Tired all the time?
You need our two part guide to sleep: why you need it, how to
Tired all the time? But when you
finally get cosy under the duvet, you can’t get to sleep or you
find yourself wide-awake in the wee small hours?
One in two of the population is fighting daytime tiredness on
a daily basis, according to a new analysis of 30 years of sleep
data. And it’s our hectic lifestyle that’s to blame, says
Norfolk clinical researcher, Dr Neil Stanley.
‘If you put 100 people in a room and ask how many of them
feel really energetic and full of vitality, very few would raise
their hands,’ he says. Most of these people wouldn’t
be diagnosed with insomnia, he explains. They’re in
a permanent state of low-grade exhaustion, what he calls
‘semi-somnia’ – and sleep experts warn that it’s a health
problem with consequences.
‘Sleep is not an optional extra, it’s a fundamental
requirement of a healthy life,’ says Professor Colin Espie,
director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at Glasgow
University. While we’re fast asleep, the body is able to
refresh and repair a whole range of processes that enable
memory, thoughts and feelings to function properly.
A single night of disrupted sleep
leaves you feeling grumpy, groggy, irritable and forgetful.
Longer-term, chronically poor sleepers risk a range of
unpleasant consequences from depression and divorce to diabetes
and heart disease.
A good night’s sleep may seem
continuous. But it’s actually a series of 90-minute cycles
that begin with an all-important session of deep sleep that
normally occurs shortly after you fall asleep – with a lighter
sleep cycles towards the morning. REM (rapid eye movement)
sleep, the time for dreaming, occurs in both cycles – though
we’re more likely to have vivid, and perhaps more meaningful
dreams in the early part of the night.
What concerns Dr Stanley is that our 24/7 society interferes
with the natural forces that gently propel us towards deep and
refreshing sleep. We all have a ‘sleep homeostat’ that
controls the drive for sleep: so that that the longer we’re
awake, the more we want to sleep. But what controls the
body clock that tells us when to sleep, is melatonin, a hormone
produced by the pineal gland that is synchronised by sunrise and
There’s no such thing as a normal body clock, however.
It changes with age: the sleep drive of a 20 year old remains
strong at 7am while it’s already started to decline two hours
earlier in someone in their 40s. Some people are ‘owls’
who don’t feel the effect of melatonin until late in the night –
while ‘larks’ rise early and become sleepy in the early evening.
Men over 50 report falling asleep much faster; it tends to be
older women, especially those who suffer depression, who find it
hardest to get to, and stay asleep. And our modern
irregular lifestyles can disrupt the body clock even more
Catching up with emails or playing computer games late at
night will keep your mind racing, says Dr Stanley. He
decries the ‘Blackberry-bushed’ syndrome where making yourself
inaccessible even in the bedroom leaves you feeling guilty. New
research suggests that teenagers who play computer games to
‘relax’ in the evening after doing their homework will have
trouble sleeping – and will also have greater difficulty
remembering what they have just learned.
‘It’s much healthier to restrict yourself to activities that
help you switch off from daytime action,’ says Dr Stanley.
But it’s important to find your own way of relaxing – rather
than following dogmatic advice.
‘It’s easy to get the impression that there’s a quick
solution that applies to everyone – that if you’re not sleeping
you should avoid coffee, cola and alcohol as well as exercise
for four hours before bedtime, not to read or watch TV in the
bedroom and make sure you take a hot bath 90 minutes before
It’s all good advice and no doubt at least some of the rules
of sleep hygiene work for some people. ‘For some people
it’s a hot bath and a milky drink; others like to do yoga or
meditate, watch TV or even listen to the Pink Floyd.’
He even suggests abandoning the marital bed. ‘Sleep is
simply our most selfish activity’ says Dr Stanley. ‘Not having
sex is bad news for a marriage. But historically, we have never
been meant to sleep in the same bed as each other and there’s no
shame in doing whatever it takes to get a good night’s sleep.’
Yet the research also shows clearly that while a good night’s
sleep should be a priority, it shouldn’t become an obsession:
worrying about semi-somnia could actually keep you awake for
longer. ‘The more committed people are to fixing the problem,
the more likely they are to mess up, because sleep does not
respond very well to conscious engagement," says Professor
‘Its rather like swapping your car's automatic gearbox for a
manual version,’ says Professor Espie.
'Because you have taken over more of the controls, you’re
ability to go to sleep automatically is inhibited. You are more
aware of sleep and sleeplessness in your life, and so a vicious
The best way to slip into
unconsciousness is to count your chickens – rather than sheep!
There never was a golden age of sleep that preceded modern day
comfortable mattresses and airy bedrooms, according to Professor
Jim Horne of Loughborough University.
The reality, he says, is that we
probably sleep more now than our ancestors did 100 years ago.
Victorians, he points out, worked 14-hour days and spent their
nights in communal bedrooms that were infested with bedbugs.
Far from worrying about daytime sleepiness and night-time
waking, people should build into their lives. ‘It’s
perfectly normal to feel tired in the afternoon, it’s a natural
dip in the day,’ he says.
Waking up at night, says Dr Stanley, need not make you panic.
‘It’s quite possible to enjoy a period of wakefulness,’ he says.
So next time you’re awake while the rest of the world seems to
be slumbering, enjoy it! Relax with some deep yoga
breathing or catch up with some reading – or simply take the
opportunity to consider the life from the perspective of a warm
STILL NOT SURE? HERE GIVES YOU 20 NEW IDEAS ON
HOW TO GET A BETTER
NIGHT'S SLEEP AND WAKE UP REFRESHED THE NEXT DAY
10 WAYS TO BETTER SLEEP
Forget tossing and turning. Here’s how to make it through the night
1 MOVE CALMLY
Don't exercise within two or three
hours of bedtime. Strenuous activity can boost your metabolic
rate leaving you buzzing and unable to sleep. Instead try some
gentle relaxation techniques such as simple yoga poses to calm
you down before turning in.
