This past fortnight has been the Festival of Learning at Bournemouth University. Running from 3rd to 14th June, the University, in collaboration with various business and charities, has put together a programme of over 100 short courses, all of which are free.

The courses range from afternoon sessions of a few hours to all day events, and in some cases even over a few days. They cover a wide area of interests, with topics including culture, health and well-being, technology, environmental change, and entrepreneurship, and are all the speakers are leaders in their fields.

Of course, being free and with time on my hands, I signed up to a few and went along to see what they were like.

The first one I went to was called ‘Oh, for a good night’s sleep!’, and was a five hour seminar on, you guessed it, sleep.

We were welcomed by Dr Andrew Mayers, a lecturer at the University who specializes in how sleep affects children, and how this related to mental health issues. Firstly we went around the room, and people explained why they were there. Mostly the group was made up of the public who had sleep issues, but there were some health professionals there as well. He then gave a short talk about sleep, how much is needed and highlighting some of the things that can lead to sleep problems, such as insomnia, hypersomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea and circadian rhythm disorders. He also went on to tell us some of the implications to our health from poor sleep.

After him was Dr Chris Alford, a professor from Bristol University and one of the leading experts on sleep. He gave another short talk on the effects of sleep loss and fatigue, highlighting that sometimes lack of sleep can be just as, if not more, dangerous to activities like driving, than being over the legal alcohol limit.

We then broke for lunch, and when we returned we were given a rather longer talk by Dr Phillippa Lawson, a dedicated sleep physician working for The Good Sleep Programme, who went over some ways that insomnia can be tackled without the use of drugs.

Finally we had two short talks by James Wilson, from We Love Sleep, and Paul Whittey, from Penrose Products, both experts in providing products that can help people sleep better.

I found all the talks very enjoyable and interesting, and I think I’ve learnt a lot about how I can better manage mine, and my husband’s, sleep hygiene better. It was especially interesting going around the room and hearing about the different types of problems people in the group had.

The main things I’ve taken away from this seminar is that if you are having a problem, you should always see your GP, and not to suffer in silence. Dr Lawson said many people put up with sleep problems due to not feeling like it’s a big enough deal to bother their doctor with, but if your day-to-day activities are suffering due to lack of sleep then you should have it checked out.

Some of the other things that were mentioned that I found thought provoking, where:

  • Don’t be anxious about not sleeping, it’ll only make it worse! If you are anxious try a breathing meditation to help you relax, even if you can’t sleep right away.
  • Often items in the bedroom is a cause of stress, even if you aren’t aware of it. An example given was a pile of laundry that needs sorting.
  • Incorporate rest times into your day. Often we do not allow ourselves to stop and stare out of a window, for example. We always reach for some kind stimulus during down times, and this means we’re always on the go, and our brains are always active. Another suggestion to combat this was to get ready for bed 30mins to an hour before your sleep time, so you’re not running around brushing teeth etc. right before bed.
  • Keeping a regular schedule. Try to keep to the same waking and sleeping times, even at the weekend.
  • Have the biggest bed you can. This is one that I am acutely aware of – the person you sleep with is often the thing that disturbs your sleep most. Things like having a bigger bed, separate duvets, and ear plugs are just a few things you can do to help both of you sleep better.

Of course there was plenty of other suggestions I picked up, but those where the ones that have stuck with me the most.

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