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There's a reason why you can't switch your brain off at night

February 6, 2020

Do you ever wake at night and find yourself worrying about life and trying to problem-solve issues, unable to get back to sleep?

New research into insomnia has found a reason why, and sufferers have come up with solutions they say can help fix it.

Well over half of Australians experience regular symptoms of insomnia and as many as one in seven have a chronic case, according to a new study by not-for-profit group Sleep Health Foundation.

The study — Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia — surveyed more than 2,000 people and found 59 per cent experienced at least one symptom three or more times a week.

These included struggling to fall asleep, struggling to stay asleep, or waking up too early.

Researchers are sounding the alarm that this can lead to issues beyond a lack of concentration and grumpiness, and can increase the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

"We say they're the three pillars of health — sleep, exercise and diet — and that's really important," Sleep Health Foundation chair Dorothy Bruck said.

 "And if you don't get all three, then your health short-term and long-term is going to suffer."

Among the other key findings of the study were older people were more likely to have difficulty maintaining sleep, while younger adults have trouble initially falling sleep.

And half of people said their daily routine didn't provide adequate opportunity to sleep all or most of the time.

Why we problem solve at night

Not being able to switch your brain off at night is a widespread issue, according the study.

Notably, women were more likely than men to report being overwhelmed by thoughts when trying to sleep (35 per cent versus 25 per cent).

Professor Bruck says we now know why this happens.

"One of the really interesting new findings is that during the night, your frontal lobe — which is your rational part and tells you to think about things clearly — disconnects from your emotional part of your brain," she said.

 "So a lot of people wake up in the night and worry and problem-solve and they catastrophise about the electricity bill or whatever, where in the calm light of day it all looks different.

"So one tip is to think, 'Well, now is not the time to problem-solve, to worry about things, because my frontal brain is not engaged and I can't problem-solve at this time of the night'."

Simply choosing to "switch off" may be easier said than done.
Professor Bruck said most people needed between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, but many people didn't get this because their lives were so full.

The Federal Government deemed the issue so critical it launched an inquiry into sleep health awareness, which handed down its final report in April with 11 recommendations.

Top of the list was that the Government make sleep health a national priority.

It also recommended a review of related services funded under the Medicare Benefits Schedule, and an education campaign to teach Australians about sleep health.

 


Article from ABC News Breakfast

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