see also Sleep Problems During Pregnancy, Sleep Problems in Infants, Sleep Problems in Children
Includes abnormal sleepiness or drowsiness.
The purpose of sleep is not fully understood; certainly lack of sleep, especially of dreaming sleep, leads to lapses in concentration, irritability, irrationality, hallucinations, and even death. Though sleep seems to be essential to the brain, it seems less so to the body. What sends us to sleep is also a puzzle; it could be a decrease in oxygen supply to the brain, a decrease in sensory input to the brain, fluctuation of certain chemicals in the brain, or simply a conditioned response. Most adults need 7 or 8 hours' sleep, even as they get older.
There are between 10 and 12 million poor sleepers in the United Kingdom alone, with women outnumbering men by 8 to 1 in the over-40 age group only 22 per cent of people aged between 6O and 80 say they get a good night's sleep. Being highly strung or having a poor self-image seems to be quite a common denominator among poor sleepers.
Insomnia is not a single night or even several nights of disturbed sleep, but a persistent pattern of short-sleeping which leaves the sufferer feeling unrested, worn out and ragged round the edges. Most people who complain of insomnia do in fact get some sleep, but clearly not enough. Insomnia can be due to physical problems such as breathlessness brought on by heart or lung disease, Prostate Problems, discomfort during pregnancy, or having to get up during the night to pass urine, or the cause may be too many late meals, too much caffeine, a food Allergy, overindulgence in alcohol or drugs, or something as simple as an airless or overheated bedroom.
More often the causes are emotional - Anxiety caused by pressure of work or financial problems, Depression, Grief, too much excitement. Coming off sleeping pills or tranquillisers can also cause insomnia. In fact one of the commonest causes of insomnia is fear of not being able to sleep. The drugs most commonly used to treat insomnia today are the benzodiazepines, which have a sedative, anti-anxiety, muscle relaxing action; they also have side-effects. The best cure for this is to switch from benzodiazepines, temazepam, to non-benzodiazepines, such as zopiclone, and taper these off.
Another commonly recognised cause of problems is snoring, sleep apnoea, in which breathing stops for a short time, then starts again, and difficulty in breathing through the nose. Snoring can be helped by avoiding alcohol and sedatives, cutting down smoking and losing weight. It is probably better to sleep on the side although most people tend to roll over on to their back. This can be discouraged by sewing a tennis ball into the back of the pyjamas. The head of the bed can be raised on bricks and it may help to use fewer pillows. If the simple cures for snoring have no effect, consult your medical doctor, who may refer you to a sleep clinic or to an ENT Specialist.
Other sleep disorders include nightmares night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep-talking, rocking head banging, grinding teeth, paralysed wakefulness Restless Legs (a creeping sensation under the skin of the legs, or twitching of the leg muscles, which disturbs sleep but does not necessarily cause the person to wake), and disturbed breathing (breathing may cease for anything from 10 seconds to 3 minutes, occurring perhaps hundreds of times a night, followed by snorts or gasps for breaths during which the person partially wakes). Nightmares and night terrors are more common in children than adults, possibly because adults have developed other mechanisms for coping with anxiety, such as insomnia; during a nightmare heart rate climbs from about 64 beats per minute to 80, or during a night terror to 150, often causing the person to wake up, as well as being manifestations of anxiety, bad dreams can be a symptom of Mental Exhaustion, Fever, overindulgence in food or alcohol, withdrawal from sleeping tablets, or a side effect of certain prescription drugs. Sleepwalking, sleep talking, and making repetitive movements during sleep are also less common in adults than children. The muscles and senses concerned are, as it were, on automatic pilot, the person's conscious mind not being involved; he or she has no memory of the night's activities. Psychologists believe that dissociation of behaviour from consciousness is an attempt to resolve conflict. Interestingly, this kind of behaviour does not occur during dreaming, when all muscle movements, except those around the eyes, are inhibited. The important thing is to prevent the person concerned from coming to harm.
Paralysed wakefulness is an unpleasant state in which the person is awake but cannot move, it most often occurs, very briefly, on waking, but is not a cause for worry.
Chronic sleep problems require constitutional treatment, but in the short-term the homeopathic remedies may help. If no improvement is discernible within 3 weeks, consult your medical doctor or homeopath.
Specific remedies to be taken 1 hour before going to bed for 10 nights running, repeat dose if woken by a nightmare or if you wake and cannot get to sleep again
- Mind overactive as the result of good or bad news inability to switch off Coffea 30c
- Sleeplessness due to great mental strain, overindulgence in food or alcohol, or withdrawal from alcohol or sleeping tablets, person wakes around 3 or 4 am then falls asleep just as it is time to get up, has nightmares, is irritable during day Nux 30c
- Person restless in first sleep, feels too hot and throws covers off, then feels too cold and lies with arms above head, not thirsty, insomnia worse after rich food Pulsatilla 30c
- Sleep problems worse after shock or panic, restlessness, nightmares, fear of dying Aconite 30c
- Feeling wide awake and irritable during first part of night, especially if person is a child and wants to be carried around Chamomilla 30c
- Mind very active at bedtime, going over and over work done during day, person aware of dreaming a lot, talks and laughs in sleep, wakes around 4 am Lycopodium 30c
- Person used to being up at night, perhaps looking after an invalid feels too tired to sleep, giddy, irritable Cocculus 30c
- Person yawns a lot but cannot sleep, dreads not being able to sleep, especially after emotional upset; when sleep comes nightmares come too Ignatia 30c
- Bed feels too hard, person overtired, fidgety dreams of being chased by animals Arnica 30c
- Feeling sleepy but unable to get to sleep, senses feel so sharp a fly can be heard walking on the wall, bed too hot, or else sleep comes but is so heavy that the person snores and cannot be roused Opium 30c
- Waking between midnight and 2 am, restless, worried, apprehensive, foreboding dreams of fire or danger Arsenicum 30c
- Person cannot sleep, is irritable, restless and walks about, especially if there is pain or discomfort Rhus tox. 30c
- Dreams about dying, hunger, or problems at work, descent into profound depression Aurum 30c
Self-help: Insomnia is one ailment that can be very successfully tackled by self-help methods. Try whichever of the following measures seem most appropriate.
- Stop working an hour before bedtime and read something light
- Take more exercise, preferably earlier in the day
- Avoid meals late at night and eat at the same times each day to establish body rhythms
- As a bedtime drink, try an herbal infusion (chamomile, valerian, passionflower, skullcap) or a hot milky drink which contains tryptophan (thought to help sleep); but avoid Cocoa, tea, and coffee, and over-the-counter sleep remedies.
- Take a warm bath
- Sexual release has a tension-reducing effect
- Learn some form of relaxation or meditation
- Don't lie tossing and turning if you cannot get to sleep; switch the light on and read, or do the ironing, then go back to sleep; resist tea, coffee, and other stimulants.
- If you are overtired when you go to bed, take an afternoon nap (no longer than 15 minutes) to try and break the cycle.
- Get your partner to give you a massage
- Wake up at the same time each day
- Remove the clock from your bedroom
- Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold (15-19°C [60 65°F] is about right) and minimize noise and light.
- Increase your intake of Vitamin C, B1, biotin, folic acid (folate), and zinc, and if you are taking supplements of Vitamin A reduce your intake. Also check for excess lead and copper in your diet or environment.