Doctors calculate that at least half the population, at some stage or other, suffers from insomnia.
In a bid to woo sleep people resort to all manner of strange remedies. It’s no laughing matter at all when they put on long-playing records of parliamentary speeches, drive for hours around the block, make plates of good, thick porridge, eat chopped raw onions, or fumigate their pillows with lavender – in a bid to induce sleep.
More commonly, many insomniacs pick up novels in the early hours, make themselves hot, soothing drinks, or reach for sleeping pills.
The worst thing about insomnia, according to a sufferer, is not the endless number of sleepless nights but the mornings after the nights before.
The feeling is similar to a bad hangover – without a drink. There is a feeling of being semi-alive, semi-detached, semi-efficient. The thing I long for most is night, hoping that it will come quickly and that perhaps a better sleep may be up for grabs.
From a medical point of view, a night of healthy sleep is a journey through five stages of sleep carried out four or five times. There are three main stages. (The others are transitional.)
From a light sleep (in which a person will respond to questions), through a very deep sleep (from which it is difficult to awaken), the sleeper travels to REM (rapid eye movement) the deepest phase of all in which he dreams and his eyes move as he watches objects he dreams that he sees. To be well-rested, we need each stage.
People can be wired up to an EEG (electro-encephalogram) machine which records their brain rhythms electrically on tape. With this, it is possible to recognize the different stages and if a person is awakened each time he starts to dream, he may spend nights without dreaming.
In due course, he will become irritable and confused when awake. When he is allowed to sleep, he will move very quickly indeed into the dreaming stage and spend a long time in it as if trying to catch up.
Research work on insomniacs shows they seem to sleep nearly as long as good sleepers but that there is often some disturbance in the proportion of time spent in different stages of sleep.
Many so-called insomniacs aren’t. People assume that everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but the need varies with weight, height, and age. A person who sleeps little, but is no worse for it, is not an insomniac.
Many people claiming they “didn’t sleep a wink” are regarded as frauds by friends or spouses who heard them snoring half the night and couldn’t wake them!
However, such people may be insomniacs because they may be missing parts of the sleep cycle and suffering not from loss of sleep, but the loss of some kind of sleep.
There are three kinds of insomnia, a psychiatrist says, and each means a different thing.
There is the person who goes to bed and cannot get to sleep, the one who goes to sleep and wakes and cannot get back to sleep, and the one who goes to sleep and wakes and goes to sleep and wakes.
A couple of things could cause the first type of insomnia … anxiety may come into it, or sufferers maybe people who live in a state of chronic anticipation and so gear themselves to be awake rather than asleep.
The second type of insomnia is diagnostic of a depressive illness. The reason they may have it is that it is part of the general sickness pattern of depressive illness.
People might have the third type of insomnia because of anxiety or pain which may prevent them from sleeping.
There is another general reason for insomnia – the breakdown of the rhythm of the normal sleeping pattern. When it does get broken it is hard to re-establish.
Sleeping difficulties are prevalent in all strata of society, the psychiatrist says. They should not be regarded lightly.
A diagnosis is necessary. If insomnia is part of an illness you treat the illness and not the insomnia. If there is pain, you treat the pain. If the person is a chronic worrier, he must be helped to overcome his problems. You treat what needs to be treated, solve what needs to be solved, and try to give people confidence.
Tablets are dangerous. People get used to them and they are scared to go without them. There is a second danger – people misuse them … the unspoken message is that it’s easier to bomb out on a tablet than face the problem front-on. Tablets just add to the general drug culture.
I don’t believe hypnosis is effective – not as a long-term thing. It has been shown that where people are suffering from serious depression and try hypnosis, the depression can be increased and there is a higher risk of suicide. I don’t think hypnosis should ever be used on depressed people. It enhances a person’s passivity and dependence. A far better way of achieving results is with yoga and relaxation exercises.
Hypnosis is the best possible treatment for insomnia, a Sydney doctor claims.
Pills are bad. You can become hooked on them and doctors are swinging away from sedatives for long-term treatments.
Hypnosis is hard to beat. It is totally drug free and you merely organize a person’s normal nervous system reactions at the subconscious level, which is where the whole thing needs to be treated. A person can be trained to get rid of his subconscious tensions and anxieties which are the basic cause of insomnia.
Doctors advocating hypnotherapy make the point that a patient must attend a legally qualified practitioner specially trained in the skill.