Trouble Sleeping? The Solution Could Lie in Our Ancestors' Lifestyle and Taking Rests Like a Caveman

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We live our
lives at a frenetic pace these days, with technology leading us
all the way – there’s rarely a moment without email, Twitter, text
or a phone call to nudge us onto the next task.

All this rush
can be exciting, if at times stressful, but far more insidious is
the effect it has on your sleep.

For, according
to a new book, our inability to unwind during the day is a major
cause of insomnia. That’s because the brain is denied the short,
regular periods of rest it needs – leading to an over-active mind
that refuses to switch off at night.

As the author
of Tired
But Wired: How To Overcome Your Sleep Problems
, Dr Nerina
Ramlakhan, explains: ‘We live in a high pressure, fast-moving world
driven by the wonders of technology.

‘But the struggle
to keep up can find us reaching for caffeine and energy drinks –
anything that will help us to fuel the manic need to do more in
less time.

‘We rarely
allow ourselves to go "offline". At night we crawl into
bed desperate to rest and find we just can’t relax because the information
overload in our brains has created a "buzz" it can’t switch
off.’

Dr Ramlakhan,
a sleep therapist and former insomniac, has described this phenomenon
as ‘tired but wired’.

The problem
is universal, she says – as a clinician she treats everyone from
City executives to over-stretched mothers, teachers and school children.

And the best
way to tackle this form of insomnia is not with the usual advice
– warm drink, hot bath, darkened room, and possibly sleeping
pills.

Dr Ramlakhan
recommends taking a break every 90 minutes to daydream, walk about,
or, more controversially, nap.

This goes against
conventional wisdom because most experts believe if you have a sleep
problem you should resist the urge to nap, to ensure you’re tired
enough to sleep properly at night.

Dr Ramlakhan
devised this approach after suffering from ‘brain overload’ for
many years. ‘I was a rather hyperactive child and a real bookworm,’
she says.

‘I’d get so
caught up in what I was doing or reading I often found I couldn’t
switch off my brain at night.’

At university
(where she studied physiology and psychology) her problem intensified:
‘Because life was so full-on during the day and the sensory stimulation
was intensified by noise, alcohol and caffeine, I would go for days
with hardly any sleep at all. This pattern continued for the next
15 years.’

But now she
sleeps ‘brilliantly’ and can even sleep on trains, planes and in
cars – ‘something I once found impossible’.

‘The key has
been building a little rest – and brain downtime – into my day.’

WHY WE NEED
DAYTIME BREAKS

Our ancient
ancestors are to blame, says Dr Ramlakhan. They were programmed
to rest at regular intervals throughout the day rather than sleep
for eight hours every night.

‘Passing out
for hours at a time may not have been conducive to our safety and
survival, so throughout the day we rested in short phases, whenever
we could, to build our energy for hunting and gathering and to maintain
our wellbeing. Rest became a substitute for sleep.’

These days
it is widely accepted that human sleep patterns are governed by
the ‘circadian rhythm’ – the 24-hour cycle of being awake and active
and then, when it becomes dark, resting and sleepy.

Read
the rest of the article

May
22, 2010

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