Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Early waking

About one in five of us, for that is the proportion of people who wake during the night or early in the morning — often at 4am or thereabouts

Traditionally, early-morning waking has been linked with depression, but sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital believes that more and more of us — as many as 20% — are suffering from waking and worrying in the night, not because we are depressed, but because modern life is increasingly tense.

More than 80% of people who have anxiety or depression have insomnia, but insomnia is not necessarily a sign of depression, she says.

We’re working around the clock, waking up to never-ending to-do lists, childcare hassles and interest-rate fluctuations.

People are on the alert for disruption and stress at all times.

Even, it seems, when we should be getting some shut-eye.

Some research puts the number of people suffering from sleep problems even higher: a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), in America, found that almost two-thirds of women report one to three disturbed nights’ sleep each week.

Interestingly, this also appears to be more of a female problem: women are almost 20% more likely to suffer from insomnia than men, according to the NSF — perhaps because of all the stressful demands of work and family that make the modern woman’s life so fraught.

When this started happening to me about a year ago, I assumed I was in a minority, until I began to talk to my girlfriends.

Nearly all of them were getting the 4am blues, too.

But why?

Research suggests our sleep patterns are determined by our genes; about 10% of us are morning larks and 10% night owls, with the rest of us somewhere in between.

You have as much chance of changing this as you would changing your eye colour.

Those of us who get the 4am blues probably went to sleep around midnight, and, struck by feelings of pre-dawn anxiety, we know that if we don’t get back to sleep, we’ll start the day feeling shattered.
In fact, we wake naturally many times during the night, as each sleep cycle of about two hours ends.

Plus, our body clocks aren’t programmed to make us feel sleepy and alert only twice in each sleep cycle. Animals — and human babies — often naturally sleep and wake many times in a day; and in hot countries, it’s normal to sleep for five hours at night and three in the afternoon as a siesta.

At night, the body normally shifts from deep sleep to the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of light pre-waking sleep from 3am onwards.

REM sleep prompts the body to wake up, so it is normal to have up to 60% of REM sleep in the second half of the night.

If we are already wound up, we become more sensitive to this internal wake-up signal — as we are to other signals such as rising body temperature

Once we’re in the pre-waking phase, signals in the environment can also easily disturb sleep — a partner snoring, the cat jumping on the bed, needing the loo, early summer dawn breaking or being too hot (for instance, during menstruation, a woman’s body temperature rises and she is more likely to wake).

Whatever the reason for waking, once we are awake, says Stanley, we’ve probably met most of our sleep needs, so the body doesn’t see any reason to let us go back to sleep.

As we age, our need for sleep also decreases, but that shouldn’t really affect women until their late forties.
However, he says, you tend to have more responsibilities in your thirties and therefore naturally have more worries — you’ve probably got a mortgage and are wondering how you’re going to be able to the pay bills.
As to why we often think negative thoughts when we wake in the early hours, that is entirely psychological.

It could be because we’re cut off from familiar stimuli. It’s dark and quiet; you’re trying not to move so you don’t wake your partner, and you have no way to communicate.

You haven’t got what you know — what’s familiar makes you feel relaxed, says Blair. That, coupled with just having been dreaming, makes things feel unreal, and that is a very disturbing feeling.

You can’t make normal decisions because you’re not in your normal framework, so it does feel like you can’t get tasks done.

The mentally nauseous feeling, similar to that of jet lag, is also caused by the same disorientating lack of familiar cues.

Stanley explains that the 4am blues are simply an evolutionary hangover, an instinctive fear of aloneness and of being cut off from our usual surroundings.

You’re not meant to be awake at night, he says, and we all have a residual primeval fear of the dark — it’s a time of being alone and vulnerable.
People say, I just want to be able to turn my brain off’,’ he adds, but apart from stopping the things that wake you up — like kicking your snoring partner out of bed — the cure is to be less stressed.
We all need to wind down in general.

If only it were that easy.

Sunday Times

Wind down, stress, pressure, turn my brain off, responsibilities, wound up, depression, increasingly tense, insomnia, life so fraught

So many different ways to say fear

Fear that impinges upon us all until we identify what they are

Then we need to get them out and look at them, and let them go
If we do not let them go then they simply stay with us and at some point cause more problems


Dr.josheph said...

If you are suffering from sleep problems such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, you need to consider this problem seriously and adopt specific measures at the earliest to get back your sleep. Regular exercising is one of the options to ensure sound sleep at night. Altogether, if you are unable to get adequate sleep during night, you can undertake certain initiatives to overcome your sleep problems such as fixing your sleeping as well as waking schedule and abstaining from alcohol, nicotine, tea, coffee et al before hitting the bed.

Antony said...

Yes I read that too and indeed what he says is fine, however it is addressing the symptoms ie the inability to sleep, which is not the true cause of the problem

To locate the cause which is usually to be found in a stress or fear is what will bring true relief and improve the ability to sleep normally

John said...

Great Blog I am sure will be helpful for many and solving problem of snoring for others. Keep up a good work for Sleep Apnea Cures.