Monday 26 September 2016

Why insomnia hits middle-age and what we can do to prevent it

Published 13/08/2015 | 02:30

Breathing technique can help sleep
Breathing technique can help sleep

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, director of the University of Surrey's sleep research centre, says reaching middle age creates a perfect storm of conditions for poor sleep; as work and family commitments peak in tandem, sleep becomes the first area of the 24-hour day that people look to cut back on.

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Longer commutes, longer working hours and the constant pressure to be electronically accessible at all times, day or night, combine to undermine our natural sleep patterns even further.

But it's not just that we make less time for sleep as we get older; we also become less efficient sleepers - the ageing process means our bodies fall into deep sleep less naturally, and we're more easily roused by internal or external stimuli, which is why the middle-aged may experience insomnia for the first time in their life.

Instead of averaging 25pc deep sleep - otherwise known as slow-wave sleep - as you do when you are in your teens and 20s, this starts to drop to just 10-15pc from your 30s.

Research is still ongoing into the biological mechanisms behind this, but we know that deep sleep is associated with the release of human growth hormone and memory consolidation and is essential for waking up and feeling rested.

Getting enough of it is crucial, so those in mid-life should be aiming for between seven and eights hours sleep a night for optimum health.

Though it's stating the obvious, the first step to getting more sleep is to make more time for it and to go to bed earlier.

How to get more sleep?

Don't take your iPhone to bed. Choose a time to stop looking at emails and stick to it; switch off gadgets, leave your phone charging downstairs and invest in an old-school alarm clock to wake you up.

Try holistic health doctor Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 technique: breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold it for seven and exhale for eight seconds.

Repeat three times.

Try to stay awake. Research from the University of Glasgow found that reverse psychology helped some insomniacs fall asleep.

- India Sturgis

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