists as an easy way to relax. Start at your toes and tense and relax each part of your body in turn right up to the facial muscles, taking around 15 minutes to do so. This will help to reduce the levels of cortisol in the body - the hormone affected by stress - and help clear your mind. If you're waking in the middle of the night, rather than dwelling on your thoughts, keep a notebook by your bed and write down your thoughts so you can deal with them in the morning if they're still relevant. This helps to clear your mind so you can go back to sleep more easily.
If your spouse is the reason you're being kept up because of their snoring, muscle twitches, teeth grinding, sleep walking or sleep talking, don't suffer in silence. In the majority of cases, the sufferer themselves is not aware of their own condition. These common problems can usually be rectified with a visit to the doctor or dentist. Overweight snorers in particular can be at risk of a potentially life-threatening condition called sleep apnoea, where their windpipe is restricted during sleep and their body doesn't get enough oxygen. Other conditions can signify more serious medical problems and should be investigated. There are plenty of treatments and getting them sorted out will give you and your spouse the good night's sleep that you deserve.