It is while you are asleep that your brain recovers from the pressures and disasters of the day. While you’re awake millions of pieces of information are fed into your brain every hour. Much of the information you are not even aware of is dealt with by your subconscious. During the hours in bed your batteries are recharged – and you should wake up ready for another few million bits and pieces of information.

The amount of sleep one individual needs may be very different to the amount needed by another. A newborn baby can need fifteen hours a day, and while one adult may happily get by with five hours a night another may become tired, irritable and depressed without nine hours’ sleep. It’s unfair, I know, but then who said anything about life being fair? Some people live to be a hundred while others don’t even get into double figures.

But one fact doesn’t vary: we all need some sleep. And if you aren’t getting enough then you’ll be in trouble. You may be tempted to search around for a suitable home medicine cure – or to see your doctor and ask for sleeping pills. Before you think about remedies I suggest that you look at the possible causes of your sleeplessness.

What’s keeping you awake ?

There are nearly as many causes of sleeplessness as there are insomniacs. Very often it isn’t a cure for the sleeplessness itself that is needed as much as a cure for the cause.

For example, someone who is kept awake by pain needs a painkiller not a hypnotic drug. Better than thathe needs to have the cause of his pain investigated and, if possible, eradicated.

Many people lie awake because they are too hot or too cold or because there is too much noise around. Solving these problems is as likely to be within the province of a plumber or carpenter as a doctor. If there are draughts have them sealed. If the heating is unsatisfactory procure some alternative, additional source of warmth. If the bed is too warm reducing the number of bedclothes may solve the problem. If there is too much noise double glazing, wall-to-wall bookshelves or ear muffs may be the answer.

Too much food may cause sleeplessness as may an overdose of caffeine, contained perhaps in a bedtime drink of coffee. Changing suppertime habits can solve that problem. If you have to get up at night to empty an overfull bladder, reducing your input of fluids during the evening can solve the problem permanently.

Tension and worry are extremely common causes of sleeplessness. The man who lies awake thinking about the papers on his desk at work or the woman who can’t forget the day’s problems will both lose sleep. The answer for them doesn’t involve sleeping tablets as much as learning how to relax.

Many people who take naps in the afternoon, who lie in late in the mornings and who go to bed early in the evening complain that they can’t sleep. That is hardly surprising. We all need sleep but the man who needs six or seven hours’ sleep a night isn’t going to get that if he sleeps for three or four hours in the daytime. I remember seeing a patient in his eighties who complained most bitterly thathe woke up at three every morning. After I had talked to him for a while he admitted thathe went to bed every evening at eight-thirty. At the age of eighty, with few demands on his muscles, he only needed the amount of sleep he was getting. I suggested thathe went to bed at eleven-thirty and slept through until six. He was happy enough then.

People who have installed television sets in their bedrooms and who lie in bed watching the horrors of the late night news must not be surprised if they find themselves lying awake for some time after they have switched the set off. Mentally stimulating or arousing activities of any kind are likely to produce restlessness. Physical activities such as sex are another matter altogether of course.

Stuffy bedrooms are difficult to sleep in and cigarette smoke from one member of a household may keep the rest of the family awake. Children who can’t sleep for coughing may rest more peacefully if they are separated from smokers by closed doors.

Uncomfortable beds are another common cause of insomnia. It’s worth remembering that you’re likely to spend a third of your life in bed. Economies which mean spending that much time with a spring sticking into your back are not really worthwhile.

So, before you even think of treatment for your insomnia see if there is anything you can do to remove the cause. As ever, the old adage about prevention being better than cure is perfectly true.


The most effective remedies for sleeplessness are not available on prescription or even from the chemist’s shop.

If you have done everything you can to deal with all the potential causes of sleeplessness and you’re still lying awake, here are some hints.

Try taking a walk half an hour before you go to bed. Walk for fifteen or twenty minutes and then, when you get back home, lie in a warm bath. If you are used to having a drink at night choose something soothing, filling and milky. A clinical research trial was done on medical students and it showed that they slept better when they drank Horlicks. If you’ve been doing paperwork try and relax with a light novel. As an occasional remedy a glass of alcohol may prove helpful. If you have a sleepless partner you can both help each other to a good night’s rest since sex is probably the best form of activity for inducing satisfying sleep.

The home remedies which exist are useless unless you are convinced otherwise . Herbal tranquillizers which are advertised for sleeplessness are unlikely to help you if the remedies I have outlined haven’t proved effective. And special pillows and other devices have, in my view, nothing to commend them.

Pills which your doctor can prescribe will certainly send jou to sleep but most people should use them as a short-term aid rather than a permanent solution. Using them permanently is rather like papering over the cracks. It isn’t going to help you in the long term and, indeed, since the underlying problem may get worse it may do you harm. Pills should be used while you and your doctor together try to isolate and treat the cause.