Sleeplessness is not only one of the commonest – and most worrying – of all medical problems, it is also one of the problems about which there are the greatest number of myths.
For example, many people seem convinced that they must get at least eight hours sleep every night.
That’s simply not true. There is no firm rule about how much sleep we all need. Some people only feel comfortable when they have had 10 hours sleep. Others, like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, manage perfectly well on four hours’ sleep a night.
It’s also important to remember that we all need less sleep as we get older.
A second myth is that if you have a sleepless night, then you’ll have to sleep twice as along the following night to make up for it – and avoid damaging your health.
The fact is that if you get just two hours sleep before going off to work then the worst that will happen is that you’ll feel tired! And you should be able to recover completely by having an extra couple of hours’ sleep the following night.
Many of the unfortunate millions who suffer from insomnia could solve their problem completely if only they knew a little more about the common causes of sleeplessness – so, here are some of the reasons why people can’t sleep, together with the solutions.
- STRESS. If you go to bed thinking about the day’s problems and worrying about the things you have to sort out tomorrow then you’re bound to have difficulty in sleeping. Writing down your problems will help take them off your mind. So, make a full list of your worries. Then put the list on one side and spend an hour relaxing in front of the TV before you go to bed.
- MEDICINES. Prescribed pills often keep people awake. Drugs used for heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma commonly cause sleeplessness. Ask your doctor if he can change your prescription. Remember, too, that 50 per cent of people who can’t sleep are kept awake because they drink tea or coffee last thing at night. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. Tobacco is another possible cause of sleeplessness and, although a single nightcap might help you sleep, too much alcohol will definitely cause insomnia.
- PAIN. If you are kept awake by pain, then ask your doctor for help. If he can’t help you then ask for a second option.
- CRAMP. Cramps keep many people awake. You can keep cramp at bay by using this simple exercise. Stand barefoot one yard away from a wall. Lean forward until your hands touch the wall, but keep your heels on the floor. Hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat it once. Do the exercise three times a day for a week and then every night before you go to bed.
- DEPRESSION. When depression and sleeplessness go together, it is the depression that needs a doctor’s treatment.
- HUNGER. If you are kept awake by hunger, then have a bite. Don’t have anything too hot, rich or spicy. A hot milk drink will probably be best. Remember, too, that if you are slimming you may have difficulty in sleeping. A low blood sugar will keep you awake. A very low-calorie late-night snack might help.