Medical Q&As

Insomnia - any advice?

I am suffering from insomnia. Can you advise me as to what to do about this problem? Does it mean I am depressed? I worry about sleeping all the time. I have been to see a counsellor but this is not helping. I sleep when I take sleeping pills prescribed by my GP but when I don\'t take these, I simply cannot sleep. Do you have any advice to offer?

The first step in successfully tackling the problem of insomnia is establishing why you are having difficulty sleeping. Your insomnia could be a symptom of depression as you have suggested or it could be a result of another underlying psychological or medical problem. It is also possible that you may have developed some bad habits in relation to sleep. For example, maybe you catnap during the day, which can reduce the amount of sleep that you need at night. Maybe you drink too much coffee, tea, caffeine based soft drinks or alcohol, all of which are known to disrupt sleep patterns. Cigarette smoking can also affect sleep patterns because of the effects of nicotine. Perhaps the counselling that you are currently undergoing is raising some difficult and painful issues for you that may also be disrupting your sleep pattern. I also note your concerns about using sleeping pills. These can be very helpful in the short term but it is possible to become addicted to some of these pills having taken them for as little as 4 to 6 weeks. They may be of help in giving you temporary relief from insomnia but of themselves they are not a solution to your problem. Have you considered learning relaxation techniques that can reduce anxiety and body tension? Relaxation therapy helps to relax the muscles, which can facilitate restful sleep. Or perhaps you need to change your bedtime habits. Some people spend too much time in bed trying unsuccessfully to sleep. Sometimes it helps to restrict the amount of time you spend in bed and gradually increasing it until a more normal nightís sleep is achieved. One further thought is that perhaps you donít need as much sleep as you think you do. Finally, I return to my opening comments when I say that your problem needs to be fully diagnosed. I donít have a sense that you yet have an explanation for your insomnia.