My 94 year old grandmother has spent 30 years of her life asleep in bed. No, she's not infirm or lazy, it's just that we humans need to spend a third of our lives sleeping.
This is not an evolutionary mistake. Sleep research tells us that good sleep boosts our immune system, which protects us from coughs and colds. It regulates the hormones that control our appetite, helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Good sleep also regulates our mood and so helps to combat feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. In the long term, good quality sleep has also been shown to limit our risk of heart failure, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer.
Unfortunately, we only start to understand how essential sleep really is when we don't get enough of it.
At The Sleep School we have seen a boom in the number of people and businesses enquiring about our services, with increasing life and work stress being the major culprits. This explains why over 30% of the UK population suffer from sleeping issues and insomnia is the most commonly reported mental health complaint in the UK.
So why has insomnia become such an enormous problem? It's my belief that it is being dealt with in completely the wrong way. Over 2010-2011, 15.3 million prescriptions were handed out for sleeping pills in England, which explains why 95% of our clients report having tried between two and eight pharmaceutical drugs in an attempt to fix their insomnia to no avail. In fact, we regularly see people who've been fighting with insomnia for over 40 years and who have tried nearly every sleeping pill or potion on the market.
The crux of the situation is that we are born fighters. It is our way of feeling in control of our lives. If something goes wrong then we fix it. However, as you have probably guessed, sleep is not like the majority of problems. It's a natural physiological process that can't be turned on and off like a switch!
This presents a serious problem and a deeper question..."Are all our efforts to try and solve or control our sleep actually helping or are they part of the problem?" In the same way that struggling in quicksand makes us sink deeper, trying to control sleep makes us more awake. If you're anything like many of our clients you have tried most pills, potions, rules and rituals to a greater or lesser degree. Despite many not working in the long term, you feel compelled to keep trying because you are desperate and don't know what else to do. The result is an unhelpful reliance on props that does nothing more than push sleep further away.
Ironically, I spend a lot of my time helping my clients to understand that it's not what they do that cures their insomnia, its what they must learn not to do. You too can start enjoying good quality natural sleep on a regular basis by following my five most essential tips:
Discover why you need to stop struggling to start sleeping. Being reliant on unnatural night time rituals or props (e.g. warm baths, pills, alcohol) can fuel sleep anxiety and further sleeplessness. Gently let go of the props and follow a normal and regular wind down each night to retrain your brain to sleep.
Accept the things you cannot change. Worrying about poor quality past sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don't sleep only helps to increase night time arousal levels. Choosing to notice such thoughts objectively and return your awareness onto the present moment, such as the touch of your duvet on your toes, can actually promote sleep.
Welcome everything that shows up in your mind and your body. Buying into fearful thoughts or strong emotional reactions at night can keep you awake. Learning to change your relationship with them by getting to know them and even welcoming them when they arrive will reduce arousal levels and lessen your sleep struggle.
Build your new sleeping pattern. Going to bed and getting up at 'roughly' the same time helps to keep your body clock on time and promote your natural sleep drive. If you are awake at night choose to stay in bed, rest and practice being mindful.
Live your days to the full to sleep well every night. The fear of not sleeping drives us to stop living our lives in ways such as avoiding going out at night with friends. Commit to small acts everyday that take you closer to what is important to you in your life.
For more in depth information on how to overcome insomnia and to discover a range of tools and techniques to help you sleep you can purchase:
- The Sleep Book - How to Sleep Well Every Night by Dr Guy Meadows (Orion Publishing) - £9.99
- The Sleep App: (Apple App Store) - £2.99
- Come to a Sleep School Event: http://www.thesleepschool.org
Follow Dr Guy Meadows:
Facebook: The Sleep School