Posted tagged ‘Valerian’

Sleep improving again

April 16, 2010

At last I seem to be out of the patch of mediocre sleep I was having for a while there.  We’re still not sure, but it looks like it was caused by the high-dose multivitamins my specialist has me on, probably the B vitamins in particular.  I’ve halved the dose and am taking them in the mornings only, plus using coloured light bulbs and herbal sleep aids in the evenings again, and my sleep is back to being bang on time and good quality.  I was up and quilting at 7.30 am yesterday!

I’ll probably continue the herbal sleep aids for a few months, just to get the message through, as advised by a local herbalist.  That said, I haven’t taken any supplements at all for the last few days, and I’m still sleeping well.  The current dose is either one Valerian Formula with one capsule of valerian alone, or three capsules total of any combination of valerian and passiflora (my next bottle of Valerian Formula is late in the post).  This is slightly higher than what I was taking before, but the herbalist said it’s still absolutely fine to use for a few months.  Dr Myhill recommends anything up to four 400mg capsules of valerian where I’m taking two, for context.

Using the coloured light bulbs every night is something that didn’t seem necessary when I was having very good sleep for five months, but does make a difference now, although I don’t know if that was just while I was on those multivitamins.  My coloured-light-hating partner is away on holiday for twelve days, so I’ve taken the opportunity to spend this time under low coloured light in the evenings.  I’m still fiddling with how I set up the coloured lightso that it is as pleasant as possible, gives the right amount of light for pottering about my bedroom, and doesn’t allow (much) blue light to creep in around the edges of my orange glasses.  Previously I had the salt lamp by my bed with a pink bulb in it, which produced a sort of salmon-coloured light.

I still haven’t got around to constructing a DIY spectroscope with a DVD and cereal box, as advised by my kind readers here, but I’ve taken the tip to put a DVD by the light source to see if any blue reflects off it.  As expected, the salt lamp produces a little blue light with an ordinary bulb inside it, but no blue light with a coloured bulb.  The yellow bulbs in the hall which I use to light the bathroom are fine too.

I wasn’t mad on the salt lamp by the bed, it was rather dim and too pinkish for my taste.  So I’ve bought a small opal glass pebble lamp and put a 15W pygmy amber bulb inside for by the bed, and put the salt lamp back in the bookcase opposite the bed with its original 15W uncoloured bulb.  The salt lamp produces a pleasant peachy-golden glow which I actually put on about an hour before the orange glasses go on, and I am careful to make sure that I don’t get so close to it that the stray light will get around the edges of my orange glasses.  It looks much nicer with an uncoloured bulb in there, as you can see the variations in colour produced by the salt which was most of the point of getting that lamp in the first place, whereas the coloured bulbs masked that.  The pebble lamp by the bed is perfectly safe even without the orange glasses, and provides substantially more light than the salt lamp did when it had the pink bulb in.  It’s enough that I can pootle around the bedroom and just about see the laptop keyboard well enough to type, but dim enough to be thoroughly relaxing.  I never really used to like those amber bulbs, I always preferred the yellow ones, but it seems that my tastes have changed as I now find it quite a pleasant colour.  We’ll see what my partner thinks when he gets home.

I’m not bothering to put in alternative bulbs in the living room, I’m not in there much in the late evening and I can just turn the overhead lights down low with a dimmer switch.  I’m hoping to move flat this year and I’ll set up a better arrangement then.  I’ve got my eye on those LED bulbs which offer sixteen colours and have a remote control, but right now they’re not very bright, mostly don’t have a warm white, and very expensive, so I’ll wait until I’m settled in the new flat and hopefully by then LED lighting will have improved.

I’m also not bothering to put the orange filter back on the laptop screen, as the orange specs and amber lighting seem to be enough.  I think that the amount of stray blue light that gets to my eyes round the edges of the glasses from the laptop screen is too minimal for me to need to worry about it, especially since I’m generally watching films on the laptop by that point in the evening and it’s thus a good six feet away from me.

Siestas continue to be odd.  I’m still not sure whether I really need them or not.  I’m taking them perhaps half the time, when I really can’t keep my eyes open in the afternoons.  It’s easier when I know I’ll be using coloured bulbs that evening, otherwise I’ve had a few nights where it was difficult to get to sleep the night after a siesta, which by now is something unusual for me.  Occasionally the siesta ends up rather longer than planned, say four hours, which again seems to be OK if I use coloured lights that evening and could go either way if I don’t.

