SLEEP, in the UK, is a problem. It’s something we moan about. We’re not getting enough. We wake up in the night, worrying about family issues, money, whether we should delete that drunken Facebook post from last night, or what to do about the North Korea problem. This concern over sleep deprivation is a peculiarly British and North American problem. A report last year found that 38 per cent of us said that we felt we were not getting enough sleep – compare with 11 per cent of Chinese and 7 per cent of Indians who report this feeling.

Even for those who don’t feel they are really suffering from severe deprivation, sleep is now an issue. It’s one of those boxes we now need to tick in order to feel we are living a healthy life: 10,000 steps a day, eight hours' sleep. We also now live in a time when, through technology – Fitbits and other trackers – we can monitor both the quality and quantity of our sleep. We are increasingly sleep-aware.

Those who struggle to sleep can now turn to a growing range of aids, from apps through to podcasts and albums to help us. Among these is Sleep Better, a new album DJ Tom Middleton, designed, using scientific research, to send listeners to sleep, due to be launched on World Sleep Day, this Friday.

You name it, we’ve tried it. As David Baddiel, a long-term insomniac, put it in a tweet last week. “Thanks for all advice re insomnia. Just FYI: last night I took 5HTP, melatonin, cannabis oil, breathed in and out through my f**ing nose for hours and w**ked twice. And still didn’t sleep.”

Last year sleep scientist Professor Matthew Walker of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley published Why We Sleep, a book in which he claimed the industrialised world was experiencing a sleep deprivation epidemic. The hours we work, the 24-hour nature of our world, the electric-lighting that continually glows across our cities, and the impact of digital technology are all conspiring to disrupt our sleep. This, he said, was having “a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity and the education of our children”.

However, not everyone is convinced that insomnia itself is on the rise. As Dr Renata Riha of Edinburgh University’s Sleep Research Unit, author of Sleep: Your Questions Answered, points out, lack of sleep is often over-reported. Chances are, she says, that we are getting more sleep than past generations. “If you think,” she says, “about people during previous centuries, many of them would have slept in insecure housing, all on top of each other, worked 12-18 hours a day prior to the labour laws, and had poor pain relief.”

Nevertheless, she says, around 30 per cent of the European population, at any one time, is suffering from some form of insomnia, or difficulty with sleeping. “Sleep is inextricably bound up with many socio-cultural phenomena and is a way for us to express satisfaction with life too. The reporting of poor sleep may be reflecting stress, restlessness due to stress and anxiety, snoring pets, environmental disruption, snoring partners, duties of early parenthood, chronic pain, illness, shift work and circadian rhythm disruption."

Complaints about sleep, she says, are “often a reflection of personal dissatisfaction with other aspects of one's life or difficulty admitting issues of depression, stress, anxiety, chronic pain, shift work issues.” Blue light exposure from screens, she adds, may be affecting our sleep timing too.

Sleep problems have also been linked more recently with the use of digital devices during at night. Particularly worrying is a seeming rise in sleep issues among young people. In England, last year, it was reported that three times as many children under 14 were being admitted into hospital with sleeping disorders as did 10 years previously. Fuelled by concerns over children’s sleep, support group Sleep Scotland last autumn launched a Sleep Support Line for Edinburgh and the Lothians to provide advice for parents and guardians of children and young people with sleep problems.

Scientists have also found a link between insomnia and other mental health issues in young people. One study by Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, published last September, revealed that when young people who suffered from insomnia were treated using cognitive-behavioural therapy, frequently mental health problems such as anxiety and depression were reduced. “Sleep problems are very common,” said Daniel freeman, the lead scientist on the study, “in people with mental health disorders, but for too long insomnia has been trivialised as merely a symptom, rather than a cause, of psychological difficulties.”

However, many sleep experts are in accord with Riha’s belief that insomnia might not be rising dramatically in adults. Rather, some say, what we do have is an epidemic of worry about sleep. Last year American neurologist Dr Chris Winter published The Sleep Solution, in which he outlines how many people have “paradoxical insomnia”. In other words their biggest problem is that they think they are getting less sleep than they are. Many of us, he relates, in fact underestimate the amount of sleep we get. So, chill, don’t worry. You're probably kipping just enough already.

How to sleep better

1. Routine is key. And, in fact, many experts, like Renata Riha, believe that more important than the time you go to bed, is the keeping of “a regular rising time”. Aim to get up around the same time every day and avoid long day-time naps.