2 OIL UP
Try adding a few drops of a soporific
essential oil to your bath while the water is running. Good
choices include clary sage, lavender oil, camomile, neroli or
marjoram. Alternatively burning a few drops in a burner can
create a sleepy atmosphere or try mixing a few drops of your
chosen oil with some water in a pump action spray bottle and
spritzing onto your sheets and pillow.
3 SOOTHE IT
Listen to some relaxing music, read a
calming book or have a soothing cup of herbal tea. Valerian,
camomile and peppermint are all said to help induce sleep.
4 CREATE THE MOOD
Hang black out blinds or heavy lined
curtains to keep out unwanted light and noise. Think about
investing in some double glazing or a pair of earplugs if
outside noise keeps you awake.
5 BAN THE TV
Keep your bedroom for sleep only.
Activities such as watching TV, reading, eating or working in
the bedroom can encourage wakefulness. If you find yourself
watching the TV night after night to help you drop off then it
is time to change your habits.
6 GET WARM
Cold extremities such as hands and feet
can keep you awake so wear bed socks and mittens if you start to
feel cold. A footbath or massage before bed will also help to
keep feet warm, or invest in a hot water bottle but make sure
it’s got a cover.
7 AVOID ALCOHOL
Try to avoid stimulants such as
caffeine, nicotine and alcohol for four to six hours before
bedtime. A nightcap might seem like a good idea but overdo it
and you risk waking up within a few hours with dehydration. Go
for a warm milky drink instead which contains the substance
tryptophan, a natural relaxant.
8 VISUALISE IT
If you’re having trouble drifting off,
visualisation can help. Close your eyes and imagine yourself
walking down the road to sleep. As you walk watch yourself
putting down anything that is worrying you. Walk slowly and
surely, knowing sleep is waiting for you at the end of the road.
9 ZIP IT UP
If your partner is a restless sleeper
or his snoring stops you sleeping try to sort out the problem.
Avoiding alcohol, smoking and excess weight can all help snoring
while individual duvets and single mattresses which can be
zipped together can help to make sleep more peaceful.
10 BE REGULAR
Aim for a regular
wake-up time and bedtime. If establishing a pattern for going to
bed is a problem at least make a point of always getting up in
the morning at the same time.
10 ways to greet the morning full of energy
Face the day feeling on top of the world with energising tips
to get you going
1 STRETCH IT
Get your body into gear with a good
stretch from top to toe. If you’ve woken late or can't face
getting out of bed do it under the blankets. Alternatively, sit
on the side of your bed and give it your all. Roll your head to
your left shoulder then forward to your chest, then to your
right shoulder. Repeat a few times before reversing order. Then
stand up and reach your arms above your head as far as you can,
first your right hand higher, then your left.
2 GREET THE DAY
Throw open the curtains, open the
window and expose your face to the sun for five minutes. Better
still go outside. Sunlight stimulates the pineal gland in the
brain which helps to wake you up.
3 SHOWER AWAY
Have an invigorating wake -up shower by
alternating the cold and hot water. Wash yourself with a sponge
to which you have added a couple of drops of a stimulating
essential oil such as citrus or pine. To get yourself into
positive mode use the time under the water to visualise all the
lovely things that could happen to you in the day ahead.
4 BOOST YOUR BRAIN
Try some mind exercises to get your
brain in gear first thing in the morning. Try using your
non-dominant hand for those getting-ready-for the day rituals
such as washing your teeth or brushing your hair.
5 CUT OUT COFFEE
Avoid that first black coffee of the
morning. The caffeine may give you an instant burst of
energy but it won't last long. Far better to go for a cup of
herbal tea. Peppermint or ginger are good pep-up choices.
6 BREAKFAST WELL
It will kickstart you into action and
set you up for the rest of the day. Try a low-releasing
carbohydrate breakfast such as a bowl of muesli topped with a
handful of berries. If you want to be really healthy use soya
instead of cow's milk.
7 BREATHE DEEPLY
Try some deep breathing to get the
blood flowing and a good amount of oxygen to the brain. Block
your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in slowly through
your left nostril. Hold this breath for a few seconds then place
your index finger over your left nostril, remove your thumb and
breathe out through your right nostril. This will help to rid
your body of carbon dioxide.
8 GET INTO A ROUTINE
If you constantly wake up feeling more
tired than when you went to bed you could be getting too much
sleep. Try getting up at the same time each morning but vary
your bedtime until you wake up feeling on top of the world. Once
you have established your natural sleep quota you can adjust
your routine to ensure your body gets the right amount of shut
eye it needs to function at optimum levels.
9 RENEW YOUR MATTRESS
If you wake up every morning full of
aches and pains it could be time to update your mattress.
Protruding springs, below-surface ridges, creaks and crunches,
or middle mattress sagging mean you should invest in a new one
as soon as possible.
10 EAT RIGHT
The time of your evening meal and what
it consists of can affect your wake-up mood. To help you leap
out of bed bounding with energy instead of crawling out feeling
sluggish and bloated,aim to eat your last meal of the day before
9pm to give your digestion sufficient time to get on with its
work. Avoid anything to heavy - go for lean-cut meats and
cut out full-fat dairy foods as well as fried foods and