How to Sleep - a Bedside Guide

By Walker, Esther | The Independent (London, England), April 1, 2008 | Go to article overview
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How to Sleep - a Bedside Guide


Walker, Esther, The Independent (London, England)


If you lie awake tossing and turning, you're not alone. Will hot drinks, homoeopathy or yoga help you sleep? Esther Walker consults the experts

DR CLARE GERADA,GP

Sometimes people make rather too much of not being able to sleep. Not being able to sleep is very unpleasant but it's not going to kill you - no one ever died from not sleeping. If you can't sleep, you should get up and go into another room and do something else for a bit. Everyone laughs at me when I say this, but knitting is the best thing you can do because it's monotonous and distracting.

Then you should try again later. It can be the case that if there's no obvious reason for the sleeplessness, you could have just got yourself into a pattern of not sleeping and of associating your bed with not being able to sleep. In those circumstances, I would suggest buying an anti-histamine over the counter. Phenergan is a babies' antihistamine and it causes drowsiness; it could be that that's all you need to get over the psychological hump of dropping off.

In this way, you can break that cycle of not sleeping pharmacologically and without taking medicine long-term. Most of the people who come to me saying that they can't sleep get over it fairly quickly.

JIM HORNE, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY AND DIRECTOR OF THE SLEEP RESEARCH CENTRE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUGHBOROUGH:

We are such creatures of habit, and most people like to do certain things before they go to sleep and have routines, which is why they sometimes find it difficult to sleep if they're away from home or staying in a hotel. Peace of mind at bedtime has an overwhelming importance in terms of how easily you will fall asleep.

The quality of the sleep you have is just as important as how easily you fall asleep. Some people can fall asleep but don't sleep efficiently and are tired during the day. We all have a natural dip in the afternoon, but if that dip becomes pronounced or spills out into the rest of the day then there might be something wrong. It's quite difficult to find out what is disturbing your sleep if you're asleep; sometimes it can be as simple as your bedroom being too hot. A partner might be able to tell you if you snore, which can disrupt your sleep. Your partner being very active during the night can also be disruptive.

True insomnia is really a 24-hour disorder: it's a sort of constant wakefulness. Insomniacs tend to be pretty alert during the day and get better sleep at night than they think. People who can't sleep and are very tired during the day might not be suffering from insomnia but tiredness, boredom or depression; they attribute their tiredness to insomnia, but actually it's the other way around. Hypnotics and bubble baths and things like that won't help; the only cure is to find the psychological source of the unhappiness.

DR SARA EAMES,THE ROYAL LONDON HOMOEOPATHIC HOSPITAL:

It's amazing how many people are doing simple things wrong that keep them awake, such as drinking caffeine before bed or keeping their bedroom too warm. The good thing about homoeopathy is that there are different remedies for different sorts of sleeplessness. For recent bereavement, ignatia is good; for ongoing, chronic grief, natrum mur can help. If someone is overworked and unable to wind down, nux vomica can help; it can also help if you've eaten or drunk too much and you can't settle down because of that. If it's physical pain that's stopping you from dropping off, rhus tox is helpful.

For new mothers or carers who have their sleep interrupted a lot and then can't sleep when they get the chance to, cocculus can work. Those are things that people can try initially; they can always get a homoeopathic consultation if they need more specific advice.

JOANNE LUNN,THE BRITISH NUTRITION FOUNDATION:

Just before bed, you should always avoid anything with a stimulant in it, such as coffee or tea.

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