To sleep, perchance to dream

PUBLISHED: 15:09 27 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:45 03 March 2010

IF you've ever spent three hours trying to get to sleep, fought a war with your partner over the duvet, or been woken in the night by a howling dog - then you know what sleep deprivation is like.

IF you've ever spent three hours trying to get to sleep, fought a war with your partner over the duvet, or been woken in the night by a howling dog – then you know what sleep deprivation is like.

Tomorrow, as Britain marks the seventh dedicated 'Sleep-In Day' – which also coincides with the clocks changing – I report on the nation's struggle for a good night's kip.

DID you sleep well last night?

Did you hit the pillow and snore soundly for a full eight hours?

Or, like a huge percentage of the nation's sleepers, did you have another fitful night of wriggling beneath the duvet in some failed attempt to get a decent period of shut-eye?

You might well have thought you were alone in your frustrated quest for contented kip, but, according to new research out this week, there are literally millions of us who don't get long enough – or sound enough – sleep.

Some 73 per cent of the world rely on alarm clocks to wake them up, and experts claim this is a sure-sign that we need more slumber.

And if you want a good reason for this apparent sleep-starvation, the very same professionals are also saying that its actually our work-time bosses who should take the blame.

They claim that our working day is having a huge impact on our sleeping patterns, and that, ideally, we should all be pushing to over-turn the typical 9 to 5 in favour of a more kip-friendly lifestyle.

Based on a world-wide survey of some 12,000 people, the Sleep Council has come to the conclusion that we're working the wrong hours to suit our sleeping needs.

So perhaps it's not just the cheese and chocolate which hinder our slumber after all?

"Our international survey found that the majority of people think they work best in the evening or the morning," said research compiler, Dr Chris Idzikowski.

"By showing a preference for morning or evening work, the implication is that the majority are not fully alert in the middle of the day – the traditional time for a siesta in hot countries."

He added: "We must conclude from this survey, that the traditional 9-5 working day does not suit the majority."

Traditionally, poor sleep has been blamed on the standard of our bed, the ventilation in our room, our own body heat, and even the foods and drinks that we choose to eat before we head for bed.

Indeed, most of those surveyed in the UK agreed that they were aware of keeping their room dark and airy, and a number also said that they had tried things like Herbal tea to help them sleep.

But for some, these are just the exaggerating factors to a problem which may have plagued a needy sleeper for years.

They may have tried every trick in the book to secure a good night's slumber, but their own sleep deprivation may not have been so easily solved.

In fact, the survey creators were evidently surprised to find such a high proportion of people suffering from 'sleep disorders'. They came to the conclusion that the problem in our modern world is actually far greater than had previously been understood.

As an Ipswich-based acupuncturist, Patricia Woodward has been particularly aware of that prevalence of sleep problems.

She is currently treating a number of patients who have insomnia-related troubles.

"I'm seeing a lot of people with sleep-deprivation, and it can really begin to get people down," she said.

"It can happen for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it's to do with pain or discomfort, or alternatively it could be because of stress, anxiety, or general emotional upsets."

Using an approach of traditional Chinese medicine, Pat is able to look into the history of a sleeping problem, and to effectively treat a sufferer based on their individual needs.

"If someone has trouble getting to sleep, it could be to do with an imbalance in the blood," she commented. "If the problem is more specifically about waking up in the night, then it could more likely be that the mind is very active and that it needs to be calmed.

"Another problem is pain keeping someone awake, or the factor of excessive heat – which may particularly present itself as a problem for someone going through a hormonal change like the menopause."

Patricia stresses that sleep deprivation – in whatever form and for whatever reason – can be easily treated when someone is willing to accept that it is disrupting their life.

She said: "There is no need to suffer with insomnia, and I would encourage anyone who is having trouble to seek help.

"After all, if you have a bad night it is only going to affect your entire day, and every relationship you have. It needs to be sorted out."

While insomnia, snoring and the general effects of restless sleep can all seem like merely a 'social' problem for sufferers, there are also cases where night-time problems can pose medical threats.

At Ipswich Hospital, specialists are very used to witnessing the more potentially dangerous implications of sleep disorders.

In its dedicated Sleep Clinic, hundreds of Suffolk patients are treated every year for a problem known as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome.

"This is far more than just a social snoring problem," explained lung specialist Dr Douglas Seaton.

"People with this disorder will tend to stop breathing at intervals throughout the night, because their throat is closing up.

"As they go off to sleep they will start to snore – and probably very loudly – before the back of the throat begins to close up. Then it will cause an obstruction and the breathing will actually stop completely."

This dangerous condition has only recently received recognition, and, contrary to popular belief, it is actually a very common problem in bedrooms around the UK.

"This affects a lot of people across the country, but only some of those will have a very severe case of it," added Dr Seaton.

"We can treat people, and we do this with the help of a system called CPAP. It helps to keep the sufferers airway open at night by having them wear a mask when they go to sleep.

"Obviously this is a medical problem, and it does need dealing with, particularly as there have been associations with OSAP and high blood pressure in patients."

Dr Seaton stresses that Britain's sleeping problems are not just an issue for the night-time itself.

He believes that the biggest threat, is one of safety, and it is more obvious the day after a restless night.

"The problem with any sleeping disorder is that it will cause problems in the immediate days afterwards.

"Someone who has slept badly is more likely to suffer concentration difficulties, and where they are driving or operating machinery, that could be extremely dangerous. It proves that sleep is far more critical than a lot of people think. It can be medical as well as just social."

In the main, Britain's sleep struggles are indeed largely social.

It's the snoring that annoys us, the noise that wakes us, and the ageing creaky bed which is keeping us from our much-needed slumber.

Unfortunately, though those niggling night-time frustrations might not directly harm our health, they aren't much of a consolation when we're watching the clock go around and around until daylight dawns again.

And short of ditching our snoring partners or working ourselves to a point of exhausted collapse, Britain's bedrooms will probably always be craving those illusive sweet dreams.


nOf the British people surveyed, only 80 per cent believed they were sleeping in a comfortable bed.

nThe majority of those surveyed said they wore either pyjamas, a T-shirt, or nothing, to sleep in.

nDespite the caffeine content, a number of those surveyed said they were used to eating chocolate or drinking coffee before trying to sleep.

nHaving a bath before bed was used as a very effective sleeping aid across the world. A lot of respondents also said they used TV and radio to help soothe them off, but the Sleep Council says this is not to be encouraged.

n39 per cent of UK respondents claimed sex was a good way of helping them get a good night's sleep.

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