2. Experiment with sleep duration. Most of us need between seven and nine hours' sleep per night. However, scientists like Matthew Walker say that if you want to figure out how much sleep you actually need, you should spend about a week letting yourself fall asleep when you are tired and then waking up naturally, without an alarm.

3 Cut the caffeine. “Keep caffeinated drinks to a minimum,” advises Renata Riha. “If you’re a slow metaboliser of caffeine you should have no caffeine after 3pm.”

4. No screens in bed. In fact, Dr Riha counsels that you should keep your bedroom “an electronic device free zone”. “Do not,” she says, “use electronic devices, computers or smart phones, for up to one hour before sleep.” One of the factors that is believed to have an impact on sleep is the blue light emitted by such screens.

5. Ditch 24 hour services. Sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley believes that one of our problems in the UK is the 24-hour culture we have. “We have overnight television, supermarkets like Tesco are open all night and 10-15 years ago our government passed a law saying pubs could open for 24 hours a day. This is in stark contrast to Paris, which has been closing down music clubs in residential areas; Switzerland, where it’s hard to get a meal past 10pm and it’s forbidden to flush the toilet between midnight and 6am in some neighborhoods; and places like Germany and Austria, where shops close early.”

6. Exercise daily. Physical exercise, advises Renata Riha, results in the release of chemicals and hormones that produce sleep of a better quality. But timing is key. Exercise in the late afternoon can improve sleep, but a work-out within three or four hours of your bedtime, raises adrenalin levels and heart rates, and can interfere with sleep.

7. Go outdoors. "Try and be in natural daylight,” advises Riha, “for at least 30 minutes per day.”

8. Develop a sense of purpose. According to one recent study by researchers at Northwestern University School Of Medince, the secret to a good night sleep later in life is having sense of meaning and a reason to get up each day.

9. Keep a sleep diary. Renata Riha advises that you keep this daily record, which can "help you get an accurate picture of your sleep if you have concerns about it". Each day, she suggests, you should note, for instance, when you have had alcohol or caffeine, and when you have done exercise or not.

10. Believe in yourself. Dr Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution, believes this makes a huge difference. “People decide,” he observes, “whether they are good sleepers or bad sleepers and everything is framed by that. I have decided that I am a good sleeper, so if I have a bad night I view it as no big deal. Good sleepers have this inner belief that they are going to be fine whatever happens that night. This is the mentality everyone needs to find.”

11. Bedtime snack. "Don’t go to bed hungry," says Riha.“A small protein-rich snack or a warm glass of milk are ideal.”

12. Follow the 20-minute rule. Don’t stay lying in bed, tossing and turning, studying the cracks in the ceiling, for longer than 20 minutes. According to Professor Matthew Walker, if you’re finding it difficult to sleep, you should get out of bed and do something else. “Get up and go to another room and in dim light, just read a book. No screens, no email checking, no food.” Then, when you feel sleepy, you should return to bed.

13. Protect your bedroom. It's for sleeping. Keep it solely for that. Rhia advises that it should be “clutter free, dark and at the right temperature”. Many of us keep our bedrooms too warm.

14. Ditch the pre-snooze booze. It might seem like a night-cap helps you nod off into a deep slumber, but in fact it’s a sedative and it knocks your brain out rather than your body. Your sleep therefore is lighter and more fragmented.

Snooze Tools


“Sleep at the press of a button” is what the Pzizz app promises. Of course, the reality is more complex than that, and uses, as the makers put it, “psychoacoustic principles” to lull you to sleep. Think calming noises, “dreamscapes” and sleepy chat. JK Rowling, famously, is a fan.

Sleep Better

Not an app, but an album created by DJ Tom Middleton, inspired by scientific research. The track is designed to help the brain switch off and use techniques to reduce heart and respiratory rate and lower blood pressure.

Sleep Number 360

A mattress that learns. This aid, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, uses AI to monitor how you sleep and adjusts the mattress accordingly.

White Noise Machines

Block out the annoying clamour of the city, or the clattering of your neighbours, with the soothing fuzz of white noise. Experts say white noise has been proven to help us sleep.

Books and newspapers

If you're really struggling, you can always try getting out a copy of War And Peace or some Proust. The old sleep aids are always the best ones.