Everyone needs sleep.

History shows that the now common eight-hour long sleep was not always part of our sleeping pattern, and that we have adapted our sleep in accordance with our social patterns and needs. In 2001, historian Roger Erkich showed in his seminal paper that, for a long time, human beings lived perfectly well through a sleeping pattern that was divided in two chunks. The first sleep usually took place about two hours after dusk. A period of activity lasting two hours or so would follow, and the second sleep would then take place. The activities undertaken during this two-hour or so gap depended on a wide range of factors such as occupation, age, century or even country; but people were usually quite active. For example, in the 15th century, this time was devoted to prayers and a wide number of books offered designated prayers for that specific time. In France in the 16th century, doctors recommended that the period be used for marital intercourse to help with conceiving as the time was believed to be more beneficial than after a full day’s work. Other common and well-reported activities included chatting to the neighbour, reading, staying in bed or even smoking tobacco. This pattern gradually began fading from the 17th century and it is believed that urbanisation and modernisation (e.g. domestic lighting, working hours) triggered our now common sleeping habit.

How much do we need to sleep and why?

No matter how we sleep, sleep duration remains essential to our well-being and research widely agrees with this. The amount of sleep we need varies with age, lifestyle and health. For example and according to sleepfoundation.org, whilst a new born baby needs on average a recommended 14 to 17 hours a day, an adult needs between 7 to 9 hours whilst older adults (65 and plus) can easily go by with 7 to 8 hours. Of course, these are statistics and needs may vary. The importance here is: do you feel you had enough sleep? Can you function normally during the day with the amount of sleep you’ve had? If your answer is no, then probably not. Not having enough sleep brings a whole lot of issues. Gravity depends on how much sleep is lacking, but the seriousness can range from anything to bad mood, irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration (leading to potentially dangerous mistakes), to fatal car accidents. As an example, 4% of fatal crashes in Britain are caused by tiredness: one major factor being lack of sleep or disturbed sleep. 

We are human beings. We need to sleep. It is part of our natural balance and, when the balance is not right, our body tells us and so does our mind. Mind and body or body and mind? Both are so closely related that it always feels a bit like the chicken and egg question to me. But judging from the Randy Gardner’s experiment, it definitely seems that when it comes to sleep (or lack of), both are intrinsic.

What extreme lack of sleep does (or the Randy Gardner’s experiment)

The Randy Gardner’s experiment was done in 1965 on a 16 year old boy. The experiment consisted of having him awake without sleep nor stimulants for a period of 11 days and 24 minutes. And whilst he managed to go through it (longest record for a human!), the experiment shows how very damaging lack of sleep is from a physiological and psychological perspective. As a few examples:
- After 2 days of no sleep: his eyes struggled to stay focused and he had some signs of ataxia (inability to repeat simple tongue twisters).

- After 3 days of no sleep: he was moody and his body was uncoordinated.

- 5 days: he had hallucinations, showed psychotic symptoms.

- Later on: concentration problems, short-term memories, increased paranoia and irritability followed. Thankfully, this young man did not suffer from any long-term physical or mental issues as a result of it, but this does not mean no one would!


The different phases of sleep REM or Rapid Eye Movement is the first of the two phases of sleep. It represents about 25% of our sleep and lasts gradually longer as the sleep cycles go on throughout the night. It is associated with vivid dreams and linked to ‘psychological processing’. NREM, or Non-Rapid Eye Movement is the second phase of sleep. It represents 75% of our sleep and has three cycles, each lasting respectively 5%, 45% and 25%. The NREM phase is associated with non-aggressive and mundane dreams and with physiological processing such as digestion and cell repair. So, what is the purpose of sleep?

Sleep is inherent to our well-being and its purpose is seen by research as essential and vital. That much is sure. However, whilst everybody enjoys a good sleep, no one knows for sure what its purpose is, and many theories have been developed. Sleep is rooted in the brain and as such, the matter remains… a grey area. 

