Can’t sleep? Are you one of the several million people who spend hours in bed fighting to slip away from the day’s turmoil, to wake exhausted?
Insomnia is a major problem, one of the serious hazards of living in the 21st century. There is a growing number of people who suffer from lack of sleep, inability to go to sleep or recurring bouts of waking after insufficient sleep.
Because of this, many people, like others throughout the western world, have been slowly drugging themselves towards mesmerism at bedtime.
But changes have taken place. Most doctors no longer dole out hypnotics and sedatives freely, as they and governments have realized that excessive medication is bad.
Increasing numbers of medical journals have underlined the serious long-term effects of constant sedation.
For many years barbiturate drugs were prescribed by the tonne around the world, but as people consumed more and more of them the death toll rose. People were dying from overdoses or from the drastic combination of the drugs and alcohol.
But as the increasing fatalities were becoming frightening, a new family of drugs emerged. These drugs, the benzodiazepines (BZD, BZs), now form the basis of most types of sedative and tranquilizer.
The striking feature of these drugs is their apparent safety. If large doses are taken death is most improbable and even when the drugs are mixed with alcohol, the death rate still does not rise dramatically.
When this is compared with the use of the barbiturates there is an enormous difference. Overdoses with the new drugs usually mean that the patient , simply slips into oblivion for more hours or more days.
However, the drugs are still new, and many doctors are still wondering about long-term safety. Recently the American medical magazine “The New England Journal of Medicine” delved into the sleep problems of the nation.
“Doctors describe 17 percent of their patients as having difficulty in sleeping,” Dr Frederic Solomon reported. “They provide prescription medication for over half of them.”
How do the patients feel? “One third of these patients over the age of 18 years see themselves as having trouble sleeping within a given year, even though only two percent class themselves as insomniacs.” Dr Solomon said.
The Institute of Medicine, a large American body, was asked to give its opinions on the current sedatives available to doctors and patients. It compared the benzodiazepines and the barbiturates, pointing out that the use of alcohol with either family of drugs is potentially very hazardous, but the new drugs are a little safer.
The institute pointed out the use of longer-acting benzodiazepines, when taken regularly, could impair driving ability on the following day. The effect would be magnified if alcohol was consumed on this second day. The report said that a person can become reliant on drug use at night, irrespective of the variety taken.
What about birth defects? “This has not been fully explored,” the institute said, but it suggested that there may be an increased risk of cleft palate with the newer drugs.
However, most doctors would agree that this must be extremely rare.
The Institute summed up its findings by saying “until long-term safety and efficacy of regular hypnotic use is established, doctors should rarely, if ever, prescribe hypnotic drugs for periods longer than two to four weeks for patients who have not yet become reliant on regular use of hypnotics.”
In short, don’t become an addict. Don’t ask your doctor for “knock-out” pills for a night’s sleep. Give nature a chance, even if the day has been hectic and you are tense and find it hard to settle.
Eventually you will go to sleep at night, and the sooner you rely on your own system the better. I like my nerve systems to tick over neat and fresh each day and numbing the senses doesn’t help this to happen.
Try the simple, natural methods which often work amazingly well. Before bed, sit down for half an hour in a comfortable chair and relax. Read a book, or magazine or paper, ideally something light and not too exciting. This often dulls the mental processes. TV is also a good natural relaxer.
Others find a warm relaxing bath, particularly in winter, a relaxing method of preparing for sleep. And some people like to take a quiet stroll down the road. Milk-based drinks are often good steady tranquilizers which can lull the brain, but tea or coffee, which contain the nerve stimulant caffeine, are not recommended.
Relaxation is the name of the game. When you get to bed you could try counting backwards, as hypnotherapists recommend, and you will probably sink into oblivion.
Or you could gradually and systematically relax each muscle group. Start with the toes and relax them, then the calf and upper leg muscles. Move up to the abdominal muscles, letting these go limp and loose and floppy. Then the chest muscles.
Each time you breathe out, simply let the whole body relax and go limp. Move on to the fingers and forearm muscles, then the upper arms. Finally the back, neck and face are all totally relaxed.
Concentrate on a mental image of yourself actually relaxing. Visualize yourself slipping deeper and deeper into your mattress, feeling heavy, languid, relaxed and deliciously comfortable. Soon you will be asleep.
Now repeat this simple formula each and every night, and the need for drugs will vanish. Try it and see.