There is a long article about sleeping pills in today’s Guardian – apparently 1 in 10 of us now take them regularly,  a total of 15.3 million prescriptions costing the NHS £50 million last year, 8.2 million of which were for Zopiclone and Temazepam, the most commonly prescribed drugs for insomnia.  Neither of these drugs are recommended for long term use (more than 2-4 weeks) as they are inclined to cause dependence, can have unpleasant side effects and be very painful and uncomfortable in withdrawal.

I have, however, met probably hundreds of clients who have been taking these drugs every night for years. If GPs stop prescribing, then people will resort to street drug dealers or the internet to obtain drugs of doubtful origin and questionable content.  

So why can't we sleep?              
I ask the same question I asked about depression a few weeks ago, what is  it about our society that causes so many people to have so much trouble sleeping?  I believe that many people’s sleeping problems are caused by an over-stressful life and the inability to turn off their brain at night - we work long hours, often take work home with us or even work from home, are too inclined to check our emails just before we go to bed, leave our smart phones on overnight etc.  I know that if I have had a particularly stressful day, or am dealing  with something I am anxious about, I will either have trouble getting to sleep or wake in the middle of the night and be unable to go back to sleep.  When I was single it was easier, I used to just turn on the light and read till I felt ready for sleep.  Now, not wanting to disturb my partner, I tend to just lie there with my mind whirring – not ideal!  

But I generally find that, as long as I get up at the normal time and keep my routine the same,

 I will sleep fine the next night as I will be very tired.  

Another cause of sleeping problems is, oddly enough, worrying about not sleeping!  We are led to believe that we need 8 hours sleep a night, and if we’re not getting it we tend to obsess about this which has precisely the opposite effect from what we would like!  Many of us in fact need less sleep than this, or can function perfectly well on less as long as we get a longer night every now and then.  And many people, especially older people, are actually sleeping much more than they realise – many times I’ve been told by an elderly person ‘I haven’t closed my eyes all night’ while care workers have said they were sleeping soundly each time they were checked!  

   If you are finding that night after night you are lying awak for hours, then exhaustion will set in and you do need to do something about it. 

What are the options?
    The Guardian article says that CBT can help, and the Government is spending £144 million on increasing NHS access to it ... but my experience is that it is patchy and waiting lists can be very long. NLP can help in a similar way to CBT, and I would urge people to use one of these to learn some stress management techniques before heading for the GP and the sleeping pills route. 

Insomnia is a real problem for some people, and can be very distressing.  But it really is worth learning some simple mind-management techniques and only using medication as a short term last resort.  NLP coaching can help with you learn these techniques, and also help if you've already got a problem with drug dependence.  


This was the headline to an article about tranquiliser abuse among women on the front of the Metro one day this week.  It’s a fairly confusing and not very well written piece, but the gist of it is that, while 3.5% of women in Europe smoke cannabis (the world’s most popular drug), 4.2% abuse tranquilisers.  Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctors Association apparently said, “Some women just need something to help them get through the day and deal with all the stresses of life such as looking after children and work, or lack of it – and sometimes doctors just dispense pills and sympathy.”

While I think that the Zombie Epidemic headline is very harsh – my experience in addiction services has certainly given me an awareness of how serious the problem of over-use and addiction to prescribed drugs actually is.  Many clients I have seen have been taking diazepam (valium) for decades. But many others, and certainly not only women, have become addicted to other drugs including anti-depressants, sleeping pills and pain killers.  Last year the Guardian reported a 43% increase in anti-depressant prescriptions over 4 years – up to 23 million – I find this figure absolutely staggering.

Is there an alternative?
Why is it that women in particular apparently “need something to help them get through the day”? What sort of society is it where so many people are apparently ‘depressed’ to the point of needing medication – despite Government pledges to increase the amount of money going into ‘talking therapies’? 

I know that, certainly in Surrey, the wait for these talking therapies via the NHS can be 8+ months – if you’re feeling seriously depressed or are not coping that could be way too long – hence, I suspect why doctors tend to prescribe 

anti-depressants which, while they may help in the short term, may also end up causing more problems of dependence and overuse.   

I believe that, for many of these people who are struggling with low mood and feeling unable to cope, some simple advice on sorting out their values and looking at what really matters to them, managing stress and work/life balance, working on their thought patterns, building self-esteem etc could change their outlook dramatically and eliminate their need for drugs or long term ‘therapies’.   

NLP coaching can be remarkably successful in these situations – so if you’re feeling depressed or are struggling to cope, think about giving this a try first before you embark on any potentially addictive drug treatment.  And if you are already having trouble stopping some prescribed medication, check out our Alcohol page which also covers drugs – we can probably help you.