The UK is in the grip of a “sleep crisis”, experts warn.
A third of adults only average a maximum of six-and-a-half hours per night, which is not enough.
Sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock said: “Seven hours is a minimum in adults, some of us need more to function at our best.
“We’re really struggling as a society to switch off. Without sleep we can’t survive. It’s essential for our physical and mental health.”
Professor Colin Espie, of Oxford University, urged anyone with insomnia to seek treatment.
He added: “Mortality rates are higher in short sleepers. It’s every bit as important as diet and
exercise and needs to be on the public health agenda.”
Tonight an ITV documentary looks at how devastating a lack of sleep can be for our bodies.
Here the experts share their top tips for a good night’s kip.
Dr Bostock says:“The single most important thing you can do to improve your sleep quality is actually have a regular routine.
“If you can’t go to bed at the same each night then at least wake up the same time each morning.”
Cut out the caffeine
“Caffeine is probably one of the biggest threats to our sleep in modern life,” she adds. “If you’ve had a lot of caffeine you’ll tend to have a lighter, more broken sleep. And a digital detox before bed is a good idea. If you’re checking work emails in the moments before you go to sleep – of course you’re going to struggle to switch off.”
Make time for sleep
Prof Espie says many of us fall into a pattern of “boom and bust” – squeezing sleep in around other commitments during the working week, then catching up on days off.
However, evidence suggests that having a stable, consistent sleep schedule is generally effective at producing satisfying, efficient sleep.
He says: “You may say this isn’t possible – social engagements and work deadlines certainly make it more challenging. Often we have more control over our time than we assume. Why not ‘choose sleep’ for a week or two, over other demands on your time, and see what impact it has on how you feel during the day?
“Perhaps block out the time in your diary in advance, labelling it as a ‘sleep experiment’, from at least two hours before you intend to head to bed each day. Spend that time winding down, doing something you enjoy and find relaxing – some
well-earned ‘me time’.”
Ban tech in the bedroom
Our bedrooms are intended to be places of rest and relaxation. But in recent times they have been invaded by a variety of disruptive influences – mobile phones, tablet and laptops. Prof Espie explains: “These devices upset our sleep in two main ways. First, their screens produce a lot of ‘blue light’ which is known to suppress our natural sleep hormones. Second, the activities we tend to undertake using these devices – checking email and social media, playing games, watching exciting movies – keep us alert and engaged. For both of these reasons you should ideally
make your bedroom a ‘device exclusion zone’.
“If you need to use your phone as an alarm clock at least be sure to switch it onto airplane mode as soon as you enter your bedroom, to discourage yourself from using it for anything else.”
Prof Espie has created an online programme called Sleepio, which offers a free self-help version of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Each week you meet your virtual sleep expert, who will help you address your thoughts and worries about sleep, your daily schedule, lifestyle and bedroom.
There are six core sessions, each lasting 20 to 30 minutes and a daily sleep diary helps you track your progress. Visit www.sleepio.com for more information.
PILLS AREN’T THE ANSWER
Pills aren’t always the best solution to getting a good night’s kip. Dr Bostock says: “When you haven’t slept well for a long time you’re very anxious and everyone is looking for a quick fix. But
those pills which just sedate the mind, they’re not getting you into the same natural sleep. “
He adds: “We build tolerance to sleeping pills so you have to take more to have the same effect.”
- Why Can’t We Sleep is on tonight, 9pm on ITV
Night terrors ended my marriage
Rhianwen Gilmore hasn’t had a peaceful night’s sleep for nearly a decade. The mum-of-three has a form of parasomnia – night terrors that disturb or stop sleep.
She would wake screaming and couldn’t share a bed with her husband, who also slept badly. In the end they split up. Rhianwen, 34, of Blackwood, South Wales, says she’s used to feeling tired, adding: “There’s times at work, I could just crawl into my car and sleep.
“For three nights out of four, something is going to terrify me.
I’m up screaming, possibly waking up my neighbours, waking my kids.”
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