“My career in sleep medicine began almost 20 years ago at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin. After qualifying as a clinical psychologist, I began working in the hospital’s Department of Neurophysiology, which is attached to the Sleep Disorders Laboratory.
There I worked with a great consultant named Dr. Catherine Crowe together. She is now retired, but she was the first dedicated sleep consultant in the country and she was the one who started me falling in love with sleep medicine.
The Sleep Disorders Laboratory treats a whole range of sleep disorders, from narcolepsy to sleep apnea. People go to a nightly study where their sleep is analyzed using various diagnostic systems.
It’s very multidisciplinary. They look at their heart rate, oxygen levels, and movement. They also look at their brain activity. Electrodes are attached to their scalps, allowing the team to determine the stages of sleep they go through.
I loved working there and I was very fortunate to be exposed to all of these sleep disorders while doing all of my professional sleep medicine exams. At the same time, I realized that expert treatment for insomnia was needed. After training in CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) I founded Ireland’s first dedicated insomnia clinic in 2013.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of people suffering from insomnia has risen sharply. Personally, I’ve seen a 44 percent increase in insomnia patients in our clinic, and this is consistent with many international studies. The pandemic is coming to an end, but insomnia is still a big problem. I’ve never been busier.
There are many factors involved in increasing insomnia, but ultimately, for many people, the pandemic has disrupted the circadian rhythm, which is the entire basis of the sleep-wake cycle and the entire basis of human physiology and health.
People experienced anxiety, fear, stress and loneliness, which was accompanied by significant behavioral changes due to changing work and school schedules. It all happened very quickly and the body does not like changes.
Suddenly our working hours became much more flexible and people no longer had to get up with the alarm clock to go to the office. But as I’ve learned myself, sleep suffers a little if you’re too flexible. And if you wait until 9 p.m. when all the kids are in bed to get that work done, it will affect your sleep, too.
If you have the flexibility to work from home, you must try to replicate office life. Make sure you have a strict start and end time and make sure you take your proper breaks. Also, try not to have the office in your bedroom. The bedrooms are for sleeping, so you have a separate room to work.
There’s a whole cohort of people whose sleep has been terribly affected by the pandemic, but actually there’s a whole other cohort of teenagers who have been able to fall into their natural body clock for the first time ever. Teenagers have a slightly delayed rhythm, so when they suddenly stopped waking up early for school, they actually started sleeping better, and in the right amounts.
The circadian rhythm depends on external factors, and the body relies on us having the right behaviors to maintain a stable internal clock. That’s why shift workers often have terrible sleep problems.
But these days we all strive for that perfect night’s sleep and that comes with its own problems. Even the best sleepers occasionally have a bad night’s sleep. This is perfectly normal, but when stress and anxiety set in, the problem usually persists.
People with insomnia tend to be very ritualistic leading up to bedtime. Then, if they go to bed at 10 p.m. and don’t fall asleep within five minutes, it only creates worry and stress, which leads to insomnia.
Over the years I’ve found that good sleepers don’t really think about their sleep, much less analyze it. Bad sleepers, however, know everything about their sleep—they overanalyze it.
That’s partly why I’m not a fan of wearable technology that monitors sleep. Giving someone who already constantly analyzes their sleep another way to analyze it only adds to the overall insomnia disorder. And the technology isn’t even accurate!
Keep in mind that the only way we can monitor a person’s sleep is by looking at brain activity, but many of these devices monitor exercise levels — basically how much you move throughout the night.
So if you’re lying there and very relaxed but still awake, the device will probably think you’re asleep. Likewise, if your partner tosses and turns all night, it will likely take you to toss and turn as well.
I’m not against technology, but the technology just isn’t there yet to accurately monitor our sleep. I’m not saying there won’t be anything in the future, but right now these devices aren’t accurate.
What we call “social jet lag” can also lead to disrupted sleep patterns. It’s just like jet lag, only without the nice vacation in between. Social jet lag occurs when a person extends their natural circadian rhythm by a few hours, usually on weekends, to try to catch up on lost sleep.
For example, let’s say you wake up at 7 a.m. every morning, Monday through Friday. Then, on the weekend, you sleep in and don’t get up until midday. You’ve now advanced your internal clock five hours, which is exactly the time difference between here and New York. And normally it takes the body one day for each time zone crossed to recover. So if you don’t get up by noon on Sunday, it will take you five or six days to recover from that lie-in.
Too strict a routine can also affect sleep. Some people go to bed at very strict times and have actually lost the ability to feel sleepy. You have to build up sleep pressure in order for your body to need sleep. Drowsiness is actually crucial.
Sleep is very trendy right now and there is a lot of misinformation about it. Take, for example, the notion that we sleep better before midnight than after midnight. It’s actually an old wives’ tale, probably based on the theory that we get most of our deep sleep in the first third of the night. It just doesn’t make sense considering what we call chronotypes. Let’s say you’re a night owl – you just won’t be able to fall asleep until midnight.
how much sleep do we need I don’t like putting a number on it because everyone is different. The guide values are between six and ten years, but age also matters, as our need for sleep decreases over the course of life. It’s not about numbers as such. It’s about getting the good night’s sleep you get on a regular basis and feeling relatively refreshed within half an hour of waking up.
Despite this, so many people still strive for the “perfect” eight hours a night. And if you’re someone who actually only needs six hours a night, that means you’re trying to accomplish something that’s biologically impossible. And this, in turn, will cause anxiety and worry and lead to a sleep disorder.
What we do know, however, is that if you have the luxury of being able to fall into your genetic makeup or chronotype, you will always function to the best of your ability. So if you’re a night owl and you start work a little later, then that fits your natural circadian rhythm.
If you have insomnia and it is affecting your work, you should talk to your employer about it. Organizations are beginning to realize the importance of well-rested employees, and you may be surprised at how many are receptive to more flexible working hours.”
As Katie Byrne was told
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/from-the-benefits-of-a-lie-in-to-the-hazards-of-tracking-your-sleep-sleep-myths-busted-by-the-sleep-expert-41632314.html From the benefits of sleeping late to the dangers of sleep tracking, sleep myths debunked – from the sleep expert