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.