Tuesday, 3 November 2009


How difficult can it be to lie down in a lovely, snuggly warm bed (if you're lucky, with someone you quite like next to you) in the dark and fall asleep, and stay that way for eight hours. Sounds like bliss doesn't it, and so it should be, and we wake up feeling totally refreshed and ready to take on the world.

Why is it then that so many of us cannot do this? Or we go to sleep quite readily only to wake up a couple of hours later and toss and turn for most of the rest of the night.

This is me at the moment. I've now joined the x million people in this country who have INSOMNIA. Aaaaaaaaaagh, it's horrid. I hate it; it makes me feel sluggish, lethargic, foggy, irritable, impatient and increases cravings for foods that are not healthy just to get me through the day.

INSOMNIA is big business; approx 16 million presciptions are written in the UK each year for sleeping pills. And no doubt several million other products are bought over the counter with a view to obtaining that blissful nights sleep.

I know whats causing my INSOMNIA; it's stress, which again is big business. We live in a busy, stressful, 24/7 world and seem to have lost our ability to relax, in the main. We have computers,texting, I phones, Blackberrys,TVs with hundreds of channels,late night shopping etc. etc. all of which encourage us to keep going and going despite being exhausted. We end up with a situation where our brains are tired but wired; unable to switch off.

I have a client who frequently wakes in the early hours, gets up and does a few hours work to 'catch up' and then sleeps again. Another clients husband wakes in the night and tosses and turns due to stresses at work. My father also suffers from insomnia, as does his wife, and he has been known to watch ships crossing the Atlantic on the Internet to pass some time!

Our body's need sleep; fact. It is productive; it is necessary for our survival. It gives our minds and body's a chance to recharge. It enhances performance, learning and memory and inproves creative ability to generate those 'aha' moments.

We should aim to be in bed by 10.30pm, and between then and 2am our physical repair takes place followed by mental repair between 2-6am. If we miss out on sleep at these times, we cannot get the repair cycles back even if we slept all day long. This is the way we are hard wired. These are part of our circadian rythmns - mess with these and our body's are in trouble.

Our circadian rhythmn is the internal clock that guides our daily cycle from sleep to wakefulness and back to sleep again. When this is interrupted ie. with things like shift work, it can throw everything out. Over time if we constantly abuse our wake/sleep cycles illness and disease can occur.

I just need to point out that alcohol and drugs can also cause insomnia - whilst you may collapse comatose in bed after a night out drinking, the quality of sleep you are getting is far from ideal, and you may find you wake a few hours later and not be able to get back off to sleep again leaving you feeling dreadful the following day.

So how can we help ourselves to achieve that enviable eight hours sleep a night. Well, sleeping pills are NOT the answer. Whilst they may work in the short term it is easy to become addicted and lose your natural rythmn. Generally they have side effects (read the small print) such as headaches, confusion, nightmares, memory problems, and nausea, and who only knows what the build up of chemicals is doing to your liver. They are also likley to leave you feeling 'fuzzy' during the day.

There are natural alternatives, such as Valerian tea, available at health food shops. I'm trying this at the moment. You drink it an hour before going to bed, and are advised not to drive or operate machinery, like with sleeping pills.Chamomile is also a relaxing, calming tea but can be an aquired taste.

Eating foods containing tryptophan can be helpful as it is a relaxant. These include chicken, turkey and milk. Warm milk is a good thing, but not hot choclate as choclate is a stimulant!

Try relaxing for 30-45 minutes prior to going to bed.A warm bath is a good idea, and lavender oil added is a great relaxant. A read of a calming book can help, as can some gentle exercise such as yoga or pilates (anything energetic is not advisable as it releases cortisol which will wake you up) or try asking your partner or a friend to give you a relaxing massage with some calming oils. My friends Ian and Dan are the best masseurs I know, and can guarantee me a great nights sleep - if only I could win the lottery and employ them full time!

Vitamin D supplements can help sleep, and help our organs stay healthy and decrease our cancer risks.

Hypnosis is another natural therapy that can help with relaxation and sleep.

To clear your head if you are suffering from stress, keeping a journal by your bed can be helpful. Before sleep, and also if you wake in the night, write down any negative thoughts you are having leaving your head free and empty to sleep.

Tonight I'm going for it, starting with some yoga. I have my journal at the ready, I have lavender oil for my bath, I have Valerian tea to drink in my bath - all I need now is a volunteer to come and massage me. Any takers?

If you have any tips on how to get a good night sleep please, please leave a comment.


lucy said...

My advice should it be heeded is to "address your stress" - you can have that one for free. No amount of holistic healings or drug/alcohol induced remedies can substitute dealing with the cause of your insomnia at its root cause.
I suggest you identify the cause of your stress, if that causes you insomnia, deal with it and get down to some guilt free proper sleep without the need to invest in massage therapy, fancy tea or whatever else you buy in as a fix to your problem.

Deal with the stress and you've dealt with the insomnia - in theory.

See I'm not all bad.

PS dealing with stress is not just about learning to relax it is about identifying what causes it, then altering it or your perception of it. . . This includes other peoples driving noisy or offensive children and or adults, financial troubles, illness, death, divorce, house or job move etc.

Ruth said...

Thankyou Lucy for your 'sensible' comment. You are absolutely right, if the stress stays so does the insomnia. Hence the advice to use a journal to write down your 'issues' before attempting to settle down to sleep. Get it off your chest and out of your mind, and by writing it down it helps clarify all the stress issues you have to deal with. Hypnosis is a great help with dealing with perception, and keeping your mind and body calm, and massage is great for relieving tense 'stressed' muscles. Not always easy just to eliminate the source, so managing methods are very helpful.
Thanks for your input Lucy.