Friday, 17 June 2016

There may be hope for us insomniacs

I’ve suffered from pretty chronic insomnia over the past few years and it’s got me down, real down. The only thing that keeps me going (apart from my gorgeous family) is the fact that I’m not alone. Apparently a whopping 25% of us suffer from sleep disorder on a regular basis.

With my particular ‘disorder’ I have no problem getting to sleep but I often wake up at either 2am or 4am (on a good night) and then I am completely unable to get back to sleep. When the alarm goes off I drag myself out of bed and the morning routine of getting my two young daughters ready for school is pure torture. However, it constantly amazes me that by mid-morning I am feeling so much better and can manage the day adequately (although I’m sure it would be a different story if I had a full day at work) Evenings are a write off though – I am desperate to crawl into bed soon after saying goodnight to my daughters (c 8.15pm) I worry that my body will one day conk out from a build-up of sleep exhaustion and also stress about the affect it will have on my mental health in the long run.

However, there seems to be reassuring news on the horizon. Research now suggests that sleeping for a continuous eight hours is a recent invention and our body clocks are much better suited to two shorter bursts of sleep each day.

In an article published in the Conversation, Dr Melinda Jackson, a psychologist who specialises in sleep disorders at RMIT University, and Siobhan Banks, sleep researcher at the University of South Australia suggest that so-called segmented, or bi-modal sleeping actually used to be the norm.

“Interestingly, the appearance of sleep maintenance insomnia in the literature in the late 19th century coincides with the period where accounts of split sleep start to disappear,” they explain. So perhaps striving for eight hours could go some way to explain why 25% of us suffer from some sort of sleep disorder.

This isn’t the first time a two sleeps a day regime has been suggested as an alternative, potentially more beneficial sleeping pattern. In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted a month-long experiment to test the theory, where a group of people were left in darkness for 14 hours each day. By week four, a distinct new two-phase sleep pattern had emerged with the participants sleeping for four hours, waking for one to three hours and then falling into a second four-hour sleep. Wehr concluded that people were much better suited to a split sleep pattern.

Experts argue the research suggests segmented sleeping suits our body clocks better. And it could even make the mid-afternoon flop a thing of the past because ‘it provides two periods of increased activity, creativity and alertness across the day, rather than having a long wake period where sleepiness builds up across the day and productivity wanes.’

So next time you can get away with a sneaky little afternoon nap, go ahead, it's good for you – the scientists agree!

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