Posted by: Viktor Mar | 2009 August 2

Could you have semi-somnia?

By Gabrielle Fagan


 

Around 30 million people suffer from ‘semi-somnia’ (disturbed or fitful sleep due to a stressful lifestyle) according to a sleep expert, Dr Neil Stanley. Find out if you’re a sufferer and what do do about it.

Image © PA

Do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, often long to use your computer keyboard as a pillow during the day, but still struggle to sleep at night?

You could be one of around 30 million Britons suffering from semi-somnia, a new epidemic identified by sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley.

He says: "A huge number of people are, often without realising it, battling with persistent low-grade exhaustion due to a combination of lack of sleep or poor quality sleep.

"Around 75% of the population admit to waking up exhausted every day, but many are wrongly blaming other factors like lack of exercise or a poor diet."

Dr Stanley says semi-somnia shares similar – but milder – symptoms as chronic insomnia, a serious sleep disorder. While sufferers of insomnia may take more than 30 minutes to get to sleep, and wake frequently during the night, most nights, for a period of more than three weeks, semi-somniacs may also experience those problems or simply not sleep for long enough because of a demanding lifestyle.

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He blames the explosion of semi-somnia on our 24-hour society – which makes it increasingly hard for people to ‘turn-off’ and sleep – coupled with our general disregard for the value of a proper night’s rest.

He discovered that four out of ten people surveyed deliberately reduced the time they spent sleeping to try to cram more hours into their day.

Dr Stanley, former director of sleep studies at the Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit at Surrey University, says: "The importance of sleep is completely underestimated despite the fact it is vital for good emotional and physical health.

"As a result, we live in a ‘tired’ society, where we have become accepting of being tired. The days when many people can claim to feel really good and refreshed are incredibly rare."

His research, commissioned by Horlicks, found that 42% of people sleep badly some or most nights, and a third of people who visit their doctor complain about their sleep.

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Dr Stanley, now manager of the Clinical Trials & Research Unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, warns that lack of sleep short term can lead to irritability, a lowered immune system and depression.

Long term, he says, it can put us at risk from depression, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity. He estimates this year semi-somnia will cost the NHS £290 million in treatment.

Yet he cites an apparent ignorance among doctors about sleep – one study found half of all doctors received no training in sleep problems, and the other half get only five minutes training in seven years.

But Stanley says there is a remedy, which isn’t dependent on doctors or drugs.

He advises: "We should prepare ourselves for sleep rather in the same way we ‘warm up’ before we take exercise. We recognise that children need to ‘wind-down’ before bedtime but adults need to do the same, physically and mentally.

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"You can devise a routine to suit yourself, there are no rigid rules, but what’s most important is to see sleep as a pleasure. It’s also as good for you as having as a balanced diet and exercise."

And he says: "Remember what you felt like when you last had a really good night’s sleep and awoke refreshed and bursting with energy. Think how much better life would be if you felt like that all the time."

Find out if you’re a semi-somniac, and follow his guide to good sleeping so you can give up your membership of the half-awake club.

SLEEP FACTS

Dr Stanley’s research revealed:

  • Adults get an average of seven hours sleep a night, compared to nine hours a century ago.
  • Nearly 64% of people get less than eight hours sleep a night, while 32% of people get less than six hours.
  • Twice as many women as men suffer from insomnia, and 60% of women surveyed said they felt tired much or all of the time, a condition dubbed ‘TATT’ by doctors.
  • Other Government research estimates that one in five road accidents is caused by tiredness, more than the number caused by drink-driving.

WHO’S AT RISK?

Dr Stanley identifies key types of personalities who are most likely to be troubled by sleep problems.

ALWAYS ON: These people have a ‘macho’ pride in themselves on working hard and playing hard. They dismiss sleep as a luxury or even a sign of weakness.

24-HOUR TECHIES: Find it difficult to separate work and home life. "They’re still plugged into their Blackberry, mobile or computer late at night and can’t wind down to sleep."

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BEDTIME BUZZERS: Take their problems into the bedroom. "They think it’s an ideal time to chat over job problems or money worries with their partner. But negative thoughts or worries raised at night are the enemy of peaceful sleep."

SLEEP STRESSERS: Obsess about the quantity of sleep they believe they need. They fear failing to get to sleep which is likely because of the ‘sleep’ pressure they inflict on themselves.

ARE YOU A SEMI-SOMNIAC?

Dr Stanley says: "Not everyone needs seven hours. It’s how much you personally need to be alert in the day that counts."

Dr Stanley’s test: How do you feel energy-wise at 11am and 2pm each day? Rate it on a score of one to 10. "Scoring around five to seven means you’re probably aware you’re regularly not on top of your game, crave day-time naps and may rely on sugary snacks and coffee."

WHAT CAN I DO?

Dr Stanley advises the following three R’s – Resolve, Relax, Release.

RESOLVE: Dr Stanley says: "Get a routine each night which will help get you in the mood for sleep. Ideally, eat three or four hours before bedtime. An hour before bed start preparing yourself by ‘turning off the day’.

"Switch off the computer and the mobile and don’t have them in the bedroom. Texting’s a major problem of teenage sleep, as they commonly leave mobiles on day and night."

RELAX: Choose a favourite relaxation technique – yoga, meditation or perhaps a warm bath. Dr Stanley says: "Pay attention to the body’s sleep signals. Many of us stay up yawning and half dozing in front of the TV when we should be in bed."

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Don’t watch TV or listen to the radio in bed unless it’s a vital part of your pre-bed routine, as it may just encourage you to stay up later.

Dr Stanley advises: "Ensure the bedroom has adequate ventilation as the body needs to cool down before sleep. Keep out natural light with thick curtains or a blind. Only around four minutes of sunlight on your retina are enough to make you feel wide awake."

If a partner’s snoring, or tossing and turning, consider a larger bed or separate room.

RELEASE: Dr Stanley says: "Clear your mind before sleep by making a list of the things you have to do the next day and leave it on the bedside table."

Counteract a racing mind by listening to music, or thinking of a peaceful setting – real or imaginary.

He advises: "If you wake up in the night don’t lie there trying to force sleep. Get up, make a drink, read or do a boring chore for half an hour and allow drowsiness to set in again. Return to bed and try to sleep again."

Dr Stanley’s report, Making Time For Sleep, is available on www.horlicks.co.uk

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