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5 June 2013

How to get help with insomnia

As a new father, I’m naturally suffering from a little (!) sleep deprivation. It’s got me thinking about insomnia, which affects up to 2m people in the UK.  With a newborn, there’s not a huge amount one can do. However, if you’ve got insomnia, there’s definitely things you can do to help yourself.

In this two part blog, I’ll look at some of the factors that cause insomnia and in part 2, there’s a load of practical tips to give you help with insomnia.

Naturally, you know if you have insomnia. And the easiest way to ask yourself if the decisions you are making on your life is having a positive impact on your sleep is to ask yourself ‘would you treat a baby / young child the way you do yourself and expect it to sleep’?

If the answer’s no, then you can / should / must choose to do something about it. Here’s the top areas of your life that may be affecting your sleep right now.

1. Diet. Your body needs the naturally occurring hormone melatonin to sleep. This is not found in lots of booze and rich, fatty foods…

Melatonin can be found in tryptophan, which is found in the likes of turkey, eggs, cheese & banana’s. Equally, eating complex carbs has been said to enhace the uptake of tryptophan. Essentially you would be looking for a low GI diet to boost tryptophan e.g. baked potatos, grapes & berries

2. Stress. Whether it’s the boss, the deadline, cashflow or the client from hell, all are all going to help contribute to your stress levels. And clearly that’s not going to help you. If you can manage stress healthily that’s positive. And if you know you aren’t, or simply can’t manage, then it can have an impact on your sleep, keeping you up late & waking you too early.

3. Caffeine. Caffeine has benefit to you in the morning as it does wake you up. But, having it after 4pm is a no-no if you have sleep problems as it will stimulate your body and dampen down your melatonin.

4. Smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant and when combined with coffee its effects are doubled. The smoker’s cough won’t help you much either in getting / staying asleep.

5. Alcohol. It may help you nod off and alcohol can and does interfere with your natural sleep rhythms. Plus, as it’s a diuretic, alcohol will make you pee in the night and waking up will not help you sleep. According to an Italian university, one large glass of Barolo has a positive effect.
6. Exercising late. OK, we have busy lives. Exercise will help boost serotonin production which is clearly a good thing. And exercising too late may delay your important melatonin levels increasing and could work as a delayer, which may keep you up longer.

7. Light. Nocturnal darkness is imperative to helping your body sleep. Being in a darkened environment not only helps your body know it’s time to sleep, it will aid sleep. Get black out blinds – they’re cheap as chips.

8. Going to bed too early. Yes, going to bed too early can have an impact. Our body’s need 6-8 hrs a night. And if you’re going to bed too early, you may not be catching your right sleep wave.

9. Gadgets / electronics. Do you really think having the TV on, playing games or answering emails is going to help you sleep? They are sensory stimulants, full of electronic waves and are rammed full of brightness which will help keep you awake.

10. Temperature. Having a mega hot room will not help you sleep. Have the room between 15-20 degrees, whichever feels best for you.

11. Not using the bed for what it’s designed for. The bed is for sleeping & making love in and that’s it! If you are using it to read, do work, or say watch TV, you are not creating the simple association your body needs. Plus, if you have a bright TV or bedside lamp on above 60 watts, you are further dampening down your melatonin levels.

12. Underlying problem. There could be an underlying root cause of your insomnia, which may be something you need to address and aren’t, can’t or won’t. Just like a nagging tooth means you need to go to a dentist, so insomnia might mean you need to see a sleep specialist. And like your teeth, you might just need the mental equivalent of a filling. Ignore at your peril

So, which one if any is affecting you. I’ll be posting some tips on how to sleep in the next couple of days.

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