AN epidemic of sleeplessness triggered by overuse of technology is leaving us all dog tired.
The American entrepreneur E Joseph Cossman once declared that the ‘best bridge between hope and despair was a good night’s sleep’.
And a man who made his millions from marketing the spud gun knew how shot we all feel after a restless night.
He would not have bargained for an addiction to email and smartphones, which has left many of us glued to their small screens at all hours.
Afraid of missing out we check Twitter statuses and Facebook postings long into the evening.
No wonder then that many of us are left chewing the carpet after another night of stressed disrupted sleep.
Now the Sleep Council – an independent advisory body that raises the awareness of the importance of a good night’s sleep – wants to encourage people to switch off their gadgets before they hit the sack through next month, which it is billing as Sleeptember.
It might seem to be an optimistic campaign and one that could be largely ignored by those that even get to hear of it.
But Dr Marc Johnson, a sleep practitioner, who works as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, says at his Shotton-based practice he often sees how people’s hi-tech lives are playing havoc with their body’s natural circadian rhythms – the biological processes which respond to natural light and darkness and help regulate our resting periods.
Light emission from devices like phones and laptops has been shown to suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, leaving us ‘wired and agitated’.
“It is not just overuse of social media, but the technology that we use to check it with,” says Dr Johnson.
“Blue screen technology is not helping us prepare for sleeping and makes our bodies think its daylight.
“Our bodies work on circadian rhythms and all animals have them where it is based around the sun rising and setting.
“But that is disrupted by the phones and laptops if we use them late at night.”
According to the University of Hertfordshire almost six in 10 in Britain are sleep deprived – an increase of 50 per cent since 2013 – with gadget use near to bedtime a major contributing factor.
Lisa Artis of The Sleep Council says too many people use the hours before bed to catch up on emails and social media.
One in four people don’t silence their mobiles before bed and one in 10 say they are woken up at least a few times a week by phone calls, texts or emails.
Half of those questioned say if they wake in the night for no reason, they’ll check their phone right away.
She said “We’re encouraging people to switch off their gadgets at least an hour before bed to help them get a better night’s sleep.
“Excessive screen time in the run up to bed time stimulates the brain making it harder to switch off.
“Bedrooms are a place for rest, but unfortunately many of us consider our bedrooms as extensions of our living rooms and studies, and so introduce digital distractions into the mix.
“Banning TVs, computers, phones and tablets from the room will help people fall asleep more quickly and be less disturbed throughout the night.”
Dr Johnson runs a regular Sleep Clinic at the North Wales and Chester Clinical Wellness Centre where he works.
He says clients presenting other problems at the centre, such as anxiety and depression, often are suffering from sleep disorders.
“Anyone can have problems with sleeping and it doesn’t matter what they come to see me for they often don’t get enough sleep and they’re not refreshed enough.
“We can offer them hypnosis as well as other therapies like reflexology to help.
“Hypnotherapy is recommended by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care excellence) as it promotes rapid changes in behaviour.
“At our sleep clinic we restructure people’s outlook on sleep – and we have a high success rate of 90 per cent.”
While getting a good night’s sleep is the ideal goal, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania claim power napping during the day has benefits for stressed-out workers and is linked to improved thinking and memory skills.
Many big global firms, such as Google and Nike, now include napping areas and chill-out zones at their offices.
Huffington Post pioneer Arianna Huffington is an advocate of workplace naps.
It may take time catching on in the UK, but sleep author Dr Nerina Ramlakhan said: “For most of us it’s incredibly hard to step off the treadmill.
“We are constantly being bombarded by information and power napping is the most effective way of just briefly going offline and allowing ourselves to rebalance.
“Studies show that even a five-minute nap can increase mental focus and cognitive performance, as long as they are taken at some point between 2pm and 4pm and no later, otherwise they can affect your ability to sleep at night.”
But James Hewitt, a scientists who advises F1 teams and business executives on performance, says napping during the day could mask the problem of sleep deprivation caused by using gadgets late at night.
“Maybe we feel like we are struggling to pay attention because we are sleep-deprived due to using bright, electronic screens too close to bedtime,” he says.
“I think our sensation of struggling to concentrate is compounded by our distracted habits at work and at home – we are constantly switching tasks and dividing our attention in multiple directions.”
l Sleeptember is The Sleep Council’s month-long awareness campaign to highlight the healthy benefits of a good night’s sleep.
It has launched a free downloadable 30-day plan atwww.sleepcouncil.org.uk/30-day-plan