Nearly a third of the 2,000 adults surveyed said they’d experienced decreased productivity, while 22 percent said they’d had arguments with friends or partners due to sleep deprivation.
This probably sounds all too familiar to many of us. So what’s going on?
Are you sleeping enough?
“When we look at the factors that can disrupt sleep, they are endless, whether they be lifestyle factors, bedroom environments, work or external influences such as stress and mental health.
But insomnia is usually a learned condition, where the brain begins to associate the night with being awake,” explains Dr. Guy Meadows, co-founder of Sleep School.
“As a result of the onset of worrying about not sleeping, the brain begins to get hyper-excited and associate the night with being in a fight or flight state. That’s a chronic condition that affects about 10-15 percent of the population. “What’s clear from this study is that the vast majority of people just don’t get enough sleep. Fifteen minutes get five hours or less a night.”
There is an obvious solution: just go to bed earlier. So why does that feel so much easier said than done?
“We are in a very challenging time,” admits Dr. Meadows. “We saw from the survey that 17 percent feel stressed about finances, 15 percent are worried about work. There was also research from the Office for National Statistics, which showed that more and more people are getting second jobs. So unfortunately, when people work longer, people generally sleep less.”
He says changing lifestyles also have an impact. It’s understandable that people think their only chance to relax is late at night, but that can affect sleep patterns.
“I think there’s an element of people wanting to have their own time,” says Dr. Meadows. “From the survey, 19 percent said they stay up late to watch movies or TV.
“What is absolutely important to me is increasing the importance of sleep. Sleep is the most powerful performance-enhancing, health-enhancing behavior known to man – and it’s completely free. And we unfortunately place it very low on our list of priorities, despite the fact that by getting that little extra sleep, you wake up more refreshed, a little happier, you might be a little more productive, not to mention all the health benefits .
“I think there needs to be a bit of a re-evaluation of people, and there’s also a certain responsibility of technology. All streaming services, our smartphones, they’re designed to target our weaknesses, whether it’s a little spinning button when a message comes in that stimulates the release of dopamine in our brains – and we just love it, we love to keep scrolling.”
So what should we do if we wake up at night? It is helpful to identify external factors that contribute to this: noise, an overly warm bedroom, aches and pains. Stress and anxiety can be a big culprit when you’re in bed at 3am with racing thoughts – and how we react to nighttime awakenings plays a big role.
“One of the first things I always try to make clear is that it’s completely normal to wake up in the middle of the night. That helps take away a lot of anxiety and frustration because people think, “Oh, I’m supposed to put my head on the pillow, fall asleep and not wake up until tomorrow morning.” The reality is we sleep in cycles of one and a half to two hours, we have these natural breaks,” explains Dr Meadows.
“One of the problems is that when we experience times like now, when we need to worry more, our minds can hijack those natural pauses, and that can make it harder to get back to sleep.”
One of the worst things we can do is reach for our phones, because the exposure to light triggers our physiological wakefulness, not to mention the emotional reactions if you happen to see a work email or message.
Dr. Meadows suggests a mindfulness exercise instead.
“What we want to do is respond in a way that helps us stay in a state of quiet, restful wakefulness. Just resting in bed is actually really helpful because you’re still getting growth and recovery, and memory consolidation and energy conservation. If you find that your mind is very busy, it can be very valuable to use some kind of acceptance-based mindfulness practice: Focus your attention on something in the moment, for example the breath.
“Do a little body scan and notice: where do I feel the contact of the bed with my body? Scan from head to toe, nice and slow, just going, “I feel the pillow on my cheek, I feel the mattress on my shoulders, the duvet on my toes.” Doing that will get you out of your head and into your bed!”
Dr. Meadows says thoughts come and go during periods of wakefulness, and that’s normal.
“It’s about being able to acknowledge those thoughts, instead of banishing or blocking them. That’s the skill – being able to notice and let go, notice and let go,” he says. “That helps us stay in that state of quiet, restful wakefulness, which is the stepping stone to sleep.”
Founder of the Sleep School, Dr. Guy Meadows, is partnering with Twinings for the 2023 Sleep Census to provide tips and tricks to address poor sleep habits.