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Sleep problems

04/04/2003 - Questions and Answers

Sleep problems

By: Mark Castleden

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Question

I have a problem falling asleep at night, and I wake up during the night. Can you help me?

Answer

First let us talk about sleep requirements. It is a common myth, expounded by many so-called experts, that people require 6-8 hours sleep every day. It is implied that this must be at night. However there are many variants on this general recommendation and some people need far less sleep, and some more. It is no good people saying "Well, I used to sleep 8 hours per night solidly without waking when I was a child, but now I cannot", because obviously circumstances, and our body physiology , change with the years.

You have had a long-term problem and it may be that you are one of these people who just require less sleep than others. Another cause may be that that some people sleep at different times of the day, i.e. after lunch or in front of the television in the evening, and then when they go to bed they are not sleepy, or only sleep for short periods. This is because the body cannot use more sleep than it needs per 24 hours, and if you sleep in the day you generally will not sleep at night. Finally there are of course certain conditions which are associated with early morning wakening, such as depression or pain.

If you are simply one of these people who do not require much sleep, the solution might be a good book! We would suggest that you need first of all to make sure that you are not sleeping at any time in the day except when you go to bed at night. Secondly, you should go to bed in a restful state and not in an excited one. Often this means not watching television in bed, but perhaps reading would be allowed. Try to take a reasonable amount of exercise during the day, but this does not mean training to be an athlete. A healthy amount of exercise would be a swim, a walk, or a cycle. Make sure the room is dark, warm and comfortable. For a few nights, keep a sleep diary and document the time that you are awake as well as the time that you are asleep. This must be accurate and honest so that you can count up the number of minutes that you actually slept during the night. Frequently people who complain of insomnia do in fact sleep quite well, but they are awake from time to time and these periods can seem very long. Finally, have you tried practising relaxation techniques, which you may find helpful, and also to have a tape of relaxation music in the room.

The worst thing about not being able to sleep is worrying about not being able to sleep. Some people would be very happy not to require so long in bed and asleep, and perhaps you should look at it as a blessing rather than a defect.

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Created on: 05/31/2000
Reviewed on: 04/04/2003

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