Some highlights from Professor Espie’s live chat on The Guardian website

31st January 2011 by Helena

Great British Sleep Survey Sleep science

Our very own Professor Colin Espie shared his wisdom in a live chat session on The Guardian website last week.  The Prof’s sleep advice was very much in demand – more than 200 people submitted their sleep questions!

There were some great questions, covering everything from bedding, to nightmares to severe insomnia. It was really nice to see people with sleep problems sharing their own experiences and advice with others.

Missed the live chat?  Get your free, tailored Sleep Report designed by Professor Espie by completing the Great British Sleep Survey and read all through all the Prof’s answers on The Guardian website here.

Question:

“I have always slept poorly, rarely getting more than about 6 hours a night. I suffer from insomnia on occasions, sometimes getting zero sleep a night. I go to bed when I feel too tired to stay up, but it takes ages to fall asleep most nights – at least an hour.  Any tips to help me relax (mentally, not physically) would be welcome.”

Prof’s Answer:

“If it’s any consolation, that’s what most of my patients experience too. It really is a problem that there is little in the way of help available on the NHS. In fact that’s one of the reasons that Sleepio and the Mental Health Foundation have teamed up to raise awareness about the importance of sleep. Try downloading the MP3 from the howdidyousleep.org website, and try using a sleep diary to help you keep a check on the direction your sleep is going.”

Question:

“I have suffered with insomnia for many years now. I have exercised, meditated, used sleep CD’s, you name it. I currently take Imovane every night to get to sleep. Every time I try to come off them I end up having at least 3 nights of no sleep and if I am lucky I will sleep on the 4th night. This leads to feelings of failure and depression and being unable to cope with three young children and a job.”

Prof’s Answer:

“Thanks for raising the link between poor sleep and how we feel. It’s really a two-way street isn’t it that its hard to sleep when we are a bit down, but also persistent poor sleep gets us down. The research clearly shows that having a long standing sleep problem makes it 3 or 4 times more likely that we can get depressed, so it is important that we can address sleep as a way of improving our mental wellbeing.  The other good news is that CBT for Insomnia has been found to be effective, even if you are already depressed.  You can do a bit of “your own CBT” by following the advice that we’ve published in the Guardian supplement on Saturday. Of course you should speak to your GP if you need further help, and ask for a referral to a sleep service.”

Question:

“Would you have any suggestions for a person like myself who doesn’t have any trouble falling asleep at the start of the night, but wakes up and cannot go back to sleep?”

Prof’s Answer:

“Let me say a word about the problem of waking up. Well actually you know, it is not so much the waking up, it is more the difficulty immediately dropping back over. A normal night’s sleep does involve what we call “micro” or mini arousals. What happens in Insomnia is that these arousals become expanded into proper wakenings, then we notice we are awake, can begin to feel anxious about that, and so it is hard to drop back over. So try not to think of your problem as waking up, instead it is more about allowing yourself to turn over and go back to sleep. I say allowing because that is really what your body and your brain really wants to do. Try to trust your sleep, rather than to force it. There are also some good tips in the Guardian supplement which I have put there to try and help you with this problem. Hope they help!”

Question:

“For the last few years I have had nightmares all night, which wake me up all the time but more importantly leave me feeling low and anxious on waking, as they can be quite disturbing nightmares. Is there anything I can do to stop the nightmares, so I don’t feel so exhausted during the day?

Prof’s Answer:

“One of the techniques that has been shown to be effective, it’s a CBT technique, is to rehearse alternative endings for nightmares. Normally you would need professional help to know how to do this, but maybe it is good to know that something can be done! If you have a major problem with nightmares, and if you have had PTSD, then you should certainly speak to your doctor and ask for a referral. On the Great British Sleep Survey, we found that these different types of Parasomnias are really quite common, so you are not alone either.”

We hope you found the Prof’s live chat helpful.  Again, you can read all the questions and answers here on the Guardian website.

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