THE BLOG

Neither Awake or Asleep; Is It Really a Sleep Problem?

18/09/2014 16:16 BST | Updated 17/11/2014 10:59 GMT

My sleep clinic is constantly full of exhausted people wanting to know how to get more sleep, fall asleep more easily at night, stay asleep, feel asleep. This last one is interesting - many of my clients complain of feeling as if they've not slept at all even though they may have spent hours in bed and not really been awake.

So what are they doing if they are neither awake nor asleep?

Recent studies conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, have shown that even when people are sleeping and supposedly in deep, delta sleep they are still experiencing beta activity or signs of being awake. It's as if someone is flicking a light switch on and off while they are sleeping. So they are fast awake. I'm also seeing so many exhausted people who, during their waking hours, are effectively asleep and just about surviving. They are wide asleep.

The problem is that in this over-busy society; we're 'always on'. Never offline.

People demand help in getting sleep but is that really the problem? We have such high expectations of our sleep and believe in its ability to balance out the effects of toxic living.

By focusing on sleep, we are putting the spotlight in the wrong place.

It's not really about sleep but about the choices we are making in our waking hours that we need to consider and address. It's about our 21st Century addiction to busyness, technology, and doing, our inability to stop and oscillate or build downtime into our days. For many, the day is relentlessly linear - no rest, no relaxation, no restoration - and by the time we do stop it's too late. The nervous system is already in overdrive. It can't slow down.

The consequence of this lopsided living is that people go into survival mode, just trying to keep up instead of living, truly living with meaning, purpose and engagement.

Recently the 'look up' campaign on Facebook encouraged people to put down their electronic devices and start truly engaging with each other. I'm on a mission to start a 'wake up' campaign.

No, we don't need more sleep. In fact, we need to wake up to the choices that we're making in our waking hours. Taking time to do things that nourish us at the deepest levels - time to rest more, think less, dream more, love more, engage more with life and living.

And do you know what? I think we'll sleep better.