Sleep Fact Sheet

Introduction to Sleep

Poor sleep can be very frustrating and disruptive, often presenting with difficulty falling asleep or waking up during the night. This can often result in you feeling tired and unrested the following day. A study by Ohayon (2002) revealed that 8% to 18% of the population has dissatisfaction with sleep quality and quantity.

Most people will experience sleep problems during their lives, with episodes of insomnia thought to affect 1/3 of the UK population (NHS-Choices).

Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling or staying asleep, early awakening, or a sensation of unrefreshing sleep (Merk, 2014). It is not a disease and can have many different causes ranging from short term emotional stressors such as worry with work or changing of jobs or environment; physical disorders such as pain conditions like arthritis, cancers, discs etc, to mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

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How is our sleep regulated?

The control of sleep and wakefulness is not entirely understood, however scientists have identified many areas of the brain involved in regulating the sleep process.

Circadian_rhythm_labeledOne process, which is perhaps more commonly known, is how light affects our sleeping pattern.

During the day, light stimulates special receptors (photosensitive cells) within our eyes. This enables sensory information to be carried to special bundles of cells in the hypothalamus (called the suprachiasmatic nuclei).

On receiving this information inhibitory signals reduce the release of melatonin from the pituitory gland in the centre of our brain. Melatonin has the affect of causing drowsiness.

Consequently, as daylight diminishes towards the end of the day, there is an increase in melatonin contributing to sleepiness.

How to Manage sleep

Management of insomnia according to NICE guidelines (2015) may include:

Identify the causes of insomnia if possible.
Advise no driving if you’re feeling sleepy.
Provide advice on good sleep hygiene.
Hypnotic drugs may be prescribed short term depending on individual cases with further review.
Referral to psychological services or for cognitive therapy.

What can we do to help?

Below are a list of services we offer that may be able to help you with supported evidence.




    Melatonin release is inhibited by artificial light, which means it’s really important to avoid too much light at the end of the day. Research has shown that the blue light from our tablet and phone screens suppresses melatonin (1), so putting our devices away at least an hour or two before bed is essential. Prof Foster, a circadian neuroscientist, believes that even brushing our teeth in the dark can be really helpful (2).


    Yoga Nidra is an extremely restorative yoga practice, during which you are guided into a state of deep relaxation both physically and mentally, via visualisation, meditation and breathing techniques. Studies have shown that Yoga Nidra changes the brain waves to promote slow wave patterns which promote relaxation (3), and regular practice of this technique can make a profound difference to our ability to relax and achieve restful sleep.


    The amino acid tryptophan provides the building blocks to serotonin, which in turn is used to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. Eating protein-rich foods rich in tryptophan during the evening before bed time is a useful way to boost your chances of a good sleep – turkey, chicken, eggs, soya-bean products are all good examples as well as nuts and seeds. The other key nutrient is magnesium, also known as the ‘relaxation mineral’. Fundamental to hundreds of reactions throughout the body, it helps to reduce muscle tension, promotes cardiovascular function and has been shown to improve the quality and quantity of sleep, reducing stress hormones and promoting melatonin release (4). Try including magnesium rich foods in your evening meal such as nuts, whole grains and green leafy veg.


    Many herbal remedies have been used historically to improve sleep and help the mind to relax. Try strong infusions through the evening of ‘nervine’ herbs such as chamomile and passionflower (5,6).


    Acupuncture has a long tradition of treating stress, anxiety and poor sleep. There has been some encouraging research suggesting the acupuncture can improve the release of melatonin at night, and a 5 week course of treatment may be enough to break poor sleep patterns (7).


(1)  Chang, A et al (2014) Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness.

(2) Knapton, S (2015) Brush your teeth in the dark to help sleep, says Oxford University neuroscientist.

(3) Nilsson R (2013). Pictures of the brain’s activity during Yoga Nidra.

(4) Abassi et al (2012) The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 17(12):1161-9

(5) Sick SM et al (2011) Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a,standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized,placebo-controlled pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med.

(6) Ngan A, Conduit R (2011) A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects,of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep,quality. Phytother Res.

(7) Spence et al (2004) Acupuncture increases nocturnal melatonin secretion and reduces insomnia and anxiety: a preliminary report. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci.