Sleep Disorder

"I never felt ready to go to bed until about 11:30. My body didn't feel like it wanted to go to sleep."

We all know sleep is important, but just how many people actually get enough?

Most of us have been guilty of burning the midnight oil but for a growing number of people, no matter what time they get to bed, they simply can't fall asleep until the wee hours.

"If the person tries to fall asleep at the usual time, they have several hours in which they lay in bed and they are unable to sleep."

And when they finally do, getting up again is sheer agony, "I would absolutely need coffee to start the day. But before even getting out of bed I would push the snooze button 3 or 4 times"

"This looks like insomnia, but it is actually caused by a delay in the body's internal biological clock." The condition is known as Delayed Sleep Phase. Professor Shantha Rajaratnam and his team at Monash University Cooperative Research Centre are finalising a trial in conjunction with Flinders University, and others, which includes testing whether melatonin tablets might help treat the disorder. "We know that our sleep wake cycle is strongly influenced by our choices and our lifestyle. But this is a different situation. Here we have a situation, which the biological clock is actually set to a later time. So even if people wanted to go to sleep much earlier, their biological clock doesn't allow them to go to sleep at that time."

Having tried all sorts of remedies and herbal medication Alison Hunt, 40, was one of those selected to partake in the four-week at-home sleep study. "I really struggled to get up every morning. And I remember being in the shower on a couple of occasions thinking I can't wait to get back into bed. And then I would get home and think well tonight you're going to do it differently. Tonight you're actually going to get into bed and go to sleep."

Twenty-five year old Danielle Ryan has a similar story. Since she was a teenager, she has struggled to get to bed before midnight and then battles with fatigue throughout the day. "Of course that leads to having that caffeine or those habits that help you stay awake through the later parts of the afternoon are probably keeping you awake later in the evening when you'd like to probably be going to bed for a good night's sleep. So it was a bit of a vicious cycle I guess."

Dani and Alison were instructed to go to bed at a set time and at night avoid using any technology with back-lit screens, including their mobile phones. "Artificial light in the evening hours can still have a powerful effect on this biological clock."

Alison says "My new bedtime according to their schedule was 9:30. I've never been to bed at 9:30 my entire life."

From the TV to your ipad. Unless you switch these devices off at night, you may be finding it harder to, well switch off."

Shantha says "We know that the light and dark cycle plays a major role in setting the timing of our biological clock."

So how do you tell the difference between bad habits and a sleep problem?

If you find yourself reaching for a coffee to stay awake during the day, chances are you may suffer from a sleep disorder. But while it may seem like a quick fix that cup of coffee may be one of the causes of the problem.

Professor Shantha says "we know that people who have delayed sleep phase disorder are at increased risk of certain mood disorders such as depression."

While the participants don't know whether they were taking an active melatonin tablet or a placebo during the trial, both Dani and Alison say there was a huge difference in the quality of their sleep by the end of the four weeks.

Alison says "I feel like I'm more rested before I fall asleep. I'm getting a better night sleep and I'm getting up without having to push the snooze button."

Dani says "Breaking some of those habits were really beneficial and just going back to that routine (butt) 10:07: Telling your body it's time to go to bed and go to sleep."

So what are some of the things you can do to try to get your body clock on track? Set a reasonable bed time, restrict screen time at night, turn off the lights and avoid caffeine in the afternoon

- Early bed time

- Limit technology

- Avoid artificial light

- Caffeine consumption

The outcome of the trial will be released later this year, but for Dani and Alison, the results speak for themselves.

Dani says "Definitely the lifestyle changes. The coffee, the technology, trying to say to myself at a certain time I will try and go to sleep."