As I don’t think I’ve got around to discussing yet, I alter the time when I begin the darkness therapy by twenty minutes each month in a rough reflection of seasonal variation.  For April, the darkness therapy starts at 9.40.  It seems to be suiting me.  The latest it will start is 10.20 in June, and I’m curious to see whether that will be too short a length of time for the darkness therapy, or whether I’ll just adjust.  Certainly this method makes me feel more in synch with when it gets dark outside, even if I’m not following the local sunset hours that closely (I live too far north for that to be wise).

What my sleep’s up to these days

February 26, 2010

The yellow bulbs in the hall are continuing to work well to light the bathroom, and the salt lamp is now confirmed for staying by the bed with a pink 15W pygmy bulb in it.  I should probably mention that there’s no reason why anyone should get a salt lamp, I just find them pretty myself, and they already filter out a certain amount of blue light (though not all) through being orangey.  It’s odd, the light looks deep pink if you put it on when the room is already lit, and more orange if you put it on when the room is dark.  It’s useful for when I want to sneak out of bed and get dressed when my partner’s still asleep, as it’s not bright or blue enough to wake him up, or as soft background lighting in the late evening.  Most useful of all, the cable has ended up positioned so that the switch is down the side of the bedside cabinet, about as easy to get to from the bed as is humanly possible, which saves fumbling around in the drawer to find the red bike light or similar. By the way, if you do decide that salt lamps are nice and go looking for one, ignore all the nonsensical health claims.  They’re just pretty lamps.

For some reason my sleep’s been a little odd over the last couple of weeks.  It may be because when my partner had a week off, our routines changed slightly.  I set the clock on the dawn simulator so that it would come on an hour later, as he said he wanted a bit of a lie-in but not to end up losing the whole morning.  I was often up and lightboxing before the dawn simulation as my wake-up time seems to be well-programmed, but it seemed to work well for him.  Then we went to bed an hour or so later than usual, which for me is strange as by now you generally can’t keep me up much past midnight however you try.  I’ve also been a lot more tired than usual during the afternoons and evenings, which I am now putting down to the ME/CFIDS having a minor flare.

Now that he’s back at work, I have been wrestling with the problem of my body’s sudden ardent desire to have siestas.  I’ve snapped back into my usual wake-up time with no trouble whatsoever, but I keep getting irresistibly sleepy later in the day.  I’ve tried fighting it for a few days, using the lightbox on a double stint in the morning and/or an extra session after lunch or early afternoon, and putting the little blue LED bulb into a clip-on light (which leaves it fully visible; at 1W it’s not so bright that you can’t look at it comfortably) and putting it by the bed or laptop from 9.30 am to 3 pm.  I’ve known that LED bulb to keep me quite wired at night if used up to 4.30 pm, but it didn’t do a thing for keeping me awake in the afternoons this time.  I wondered about adding a bit of 470nm blue light to my dawn simulation in the hope that it would get the message across to my circadian clock more effectively, and tried setting it for 15 min before and after the start of the dawn simulation.  When it actually came on, it turned out to be much brighter in a dark room than I’d expected, so I immediately turned it off.  I’d still be curious to try a blue or white LED dawn simulator one day.  The only blue one I know of was put together by this guy, and the only white one that’s meant to be any good (there are some cheap ‘n’ nasty things around) is the SRS320 by Morning Sunrise (Sunrise System), which not everyone likes as an overall unit.

I have now given in and realised that my body probably just wants more sleep by now, which can happen from time to time with ME.  I slept 16-20 hours a day the first year I was ill, not that I anticipate going back to that.  But someone on an ME forum did recently tell me that she feels best when she makes herself get about 11 hours’ sleep a day, which she guesses is due to her body’s increased need to do repair work during sleep, so I think trying some extra sleep is worthwhile.  I’m still aiming for my usual bedtime but am not too worried if we end up going to bed an hour later, though I’m occasionally lying awake for a little or waking up an hour before my alarm, something that’s less common for me these days.  The siestas are going OK, they range from 1-3 hours, though I suspect today may have been more like 4.  I originally tried sleeping with the curtains open and then went for closing them so that the room is pretty dark, in the spirit of having a proper sleep.  I think I’ll go back to leaving them open, I don’t want to end up messing up my sleeping pattern by getting my body to think that mid-afternoon is bedtime.  I’ve also gone back to herbal sleep aids at bedtime, since they never do me any harm, I just stopped them because at that point they were redundant.  I may as well get all the sleep I can if my body’s clamouring for it.