From the inactivity theory (where keeping still and quiet saves us from predators at night), to the physical restoration (where physical processes are restored), or the neuro-plasticity one (i.e. the formation of new neural pathways once new experiences have been experienced)… Many theories, yet many questions remain.

However, one thing is sure. If you are suffering from insomnia, it is more than likely that you will be suffering from one if not more physical or psychological disorders at some point. 

How to tackle insomnia

Lack of sleep brought by insomnia and/or sleep deprivation is not to be taken lightly. Of course, we all experience a bad night. One of these nights where we cannot fall asleep, or wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep. But this does not mean we suffer from insomnia. 

In May 2003, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) defined insomnia as ‘a combination of both dissatisfaction with sleep and a significant negative impact on daytime functioning’ and mentions that, to be considered a disorder, the issue should be experienced at least 3 nights a week for at least 3 months. Either way, it is important to not let your sleep problem spiral away, and there are things you can do to help yourself.

1. Consider your environment

Check your bedroom and make sure that you are satisfied with it. Is your bedroom too cold or too warm? Is your bed comfortable enough or does your mattress need replacing? Do you have too much light or is the room to dark for your liking? Have you got a noisy clock that stops you from falling asleep? Is your partner keeping you awake (in which case, you might need to come up with a compromise or agreement)?You have direct control other these matters so reconsidering your environment might be a good start.

2. Change your lifestyle/behaviours

Coffee, tea, tobacco are all stimulants and will not help you. Cut them down if you take them and certainly avoid having any of them before going to bed.

· Avoid drinking alcohol. Whilst a glass of wine might help you to fall asleep, it will most certainly wake you up at night; if only to go to the bathroom.

· Avoid heavy meals and try to eat early in the evening.

· Avoid any strenuous work or exercise before going to bed. Whilst yoga can be a fantastic relaxation tool, others sports such as jogging or heavy weight lifting will not help. Keep them for the day.· Avoid watching your phone, T.V or computer when in bed. The light they emit is associated with daylight by the brain.

· Do not nap during the day: this might disrupt your night even more.

· Keep a healthy and well-regulated sleeping routine.

3. Change your cognitions

· Leave your worries for the day. If you have a particular concern, write it down and deal with during the next day: there is nothing you can do at night.

· Try not to worry or panic about not being able to sleep as this will only keep you awake. Instead, accept your thoughts as just thoughts and distract yourself, read a book, use relaxation or breathing methods. And if you have not already done so, talk to your G.P. who will check if there is any underlying health issue. 

And, of course, you can try hypnotherapy.

Hypnosis has been used successfully on insomnia on many occasions (Bauer & McCanne, 1980; Borkovec & Fowles, 1973; Dement & Vaughan, 2000; Hadley, 1996; Hammond, 1990; Hauri, 1993, 2000; Kryger, 2004; Spiegel & Spiegel, 1990; Stanton, 1990, 1999; Weaver & Becker, 1996). Hypnotherapy does not treat any possible underlying health condition you may have but it can help you deal with insomnia. It is a safe and effective method and does not create dependence. Various techniques might be employed in hypnotherapy. 

I personally use a mix of relaxation and cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy techniques. It is important to remember that from insomnia can escalate many other problems so do not sleep on it: get professional help! 

I am Sandrine Burch from Renaissance Hypnotherapy. For more details about me, please visit me on my website: www.renaissance-hypno.co.uk


The myth of the eight-hour sleep By Stephanie Hegarty BBC World Service: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783: Brake.org.uk:  http://www.brake.org.uk/news/15-facts-a-resources/facts/485-driver-tiredness 

Science Alert: The effect of sleep deprivation (https://www.sciencealert.com/watch-here-s-what-happened-when-a-teenager-stayed-awake-for-11-days-straight

Sleepio Clinic: What is insomnia? Dr Simon KyleGina M. Graci & John C. Hardie (2007) Evidenced-Based Hypnotherapy for the Management of Sleep Disorders, Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55:3, 288–302 

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