How can I stop my insomnia?

One in five of us suffer from sleeping problems – and sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture for good reason. If pain is stopping you sleeping, tablets may be the answer – but for other causes of insomnia, they rarely are.

What are the side-effects of sleeping tablets?

For many of us, the obvious answer to our sleeping problems are to reach for sleeping tablets - nine million prescriptions are written a year in the UK for them. But while these may offer a quick fix, you’re storing up trouble for the longer term. Research has linked even occasional use of sleeping tablets (once every three weeks or more) with an increased risk of death. And in the last couple of weeks, new research has shown that people who take sleeping tablets are at much higher risk of breaking a hip because of a fall, even within the first two weeks after they start.

Taken regularly, sleeping tablets stop working as effectively, and the ‘hangover’ effect can make it hard to function. Fortunately, simple behavioural techniques will have most people sleeping again in a few short weeks.

Start a sleep diary

In the first week, keep a sleep diary each day. Jot down when you went to bed; when you turned the lights off; about what time you went to sleep (don’t spend too much time clock-watching); how often you woke up, and for how long; then how long you were in bed; and the quality of your sleep (1- dreadful, 5 – bliss!). The averages over this week will tell you what’s normal for you.

Pinpoint your sleep-stealers

In the second week, look at your daily patterns and see if they could be thwarting your hope for a peaceful night. Exercise can help you sleep, but not if it’s too close to bedtime. Find a few minutes every day for some relaxation techniques. Some people are sensitive to caffeine, which can be found in tea, chocolate and cola drinks as well as coffee – cut it out completely from lunchtime on.

Heartburn is often worse when you lie down, so avoid heavy meals late at night. If you have to get up in the night regularly to visit the toilet, try restricting your fluid intake close to bedtime. If you’re taking water tablets (for high blood pressure or heart failure, take them first thing in the morning. If you’re still struggling, see your GP.

Tackle those bad bedtime habits

In the third week, tackle some bad sleep habits. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and really dark. Banish digital or ticking clocks, and remove any electronic equipment with LED lights, which can be particularly damaging for sleep. Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy; avoid watching TV, working or using your mobile phone in bed; never eat in bed; get up at the same time every morning, and don’t nap for more than half an hour in the day (and never after mid-afternoon).

Use your sleep diary to calculate how much time you actually spend sleeping, rather than in bed – and only spend this much time in bed. As you start to sleep better, you can spend more time in bed, but you need to get your sleep pattern back on track first.

Finally, break the vicious cycle that leaves so many of us tossing and turning. If you’ve slept badly the previous night, you may subconsciously be worrying about the same thing happening again. So when you get into bed, your brain goes onto high alert for problems sleeping. This floods your body with adrenaline, which – surprise, surprise – keeps you awake.

Remind yourself that very few people actually ‘don’t sleep a wink’ – even most insomniacs sleep at least an hour more than they estimate. If you’re worried about not being able to perform after a poor night’s sleep, remind yourself of previous occasions when you’ve slept poorly but managed just fine the next day. And don’t get hung up on the idea that everyone needs eight hours’ sleep – Margaret Thatcher famously got by fine on just four, and many people only need six or seven hours a night.

With thanks to ‘My Weekly’ magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.