London - Insomnia makes you desperate. Desperate not to be constantly exhausted and desperate not to dread every night.
If, like me, you have spent many a small hour staring sore-eyed at the ceiling as the light begins to creep in through the cracks in the curtains, you’ll no doubt understand. Insomnia affects about 30 percent of us – with over 12 million prescriptions for sleeping pills written every year.
Because my insomnia is sporadic, I have never been to the doctor for prescription drugs and, interestingly, experts say most poor sleepers don’t need them anyway.
However, there ARE proven methods to beat insomnia. Here, our experts recommend ways to get a good night’s sleep – and, having tried them, I can say with confidence that they work.
UNDERSTAND YOUR FEAR
HOW? A course of cognitive behavioural therapy – a type of psychotherapy – will help change the way you think and behave.
“CBT helps overcome negative beliefs about sleep,” says Dr Nicola Barclay, Associate Director of the Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research.
“You may tell yourself that you won’t function the next day if you have no sleep, but this probably isn’t true.”
PROOF: More than 100 clinical trials have shown that CBT is the most effective long-term solution for insomnia.
ALICE’S VERDICT: A week in, I am sleeping much better. Recognising that panicking isn’t going to help has made a huge difference.
TRICK THE MIND AND THE BODY
HOW? With melatonin supplements. Dr Guy Leschziner, consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and London Bridge hospitals, says: “Melatonin is a hormone which is secreted by a gland in the brain. It tells the mind and body it’s time to go to sleep. Supplements contain a synthetic version.”
Short-term use – for a few weeks – is acceptable, says Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University and author of Sleep: A Very Short Introduction. But he adds: “It shouldn’t be used long-term because of the concern of dependency.”
PROOF: A 2008 study showed that a daily oral dose of 2mg of melatonin for three weeks improved sleep and morning alertness. “It doesn’t work for everyone,’ says Sultan Dajani, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. ‘If it hasn’t worked within three weeks, it isn’t going to.”
ALICE’S VERDICT: I felt drowsy and in the morning was refreshed rather than fuzzy.
WAKE UP GRADUALLY
HOW? With light therapy – specially-designed lamps that gradually increase the amount of light they emit, creating an artificial dawn or dusk.
Prof Foster says: “This activates areas of the brain promoting alertness, and turns off the sleep hormone melatonin.”
As evening approaches, the lamps can be used in reverse, gradually emitting less light to create an artificial dusk and so encouraging relaxation.
PROOF: “Receptors in the eyes trigger the release of the hormones that regulate the sleep cycle,” says Prof Foster.
ALICE’S VERDICT: The awakening is gentle and the quality of my sleep improved greatly.
CREATE A SANCTUARY
HOW? Sleep hygiene: the bedroom must be used solely to sleep. All office equipment, TVs, phones and laptops should be removed from the bedroom, and don’t eat or drink there. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Avoid day-time napping, stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, and take exercise. Keep the bedroom cool, and hands and feet warm.
“The core temperature of the body needs to drop at night,” says Professor Foster. “Keeping extremities warm will shunt blood from the core to the periphery.”
PROOF: Dr Barclay says: “Often those with sleep problems make the bedroom into the office. Removing extraneous items ensures it is only associated with sleeping so it is seen as a place to relax rather than entertain.”
Professor Williams says: “I think this is the first-line treatment for any sleep disorder.”
ALICE’S VERDICT: Adopting this advice didn’t cure me but could be the foundation for a good sleep, rather than a solution to insomnia.
BLOCK OUT NOISE
HOW? White-noise therapy. You can buy a device that gives out a constant hum – such as the sound made by a fan blowing air, masking extraneous noise. Other devices emit the sound of the sea or rain.
PROOF: Research has shown that white noise can help patients sleep in noisy environments. A 2008 survey of 2,000 poor sleepers showed that sound machines worked almost as well as medication.
ALICE’S VERDICT: Unless I am being lulled to sleep by air conditioning in a five-star hotel, I find white noise irritating
USE AN ANTIHISATMINE
HOW? Antihistamines are most commonly used to treat allergies but some also cause drowsiness.
There are over-the-counter antihistamines specifically designed for aiding sleep, but some sufferers find hayfever solutions such as Piriton – which contains the antihistamine chlorphenamine maleate – are more effective.
PROOF: “These block nerve synapses in the brain for a few hours so you are able to relax and sleep,” says Mr Dajani.
Dr Leschziner warns: “Long-term use can precipitate muscle spasms – which is going to make insomnia worse.”
ALICE’S VERDICT: If I am really struggling, I take a spoonful of Piriton and fall asleep easily. - Daily Mail