Life and stuff: Chairman Sleep vs Insomnia Woman

chairman-sleep-vs-insomnia-womanI have a long history of insomnia. Seriously. I have suffered from it ever since I was seven (coincidentally, the year my parents separated). Yes, Parents, it is Your Fault.

The slightest whisper of anxiety will keep me awake counting incomplete tasks, petty grievances and, when truly desperate, the amount of people I have slept with (just kidding, Parents).

When my friend Tess told me that Travelodge had employed Dr David Hillman, the Chairman of the Sleep Health Foundation, I thought, ‘Yeah, whatever … he’s probably a Valerian-peddling quack’.

Subsequently, she challenged me to a duel; his giant intellect versus my skepticism. Here’s what happened:

Insomnia Woman (IW): What happens in our brain when we fall asleep?

Chairman Sleep (CS): The brain is quite active during sleep.  Apart from the processes of rest and restoration, the day’s experiences are being sorted out and memories are being consolidated.  The brain is also monitoring vital functions and, from time to time, arouses very briefly (often just a few seconds) presumably as a surveillance mechanism in case there something happening in the immediate environment that needs to be detected. Without adequate sleep, normal brain function is not possible.

IW: Why is this pattern disrupted when we travel? What factors influence this?

CS: The sleep/wake cycle is a strong natural body rhythm governed by an internal body clock.  The main time giver to this clock is light and dark.  As we change time zones this internal clock has to readjust to the new hours of light and dark.  This takes several days and it is sensible to deliberately conform to these new hours as soon as possible; by sleeping at night and remaining active during the day. Other factors contribute to reinforcing this rhythm including meal hours and exercise routines. Adjust these activities to local clock time as soon as possible if you’re intending to stay in the new time zone for more than a day or two.  Jet lag is not a problem if you’re staying in the same time zone (travelling north or south).

IW: What can we do to prepare for sleep when we are travelling?

CS: Anticipate clock time at the destination and get into this zone as soon as practicable.  Melatonin taken at night before bed in the new time zone can be a useful aid to adjusting.  If only away from home for a day or two, stay (as much as is practical) on home time.

IW: What are the big no no’s? What should you avoid if you want to get a decent night’s sleep?

CS: Avoid excessive daytime napping. Unwind before bed; avoid vigorous physical or mental activity (including computer and electronics use) in the hour before bed. Ensure the bedroom is quiet, dark and comfortable. Do not drink caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, cola drinks) in the evening.

IW: What causes jetlag from a biochemical perspective?

CS: The sleep wake rhythm is determined by a complex series of hormonal fluctuations (melatonin being one) over the 24 hours.  While light and dark are powerful modifiers (‘time givers’) to this, totally blind people also have an innate sleep wake cycle that cycles over an approximate 25 hour interval.

IW: How does the quality of bedding/beds/pillows affect your sleep?

CS: A comfortable sleeping environment is a basic requirement for most of us. Quiet, dark and secure with comfortable bedding and the right temperature.

IW: What is in dream tea? How does that work?

It is a pleasant herbal tea containing Chamomile, Lavender flowers and Hawthorn berries.  It is a good alternative to caffeinated teas and coffee which interferes with sleep.

So what is the upshot of all this so-called ‘scientific evidence’? Well, if you stay in a Travelodge, they will glamour you with all sorts of sleep-inducing trickery and you will wake up feeling rested and, I daresay, a little bit super-human.

Wanna give it a go?  Travelodge Wynyard is on sale for $144 per room, per night including breakfast. Offer valid from 24th June until 31st August, 2011. Subject to availability. To book, call + 61 2 9274 1222 or email

2 comments on “Life and stuff: Chairman Sleep vs Insomnia Woman

  1. Thanks for the insights sleepless-in-Sydney (or elsewhere when you travel, Em)…I’ve been using Jet Ease to prevent jet lag for a couple of years – it’s a homeopathic pill you pop every two hours while you’re flying, and it really works (for me). Developed by a New Zealand homeopath. I think it’s called No Jet Lag in some countries.

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