Why sleep is so vital to our well-being is unclear, but it is self-evident that the absence of sleep can lead to irritability, tension and impaired performance. It is therefore extremely important to establish a good sleep pattern as part of a healthy, brain-friendly life-style.
According to the Royal Society of Medicine insomnia is a symptom, not an illness. However, one of the problems of insomnia is that it can take you into a vicious circle, where the insomnia creates the conditions which lead to further insomnia. For example, if you are kept awake because of anxiety one night, the sleeplessness can feed your anxiety and prevent sleep the following night. And, indeed, any effort you make to get yourself to sleep can introduce tension which will help to keep you awake!
While most people can survive one or two night's disturbed sleep without any detriment, resolving a persistent sleep problem can be difficult, as there can be many causes. Major psychological causes include anxiety and depression, as well as stress, tension and grief. Possible physical causes include noise, pain, asthma and late night eating, and the drinking of coffee, coke and alcohol are also known to contribute.
A recommended way of resolving a persistent sleep problem is to establish a bedtime 'winding down' routine, with regular times for going to bed and getting up. Possible ingredients of the routine might include physical exercise (but not too vigorous and not too late in the evening), having a soak in a warm bath, using other relaxation techniques, and also having a warm milky drink and a small snack before retiring.
You should aim to establish a good regular sleep pattern, achieving at least six hours of sleep each night. This should be part of your good overall life-style. If you develop a persistent sleep problem you should try to track down its cause: keeping a diary of events may assist with this. If you are still unable to resolve the problem yourself you could seek the help of your GP or an Autogenic Training practitioner.
For further information on sleep and insomnia see:
- A good sleep is an impossible dream as stress winds up Britons (Observer, Jamie Doward)
BBC - Health: Insomnia
Why Sleeping on a Problem Often Helps by Kate Ravilious