Dealing with insomnia

Dealing with insomnia

What are the symptoms?

Insomnia is a condition that can make life very difficult.

If people do not get enough sleep when in bed at night, they’re not going to feel refreshed the next day and their cognitive abilities may suffer as a result.

People will typically struggle to fall asleep at night, while they will also find themselves waking up frequently. This means they are irritable and tired throughout the day.

Acute insomnia is defined as sleep difficulties lasting three months or less, while chronic insomnia are those cases that go on for longer than this.

Dr Jason Ellis, director of the Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research, recently carried out an investigation that looked at the symptoms that see insomnia transition from being acute to chronic.

He said: “This study provides the first prevalence and incidence data for acute insomnia. The results demonstrate that acute insomnia is highly prevalent and is a first step towards a systematic investigation of its natural history.”

How many people suffer from insomnia?

According to sleep experts at Northumbria University, over one-third of people in the UK could suffer from acute insomnia every year.

Dr Ellis analysed the bedtime routines of a sample group from both the UK and US consisting of people who traditionally have normal bed rest and others with acute insomnia.

From this, it was determined that between 31.2 per cent and 36.6 per cent of the UK sample were in a position to develop acute insomnia within one year, while 21.43 per cent could transition to chronic insomnia.

From the US sample, it was discovered that almost nine per cent suffered an episode of acute insomnia during the study period.

It is hoped the investigation – called ‘The natural history of insomnia: Focus on prevalence and incidence of acute insomnia’ – can be used to develop more effective treatments and provide insights into how the problem develops.

The research may also make it easier for authorities to determine when it is time to take action to control the condition before it develops into chronic insomnia.

It’s already known that chronic insomnia leads to an increased risk of developing major depression, so researchers are keen to find out more about the transition from acute to chronic.

Dr Ellis said: “This study provides the first prevalence and incidence data for acute insomnia. The results demonstrate that acute insomnia is highly prevalent and is a first step towards a systematic investigation of its natural history.

“The information our research has provided gives us a first indication of the scale and scope of the problem.”

He added the next stage of the process is exploring the factors that cause people to transition from acute to chronic insomnia. The research is being published online in the Journal of Psychiatric Research and was part-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

What is Sunday-somnia?

Millions of Britons are tossing and turning at the end of the weekend as they dread the working week ahead.

One in five of us finds it nigh on impossible to nod off with Monday morning looming large, with 56 per cent of those who are sleepless on the Sabbath getting less than four hours.

Dr Ellis, professor of sleep science at Northumbria University, says ‘While having too little sleep every now and then won’t have a massive impact, consistently not getting quite enough sleep, combined with one night a week of very little sleep, will have a significant impact on health, alertness and general mood,’ Prof Ellis said.

‘Sunday-somnia is something I see a lot and it is important that individuals deal with the issues surrounding the sleep deprivation so that it doesn’t have a knock-on effect on sleep later in the week.’

What can you do to avoid insomnia?

There are a number of things you can try to try and help ease the symptoms of insomnia.

A lot of them involve change in lifestyle habits and routines. The following tips are not just helpful in treating insomnia, but also for quality sleep non-sufferers can benefit from too.

You can also find more sleep tips from our resident Sleep Expert, Dr Nerina.

1. Avoid consuming caffeine after 2pm

2. Take a relaxing bath before bed

3. Keep a regular bedtime

4. Avoid using electronic device that emit blue light when in bed (yep, that includes your phone too – sorry!)

5. Check your mattress – if it’s old with loose springs, the discomfort could be preventing you from sleeping

6. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique (more about this below…)

7. Seek treatment. If your insomnia is concerning you, it’s best to speak to your GP and explore available options.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique

A simple breathing technique has been backed by scientific claims to help you fall asleep in just 60 seconds.

Known as the natural tranquiliser for the nervous system, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is meant to help reduce tension in your body and let you slip into a natural slumber.

Based on an ancient Indian practice that regulates breath, the technique allows oxygen to better fill your lungs, promoting a relaxing effect and calm state.

Scientist Dr Andrew Weil, who pioneered the technique said: “As well as relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system, 4-7-8 helps you feel connected to your body and distracts you from everyday thoughts that can disrupt sleep. Also helping with anxiety.”

It has been suggested that carrying out the technique twice a day, for six to eight weeks will help you master falling asleep in just 60 seconds. Next time you’re lying awake at night, why not give it a try?

Master the technique

1. Start by exhaling completely through your mouth whilst making a
‘whoosh’ sound

2. Close your mouth and take a deep breath in through your nose,
whilst counting to four in your head

3. Hold your breath to the count of seven

4. Exhale completely again through your mouth, making the ‘whoosh’
sound for eight seconds

5. Repeat the cycle three times

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