According to News GP, a recent study has highlighted just how common sleep problems are for most Australians. The author of the report, Prof Robert Adams, spokesperson for the Sleep Health Foundation, says about 60% of people report at least one sleep symptom occurring three or more times a week. More concerning is the fact that the majority of these people admit to not seeking help for their sleep issues.
So, What Exactly Is Keeping Us All Awake at Night?
Everyone is different, but as a general rule of thumb, 7-9 hours is considered the healthy average when it comes to the nightly snooze. Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep for these recommended 7-9 hours can be caused by any number of things, including:
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep apnoea
- Periods of change and instability – divorce, moving house, changing jobs, the death of a loved one.
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Leg cramps
- Chronic pain
- Injuries or recent surgery
- Shift work schedules
- Jet lag
- Our partner’s snoring…
And What Is This Lack of Sleep Doing to Us?
Having a bad night’s sleep every once in a while is nothing to be concerned about. But when lack of quality sleep becomes a regular issue, it can have negative effects and even serious consequences including:
- Reduced mental and emotional health
- Poor work performance and errors
- Dangerous driving or care-giving
- Irritability and daily fatigue, which can affect relationships
- Reduced physical health, and a compromised immune system, leading to recuring colds and viruses etc.
- Longer recovery time after injury
- A disruption in hunger hormones, which can lead to overeating
- Brain fog
- An increase in insulin resistance
But What Happens When We Flip the Script?
Conversely, quality sleep every night improves our mental, emotional and physical health, our daily productivity, relationships and overall wellbeing. Some studies even suggest a possible slowing of the ageing process and therefore improved life longevity as a result of enhanced sleep health.
Afterall, sleep plays a significant role in the healing process and rejuvenation at a cellular level. It’s particularly important for athletes in the recovery process. Even our skin looks better with plenty of sleep. Ever notice those dark circles and puffiness under your eyes after one too many late nights?
But How Do We Find a Good Night’s Rest When It Is Proving Elusive?
If lack of sleep is becoming an ongoing problem, then a visit to your GP is probably a good place to start. Discuss your different options (like the ones listed below) and decide together which ones may be best for you. This is especially important if you have any existing health issues or you currently take regular medication.
What is it?
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally in response to darkness. It has a close relationship to your circadian rhythms and your sleep. According to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Melatonin supplements may help with certain conditions, such as jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, some sleep disorders in children, and anxiety before and after surgery.”
Use of these supplements appears to be safe for most people in the short term (up to one or two months), but they are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those people with an autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder or depression. You should also check with your GP if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
An alternative is to consume foods that are naturally high in melatonin, which can raise the levels of melatonin in your blood. These include tart cherries, goji berries, eggs, milk, fish and nuts. Including these in your diet and making sure your sleep space is nice and dark, may be an alternative way to improve your sleep.
How Can It Help?
Whether you have a sleep disorder or sleep is hard to find for other reasons, cannabis might be an option for you in the short term. The analgesic properties may provide relief from chronic pain, and its anti-anxiety properties may help to soothe a stressed mind or body.According to the Sleep Foundation, “Among people who use cannabis for medical reasons, as many as 85% say it improves their sleep”.
“Cannabis appears to improve sleep in certain cases. For people with certain conditions such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and multiple sclerosis, cannabis may help them fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night, and enjoy better sleep quality overall. A recent study also found that cannabis effectively relieves symptoms for people with restless legs syndrome” – Sleepfoundation.org
Which kind is good for sleep?
Cannabidiol (CBD) may have a range of health benefits and is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause you to feel “high.”There are different strains of cannabis, which can produce varying effects. Of the most common strains, Indica is thought to be the best for sleep and pain management, as it is more calming and may produce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness.
How best to use it for sleep, and when?
It is recommended to use CBD 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed, so that it has time to take effect. However, this timing, and also the dosage, will vary from person to person, so it is essential to seek advice from a medical general practitioner.
Prescription Sleeping Tablets
All prescription sleeping pills come with associated risks and benefits, and may help you fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. Common brand names include Ambien, Silenor, Restoril, Lunesta and Stilnox. A GP may prescribe them to you for very short term use for chronic insomnia. Side effects can include next day drowsiness and dizziness and it’s important not to consume alcohol while taking them.
Alternatively, there are natural sleep aids like a combination of valerian, passionflower and hops in tablet form, but medical advice is still advised before taking these, as they may interact with certain medications.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
My Thoughts Are Keeping Me Awake?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy deals with people’s inaccurate thinking about sleep, and the ways in which these thoughts may lead to behaviours that make sleep more difficult. For example, if we have suffered from insomnia in the past, we may become afraid that we’ll always suffer from it. If we have to get up very early for a business trip, we may lie awake worrying that we’re not going to get enough sleep before our alarm goes off.
How Does It Work?
For people with chronic insomnia, a referral to a sleep specialist or sleep psychologist may be beneficial. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT combines several different approaches including relaxation training, stimulus control, sleep restriction and identifying/challenging belief patterns.
If you’re serious about improving your sleep health, then it’s essential to pay attention to your Sleep Hygiene, which involves healthy bedtime rituals and routines. Try one or all of these sleep hygiene hints, and you may see an improvement in your overall sleep health.
- Stick to a regular bedtime and morning wake up. There is evidence to suggest going to bed at the same time every night, and setting your alarm for the same time every morning, will put your body into a healthy rhythm which may improve your sleep health.
- Limit caffeine intake – especially after lunch. This includes coffee, tea, green tea, cola and energy drinks. Try drinking camomile tea before bed.
- Regular exercise – but it’s best done earlier in the day, rather than at night.
- Avoid alcohol and sugar – particularly at night time.
- Avoid daytime naps
- Create a bedtime ritual – read a book, use lavender pillow spray, try meditation or listen to white noise, ensure your sleep space is clean, tidy and dark, and avoid screens and tech an hour before bed.
Alternatively,if what is keeping you up at night are your racing thoughts or frightening nightmares, then it may be time to dig deep, by addressing the root cause of your worries. To get to the bottom of your stress, anxiety, ptsd or depression, you might consider trying:
- Talking to a trusted friend or family member
- Journaling and free writing
- Quality sleep is essential for good physical, emotional and mental health. A lack of it can lead to everything from poor work performance to relationship problems and a decline in our immune system.
- Methods of improving sleep quality include pain management and the possible use of melatonin supplements, sleeping tablets, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBD oil, adopting positive sleep hygiene habits, and addressing the underlying cause of any mental health concerns.
- It’s important to seek advice from a medical general practitioner. If you are suffering as a result of sleep deprivation, you are not alone, and there are many options available that can help.