Rest & Sleep

People are sleeping less often, less well and for less time. Doctors and neuroscientists warn us that this is unhealthy and yet the problem seems to get worse. For many the difficulty isn’t just sleep – that is just a symptom of a deeper issue. A problem with resting.

We are losing our ability to relax and come to rest.

Whilst we busy ourselves in our individual and collective attempts to override the natural circadian rhythms, ‘solutions’ come from all sides and include the use of sleeping pills and other ways of regulating the heart rate, blood pressure, energy or anxiety levels. However, these medications are designed to act on the symptom, rather than the underlying cause. That approach can be very useful in a crisis, offering an interruption in a disturbing ‘vicious circle’, but will not offer the long term, enduring solution we seek.

The circadian rhythms of the larger system in which we are held are universal and invisible. They create the pattern of night and day, of sleep and wake, of life and of death.

In the past few years ‘sleep clinics’ have emerged in many countries around the world. In these you can improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ and bedtime habits. You are supported to develop strategies and set goals to aid better habits, rest and sleep. All of this can be useful, especially as problems with relaxing and sleep almost always have multiple sources and so will have multiple overlapping solutions.

Pushing in the opposite direction is the plethora of online content, social media platforms and 24 hour news cycles that keep us engaged, aroused and alarmed in equal measure.

The omnipresent 24-hour news cycle feeds chronic anxiety and hyper-vigilance in individuals and society.

To complicate the picture further there are countless pieces of research and books emerging on a daily basis about the neurobiological issues connected with rest and sleep. Some say it is a myth that everyone needs eight hours and point to cultures and times when people woke up and worked for several hours in the night, returning for a second sleep. Others hint we may get serious neurological and physical dis-ease if we don’t get regular sleep of at least eight hours. Yet others tell us that if we sleep too much it can be a sign of serious health issues and others tell us what we already feel – that worrying about all this, our ability to relax and sleep, makes the problem even worse.

The multiple sources of help and information can inadvertently make us feel worse, more confused, more alert and caught in an apparently never-ending cycle where anxiety increases and catastrophic thinking builds.

Tired but Wired

Of course it’s true that, since the industrial revolution, we endure far greater levels of stimulus, many involving light and noise, from busy office buildings and gyms, from multiple overlapping conversations and communications with others through ‘always on’ mobile devices and ‘streaming’ televisions. These simply didn’t exist in our parents’ or grandparents’ generation. When the sun went down they rested; but we get up and go out – and in several other ways try and override the natural rhythms of day and night. This overriding of the rhythms of nature alone leaves many people ‘tired but wired’ and with a feeling that we, along with our devices, are ‘always on.’

Staying connected, always on, feeds the deepest needs we all share as human beings – the needs to belong and to be seen. Social media in particular feeds, but never truly satisfies, both these psychobiological hungers.

So, what if you have tried all the sensible strategies like avoiding alcohol, caffeine, medicines with anxiety producing side-effects, emails and screen-light, working and exercise? What if you’ve tried mindfulness, sleeping pills, ear plugs, eating Tryptophan rich snacks, keeping your bedroom at 18 C and drinking warm milk or Camomile tea?

The combination of the pressures of contemporary society and the multiple ‘solutions’ offered may in fact be distracting us from the sometimes more powerful underlying dynamics held in the system.

Like to read on?

To read the rest of this article you need to be logged into the community here.

Join and gain access to all the articles in just a couple of minutes.

Already a member?

Enter the password for this article.

Share This

Share This Article

Please share this article using the links below. Or simply copy / paste the url in your browser and share via social media or email as you prefer. Those you share it with will be able to read the first third and will then be invited to join the online community if they’d like to read this and other articles in full. Thank you for sharing.