When drifting off is a struggle, it may seem like one of life's greatest frustrations. It needn't. In most cases, choices made during the day can have a big impact on whether going to sleep is a pleasure or a nightmare.
At least one in five people have difficulty in getting to sleep at night. A small number of them visit their family doctors for help. Many thousands more suffer in silence.
Sleeplessness is not only one of the commonest – and most worrying – of all medical problems, it is also one of the problems about which there are the greatest number of myths.
For example, many people seem convinced that they must get at least eight hours sleep every night.
That's simply not true. There is no firm rule about how much sleep we all need. Some people only feel comfortable when they have had 10 hours sleep. Others, like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, manage perfectly well on four hours' sleep a night.
It's also important to remember that we all need less sleep as we get older.
A second myth is that if you have a sleepless night, then you'll have to sleep twice as along the following night to make up for it – and avoid damaging your health.
The fact is that if you get just two hours sleep before going off to work then the worst that will happen is that you'll feel tired! And you should be able to recover completely by having an extra couple of hours' sleep the following night.
Many of the unfortunate millions who suffer from insomnia could solve their problem completely if only they knew a little more about the common causes of sleeplessness – so, here are some of the reasons why people can't sleep, together with the solutions.
If you go to bed thinking about the day's problems and worrying about the things you have to sort out tomorrow then you're bound to have difficulty in sleeping.
Writing down your problems will help take them off your mind. So, make a full list of your worries. Then put the list on one side and spend an hour relaxing in front of the TV before you go to bed.
Prescribed pills often keep people awake. Drugs used for heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma commonly cause sleeplessness. Ask your doctor if he can change your prescription. Remember, too, that 50 per cent of people who can't sleep are kept awake because they drink tea or coffee last thing at night. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. Tobacco is another possible cause of sleeplessness and, although a single nightcap might help you sleep, too much alcohol will definitely cause insomnia.
If you are kept awake by pain, then ask your doctor for help. If he can't help you then ask for a second option.
Cramps keep many people awake. You can keep cramp at bay by using this simple exercise. Stand barefoot one yard away from a wall. Lean forward until your hands touch the wall, but keep your heels on the floor. Hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat it once. Do the exercise three times a day for a week and then every night before you go to bed.
When depression and sleeplessness go together, it is the depression that needs a doctor's treatment.
If you are kept awake by hunger, then have a bite. Don't have anything too hot, rich or spicy. A hot milk drink will probably be best. Remember, too, that if you are slimming you may have difficulty in sleeping. A low blood sugar will keep you awake. A very low-calorie late-night snack might help.
If you are kept awake by noise, try soundproofing your bedroom with bookshelves and double glazing. Or try wearing ear plugs. They take a little getting used to, but work very well and are recommended for shift workers who have to try and sleep during the day.
Finally, it's worth remembering that you won't be able to get to sleep if you're not tired.
If you've dealt with all these problems and you still have difficulty in getting to sleep at night, then follow this special bedtime regime:
- Relax your body thoroughly before getting into bed. Take a good brisk walk for 10 to 15 minutes. Think through your day's problems and write down all your worries in a notebook. Keep it by your side and every time a new problem pops into your head, write it down.
- Have a soothing, warm bath for 15 minutes.
- Go to bed with a relaxing book or magazine. Try to keep something relaxing for bedtime reading. And have a spare book ready.
- When you turn off the light, close your eyes and try to transport yourself to somewhere beautiful, relaxing and warm. Imagine, for example, that you're lying alone on a peaceful, sunny beach. Try to hear the waves on the shore and the sound of seagulls high overhead.
- This simple regime will probably send you to sleep within minutes. But if you can't get to sleep, don't lie there fretting. Get up, sit in a comfortable chair and read your book again. Make yourself a hot, milky drink. Then go back to bed when you start yawning.
by Andy G