Australians and Insomnia Interview

Australians and Insomnia Interview

What do you know about Circadian Rhythms?

Not sure if you personally suffer sleeplessness, but there's certainly a lot of us in Australia that do. Studies show one in three of us struggle with sleep, which can have ramifications for our ability to function effectively the next day, and the potential for long-term effects on the quality of our lives and our relationships.

Lack of sleep can have significant impact on your personal life, as well as your work life. According to Prof Cohen, a better understanding of sleep cycles and how to rebalance them could help reduce sleeplessness. A herbal medicine Valerian containing Ze 91019, has been shown in studies to positively affect both cycles.

Interview with Prof Marc Cohen

Question: What is classified as sleeplessness?

Prof Marc Cohen: People experiencing sleeplessness – difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep [1] – can be robbed of restorative sleep. This can result in daytime tiredness, poor attention, irritability, and feelings of lethargy [2]. As most people who suffer sleeplessness will tell you, getting a good night's sleep is at the top of their list, but like most difficult tasks, it's not an overnight fix.

Question: What lifestyle factors are associated with sleeplessness?

Prof Marc Cohen: Caffeine overuse, work stress, busy social and family lives, a tendency to overdose on late-night TV and blue-lit screens … let's face it, against that backdrop the chances of most Australians getting a good night's sleep are pretty slim.

Question: How does sleeplessness affect our lives, in the short term?

Prof Marc Cohen: Adequate, good quality sleep is an important pillar of overall health, with links between sleeplessness and taking more sick days, and reduced motivation to eat well or exercise.

Question: What are Circadian Rhythms?

Prof Marc Cohen: Understanding how your internal body clock – or circadian rhythm – works, is a good place to start when looking for ways to beat sleepless nights.

We all have an internal master clock"a cluster of 20,000 neurons in our brain just above the point where the two optic nerves from the eyes meet [3]. This master clock controls our circadian rhythms, responding to light and regulating when we sleep and wake [3].

Question: Why is it important that we understand Circadian Rhythms?

Prof Marc Cohen: Circadian rhythms vary from person to person, meaning that those who claim to be night owls and like to sleep in, aren't necessarily lazy, but may be subject to different circadian rhythms than those who rise early [4].

Listening to your body and working in sync with your circadian rhythm can make for a more productive day and also help optimise quality sleep [5]. If your workday allows for some flexibility, it's worth altering your day accordingly. Failing that, there are still some changes you can make to help improve sleep quality.

Question: What are the long-term effects of sleeplessness?

Prof Marc Cohen: Sleeplessness can have ramifications for our ability to function effectively the next day, and can impact the quality of our lives and our relationships.

Question: What is stressed related insomnia?

Prof Marc Cohen: Feeling tired but wired is the new norm for many people in our 24/7 world of hyper-stimulation. We are addicted to activity and productivity, and even when the body wants to rest, the mind is often a whirlwind of thoughts and worries that won't allow it.

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, around 1 in 3 people experience sleeplessness – when a person regularly finds it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep [6]. Not all sleeplessness is due to stress, but people who experience stress often experience sleepless nights [7].

One survey reported that 25% of Australian adults experience stress in any given 12-month period, and this rises to 54% for sleep-deprived sufferers [8].

Question: What tips do you have for overcoming stressed related insomnia?

Prof Marc Cohen: 1. Ditch the phone or at very least use blue light filter software- The blue light emitted by screens on digital devices can suppress the production of melatonin [9] – the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle – and may keep your brain alert by keeping your mind engaged [9].
2. Move more - Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins"chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers"and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress [10]
3. Keep a nightly to-do list - Taking five minutes to write a to-do list before going to bed (as opposed to writing a list of things you have accomplished) can help decrease the worry cycle, according to recent research [11]
4. Try some herbal relief - ReDormin Forte is a well-tolerated, natural medicine that has been clinically researched for over 10 years. It contains a specific combination of herbal extracts, called Ze 91019, which has been shown in clinical studies to help restore healthy sleep patterns within two weeks [12] helping you to wake less often and spend longer in the deeper, restorative sleep stages

Question: Can you talk us through the sleep cycles?

Prof Marc Cohen: On a good night, we cycle four or five times through different stages of sleep [6A]. There are five stages of sleep: 1, 2, 3 and 4 – collectively called non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep – and then the fifth stage, called REM sleep [13].

Usually a complete sleep cycle that moves from stage 1 to REM takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes.

Each sleep stage generally causes distinct changes in the body.

1. Stage 1 – this is light sleep where you can be easily awakened. Eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows.
2. Stage 2 – eye movement stops and brain waves become slower. The body begins to prepare for deep sleep. Body temperature drops and the heart rate slows.
3. Stage 3 – this is deep sleep. At this stage, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves are interspersed with smaller, faster waves. It is during this stage that a person may experience sleepwalking.
4. Stage 4 – deep sleep continues as the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. People roused from this state can feel disoriented for a few minutes.
5. REM Sleep – this is the stage when dreams occur. During this time brain waves mimic activity in the waking state. The eyes remain closed but move rapidly from side-to-side, perhaps related to the intense dream and brain activity that is occurring.

Question: How can we learn to rebalance sleep cycles?

Prof Marc Cohen: 1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule – Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body's internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time every night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover.
2. Limit your tech use before bed – Computers, phones and televisions all emit blue light, which promotes wakefulness, even more so than natural light. Try to put devices down at least one hour before bedtime and use software or 'night mode' that minimizes blue light emissions at nighttime.
3. Reach for the right sleep aid – If your health professional has ruled out any underlying medical conditions for sleeplessness, a herbal supplement could help. ReDormin Forte is an evidence-based natural medicine that helps reset the sleep cycle. It contains a specific combination of herbal extracts, referred to as Ze 91019, which has been clinically shown to help re-establish healthy sleep patterns within two weeks so you can wake less often and spend more time in the deeper, restorative stages of the sleep cycle.
4. Pay attention to lighting – Light plays a key role in controlling your circadian rhythm. In the morning, with exposure to light, our body's internal master clock sends a signal to raise body temperature and produce hormones like cortisol to help wake you up. Try to get plenty of natural light within two hours of waking and keep yourself exposed to bright lights or sunlight throughout the day. At night, try to sleep in the dark and decrease the amount of bright light you expose yourself to so your body can naturally release the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep. If you need a night light choose one that emits red or orange light and therefore does not suppress melatonin.
5. Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime – Doing work, discussing difficult issues and exercising can cause a rise in the hormone cortisol, which can keep you awake [15].

Interview by Brooke Hunter
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash
[12] Fussel, A. et al. (2000) Eur Journal Med Res, 5:385-390.