Neil Gaiman’s genre-defining graphic opus The Sandman tells the tale of the eponymous lord of dreams. After breaking free from decades of imprisonment he metes out on his captor the worst punishment he can think of – eternal waking. His victim is cursed to forever wake from a nightmare, only to find he is still asleep, locked inside endless onion-layers of dream, never sure what is real and what isn’t.
Anyone who has suffered from insomnia will understand just how awful this would be – the interminable hours of tossing and turning, the snatches of fitful half-sleep. It happened to me last night: hours spent neither fully awake nor asleep. I woke feeling sluggish, blocked up, slightly nauseous and completely unprepared to face the world at large.
I wasn’t the only one – a disproportionate number of people in my office, and in offices across the country, are presently suffering from the same thing, many of whom, like me, don’t usually have trouble sleeping.
There are several theories as to why sleep could be particularly disrupted for some people at this time of year. The daylight saving time change is a common one, with the shift in the clock, coupled with the naturally brighter mornings and evenings disrupting your body’s internal timekeeping mechanism. Likewise, ambient noise tends to get louder earlier, which can cause you to stir before you’ve had a full night’s sleep. Increased pollen count can also affect sleep, with hayfever sufferers often feeling worse during tree-pollen season.
All of these factors add up to what is already a major problem in the UK. A third of workers are dissatisfied with their length and quality of sleep, according to a recent study by health solutions firm Vielife. Of these almost 10 per cent are “very unhappy”. In a separate study, the Sleep Council claims only one in 10 of us aways gets a good night’s sleep. All of which means there are a lot of people at work today who feel a bit like they’re living inside a giant iron lung.
In fact, sitting here, bleary-eyed, writing about insomnia, I wouldn’t be unduly surprised to find I’d peeled away one of The Sandman’s onion layers, only to discover I’m actually still asleep. See below for some tips on how to get a good night’s kip.
HOW TO HELP PREVENT INSOMNIA
■ Never work or watch TV in your bed – this will stop you associating it with being a place to rest.
■ It sounds like a no-brainer, but lay off the caffeine before bedtime. That double espresso after your meal may seem like a good idea at the time but it’s bad news for a good night’s sleep.
■ Exercise helps – tire yourself out during the day but avoid strenuous work just before you go to bed.
■ Make sure your mattress and pillows are right for you. If you sleep on your side you will need a fairly firm pillow. Most people also benefit from a stiff mattress, which can prevent back pain – a major cause of insomnia.
■ Try to keep regular hours. It may not be very rock ‘n’ roll but humans tend to be creatures of habit – if you sleep at the same time every night you have a better chance of drifting off – and staying asleep.
■ Lay off the booze. Alcohol may send you off to sleep a treat but dehydration will soon overpower its affect as a hypnotic and leave you feeling worse.
■ Looking at a bright screen before bed can keep you awake as long as a cup of coffee. Avoid late night emails.