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Sleep has been the subject of a great deal of research and the results, for insomniacs, are reassuring. It seems that, in the long run, Nature ensures that we get the sleep we need and there is no hard and fast rule on how much we should have – individuals differ considerably in this. What matters most is how you feel the next day – if you are alert and efficient, although you have had only five hours sleep, then that was enough for you and comparisons with friends can cause unnecessary worry. Remember, too, that the need for sleep lessens as we grow older.

It is also reassuring to know that even a prolonged period of unsatisfactory sleep will do no serious harm, although you may feel a bit tired and irritable and be less efficient than usual. Eventually the body will catch up on its sleep debt.

Experiments have shown that poor sleepers in fact often sleep more than they think they do, although perhaps not as deeply as others. During sleep, children grow and the body’s worn-out tissues are renewed. Sleep is needed to relieve mental fatigue more than physical fatigue – just resting in bed will do this.

It is not yet known whether the sleep induced by sleeping pills is as restorative as natural sleep. Sleeping pills can be useful when taken for a short time, to re-establish a pattern of sleep after a crisis, say, or to relieve anxiety about not sleeping. But dependency can easily develop and can be difficult to break. A ‘rebound’ insomnia is also common after stopping the pills, making it very tempting to take them again.

Elderly people will often ask their doctor for sleeping pills just because they find lying awake boring and feel they should be asleep – not because they are suffering any ill effects. However, fitful sleep is usual as we grow older and sleeping pills may cause confusion and make falls more likely.

Nearly everyone has times when they sleep badly – a hectic day at work, a difficult time with the children, problems of all kinds leave us feeling worked up or on edge, and make it hard to relax. But for a few, sleep is a lasting problem. They may find it difficult to fall asleep, or they may wake up frequently or very early. Twice as many women suffer as men, especially those with an anxious personality.

Depression is a common cause of sleeplessness and, if severe, both can be relieved by antidepressants. Pain – from arthritis for example – can interfere with sleep (try pain-relievers before bed, not sleeping pills – see PAINKILLERS

89 for product list); so too can breathing difficulties and some medicines. Alcohol, tea, coffee and cigarettes are all stimulants, so should be avoided before going to bed, whereas a light snack or a milky drink can help induce sleep. A warm bath before going to bed can be very relaxing. And a good read in bed will eventually lead to drowsiness.

As other aids to better sleep, establish a regular routine of meal times, of getting up early and of going to bed at about the same time every night – this helps the body’s ‘internal clock’. Make sure your bed is comfortable and the room warm, but not too warm. Imagine a peaceful scene and concentrate on relaxing each part of your body in turn. A special relaxation or sleep cassette can help you learn this technique. Some daily exercise in the fresh air will make sound sleep more likely and talking over any problems with a sympathetic person can relieve one cause of insomnia -worry.

If night sweats during the menopause disturb your sleep, hormone replacement therapy can help. If noise is a problem, try ear plugs. Overweight people tend to sleep better and losing weight can mean losing sleep – but obviously it’s best to get the balance right here!

There are Herbal Remedies

available for sleeplessness and these may be worth a try.Homoeopathic Remedies

Noctura, Avena Sativa comp.

Herbal Remedies

Kalms Tablets, Natracalm, Naturest

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