Celebrating sleep with the launch of our new Sleep Clinic

Sleep Clinic launch

It seems that not a week goes by without some form of ‘Named Day’ celebration taking place. Two weeks ago, we of course noted International Women’s Day on the 8th March. Last Friday, on the 15th, we celebrated World Sleep Day, which followed naturally enough from National Dream Day on Monday 11th and coincided with True Confessions Day. So perhaps now is a good time for a true confession. It was not expert planning which led the launch of my new sleep clinic at Wessex Private GP to follow World Sleep Day so closely; however, it is a nice coincidence.

Sleep is important. We can see this if we consider its cost. Sleep renders us largely unconscious, a state in which we spend about a third of our lives. If it wasn’t critically important, why would we make this sacrifice? Think of all the things we could achieve with another 30 years, think how much easier it would have been for our ancestors to escape that hungry lion if they could be alert more of the time. But, more importantly, on an individual level, we know the importance of sleep when we consider the cost of a bad night. For more and more people, a bad night’s sleep is becoming a maddeningly frequent reality.

In 2022, YouGov carried out a survey of over 2,500 adults in the UK; they found that 89% of people felt their lives would be improved by having more sleep, with 49% thinking that they do not get enough sleep each night, and 12% having difficulty falling asleep every single night.

But when does bad sleep become a ‘medical’ problem? And when should we treat it? Well, perhaps we should start by asking what ‘medicine’ is for? In my simple opinion, medicine is there to increase our time on this planet, whilst also making that time better (more productive, more enjoyable, more meaningful, however you want to define it). In these terms, ‘bad sleep’ might become a medical problem as soon as it starts impacting your life, as soon as it starts making it worse. Nevertheless, stricter definitions can be useful when we start thinking about treatment, so this is how a doctor would define ‘medically’ bad sleep, also known as chronic insomnia.

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking early, occurring three or more nights a week, ongoing for at least three months, and affecting you during the day, which is not caused by a lack of opportunity to sleep.

If we use this strict definition, then it’s estimated that up to 10% of adults in Western countries suffer. On one level, these numbers are horrifying. However, for someone suffering from insomnia, perhaps they are a little comforting. Not being able to sleep can make you feel powerless, can rob you of control over a basic, physiological need, a need that other people seem to be able to meet easily. But the numbers above challenge this. You are not alone. You are not alone, and more importantly, you are not powerless.

Recently, there has been an explosion of information in the mainstream media about sleep and how to improve it, and a lot of it is actually very good quality. Popular medic, Dr Michael Mosely, was so interested in the topic he wrote a book, produced a podcast, and presented a Horizon Documentary (featuring some of my colleagues from the University of Oxford).

There is clearly a growing recognition of the burden of poor sleep. What needs to happen now, is for the NHS to catch up. The gold-standard treatment for chronic insomnia is a form of talking therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (aka CBTi). It is recommended internationally, including in the UK, and yet access to it on the NHS is patchy at best.

This is where I come in. I am a GP with a special interest in sleep and insomnia. I am trained in assessing sleep disorders and delivering CBTi. I have a passion for it, and if you need it, I hope to be able to share that passion with you, and improve your sleep. If you are interested, please take a look at our Sleep Clinic page and book your first appointment.

All the best and sleep well,

Dr Jonathan Tham

Dr Jonathan Tham