From sporadic sleepwalking to months of unending insomnia, my own teenage years were disrupted with countless restless nights, and I know from experience how long the dark hours can seem when they’re not spent sleeping soundly. Not to mention the drudgery of the morning after the night before. A good 10 years on, however, and I’m one of the lucky ones, because whenever 9.30pm comes around, it’s harder to keep me awake than it is to go to sleep. But tonight, unlike me, one in three Australians will struggle to get enough sleep.
“Poor sleep causes problems for thousands of people and some even resort to sedative medication, drugs or alcohol to help them sleep better,” says Dr Gordon Cameron from the Royal College of General Practitioners in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Indeed, even if you’re drifting off easily, the average Australian aged between 25 and 65 will get well below the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, and a startling 35 per cent of adults will wake up frequently during the night, leading to exhaustion and general fatigue during the day.
But understanding what causes sleep may be the first step to getting more of it.
Sitting across the table from me is Glen Farebrother, someone so passionate about the benefits of sleeping well that he set up Sleep Solutions, before buying the rights to distribute the NightWave Sleep Assistant in Australia – something that, as I’ll find out, 50,000 people are using to facilitate their shut-eye around the world.
“We all observe our bodies, but sometimes don’t quite know why things work the way they do,” Farebrother tells me as an introduction to the science of sleep. “Essentially, your body has something called a circadian rhythm, which is your natural internal body clock that controls your wake and sleep cycle. It’s regulated by your pineal gland, and most people work on a 24-hour clock, give or take half an hour,” he explains. Bakers and garbage-truck drivers, who wake up much earlier than most of us, tend to have more extreme body rhythms, as they have shorter cycles.
“As it gets dark at night, that’s a trigger for your brain to start raising melatonin, and this hormone is what actually helps regulate your sleep,” Farebrother continues. “Three to four hours after darkness, your melatonin levels will peak, and most people will start to get tired around 10-10.30pm.”
Left unhindered, and your sleep will continue through its four stages, with the all-important third and fourth parts of deep sleep allowing your body to recover and rebuild itself on a cellular level. However, high levels of cortisol – a stress hormone built up in the body over time – can interrupt this scenario, as it counteracts the effects of melatonin. The result? Difficulty sleeping and the increased likelihood of waking up during the night.
Designed for people experiencing sleep loss due to anxiety and stress, the NightWave Sleep Assistant is based on the concept that by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, better sleep will result. The small, non-invasive device encourages relaxation and sleep by helping the user to naturally slow down their breathing in time with its softly pulsating blue light. This helps them to breathe deeply into their stomach rather than taking shallow breaths, invoking the body’s natural relaxation response.
“NightWave is a proven tool for helping people with sleep onset difficulties,” explains Dr Brenda Marshall, a women’s health specialist from San Diego, USA. “As an added benefit, patients who master the techniques used by NightWave may also reduce the effects of stress on their general health.”
Do you have trouble sleeping? Have you noticed you may be breathing from your chest and not deep down? Use the comments box below to share your sleeping experiences.