Wake up to sleep problems

New research has revealed around half of Australia has trouble getting a good night's sleep.
New research has revealed around half of Australia has trouble getting a good night's sleep. Jason Dougherty

FORGET Sleepless in Seattle. They are sleepless in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, the Isa, Kalgoorlie, Kangaroo Island, and the Sunshine Coast.

About half of Australia is having trouble getting some shut-eye, according to research commissioned by health supplement company Blackmores.

The Blackmores Sleep Survey found that 65% of Australians are concerned about their insomnia and 44% have suffered from debilitating sleeplessness in the last six months.

And just over half of those with insomnia blamed stress for hindering their restfulness.

The statistics are no surprise to Blackmores' director of education, Pam Stone.

“We are now a 24-hour society,” she said. “It makes sense that the research showed the most common reason for insomnia was stress and the inability to switch off an over-active mind.”

She said sleeplessness was a concern because of its effects on overall health.

“Sleep is critical for the proper function of every aspect of the body,” she said. “Attention span, metabolism, vision and muscle fatigue may all be affected by the amount and quality of sleep you get.”

Ashley Wong-Hoy, a practising psychologist at Peregian Springs, said insomnia could often be a sign of deeper troubles.

“Sleep disorders are usually associated with depression. It's one of the signs of depression or a depressive illness,” he said.

Mr Wong-Hoy said healthy sleep required two biochemicals in the brain – noradrenalin and serotonin – to be in correct balance.

“When we have enough levels of noradrenalin and serotonin, these two chemicals allow us to go into slow-wave or restorative sleep, and that allows you to take a rest from what ever you're doing and allows your body to catch up and renew cells,” he said.

Mr Wong-Hoy said sufficient levels of noradrenalin prompted rapid-eye movement sleep, which allowed the mind to process the events of the previous day.

He said noradrenalin was associated with activity, and people who were stressed often experienced an “outpouring” of noradrenalin.

“You'll find that people who are stressed don't go to sleep until the early hours of the morning,” he said.

Mr Wong-Hoy said exercising during the day could help burn up excessive amounts of noradrenalin and promote better sleep.

He also suggested “training” the body to recognise that it was time to sleep.

“We often ask people to get some lavender oil or other really nice natural oil and just put it on a handkerchief in your pillow,” he said. “If you wake up and smell it, you remember that you are in bed and it's time to sleep. After a while, the smell will remind you to go back to sleep.”


Blackmores has offered the following tips for a good night's sleep:

Avoid caffeine and alcohol after 3pm. Caffeine speeds up your metabolism and heart rate for eight to 14 hours. Wine might help you get to sleep but it is often unsettled.

Sleep in a cool, dark room. The optimum temperature is 14-20 degrees.

Consider a relaxing herbal supplement. Herbs such as passion flower, hops and lemon balm help relax over-active minds, Ms Stone says.

Put your mind at rest. Record pestering thoughts in a notepad or on your own voicemail.

Get physical but don't exercise too late. You need at least two hours after exercise to wind down before bed.

Get the right amount of sleep for you. Some people need eight or nine hours but others function perfectly well with much less.

Maintain a regular sleeping schedule.

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