So far, my sleep at night is a little more broken as described above, but I no longer have the problem of having to torture myself to stay awake earlier in the day.  My overall energy levels are relatively low at the moment, so I think I made the right call on getting more sleep.  The only snag is that when I don’t remember to turn the phones off for my siesta I get woken several times (this is bringing back how awkward it is to sleep during the day), and when I do turn them off, I forget to turn them back on again!

Update

I’m definitely feeling better with more sleep, at least over the last few days.  I’m taking a fair bit of herbal stuff to knock myself out at night, last night it was one valerian formula, one 400mg valerian, and two 300mg passiflora/100mg chamomile capsules, but I’ve taken that sort of dose before and know that I’m absolutely fine with it, though I probably wouldn’t want to be relying on it long-term.  It’s far safer than temazepam in the short-term, though.  Last night it was mainly because I was concerned that my accidentally long siesta would mess up my treasured new sleep pattern and didn’t want to undo months of work. It took a little longer than my new norm to get to sleep (possibly – it’s really hard to tell), though far less than my old norm, and while I woke up at 7 am, I got back to sleep again.  Having a siesta has meant that I skip the stage of spending the afternoon trying to keep my eyes open, and while I’m still tired and ME-relapsy, I haven’t felt like a dead cat for a few days now.  It seems that I do indeed need this much sleep right now, even if my body has to be cajoled into getting it at the right times.

First discussion!

February 13, 2010

Welcome to all my new readers!  I’d like to open the floor to you here.  Tell me about your sleep, what you’ve tried for it, whether you’ve used light or darkness therapies for sleep or indeed for other purposes such as SAD, and of course you can just introduce yourself.  I’d love you to comment on my articles, reviews and blog posts as well, of course, but these discussion posts are especially for you.  If there’s anything you want me to post about, let me know.

How to shift your bedtime/waking time to earlier

February 12, 2010

When I was using light therapy alone, I found that my 25 hour pattern shifted to 24 hours beautifully but that sooner or later, I would stay up too late and would end up stuck on falling asleep at 4 am or so again.  DSPS is a tough nut to crack.  This was in the days before I found darkness therapy, which has made my sleep/wake pattern rock solid, so here’s how I treated it at the time.

My preferred sleeping tablet when I need one is 20mg temazepam; many people find that 10mg is enough, but I need a higher dose.  While my GP advised me that I should be able to take it for up to a week, I found that taking it for a week straight caused rebound insomnia when I stopped, presumably because the ME/CFIDS makes me over-sensitive to medication.  I find that taking it for three consecutive nights is fine, so I work with that.  It’s entirely possible that I’d be fine with five nights, but I’ve never needed to try.

I would always recommend strongly that you discuss this with your GP.  They should be made aware of your sleeping problems anyway, even if you’re trying to solve them yourself, and sleeping tablets are fairly serious things, even the over-the-counter ones.  Discuss which sleeping tablets will best meet your needs, and if you’ve had a sleep problem for a while you’ve most likely tried several by now anyway.  Do tell them that you will only be using the tablets for a few nights in order to shift your sleep pattern, as otherwise they will be a lot more reluctant to let you have any meds.  I’ve managed to convinced a GP who’d never met me before to let me have four sleeping tablets for this purpose when it was an emergency (missed flight, unexpected night flight), and I doubt that he’d have let me have anything at all if I’d just wandered in to say that I was a bad sleeper and wanted some drugs please.

I’ve always been able to move my sleep back enough over three days using this method, but if I had needed to control a larger shift I would probably have done three days, waited a week, and then repeated the process.  My general lightbox treatment time is 45 minutes, but for this I would sometimes use a longer treatment time to help reinforce the circadian shift.  As far as I can recall, I used an ordinary alarm clock to make sure I got my light therapy at the right time the next morning, but dawn simulation would probably be even better.

Let’s assume that my bedtime is usually 1 am but has shifted to 4 am.

Day 0 – bed at 4 am, wake the next day at 12 pm.
Day 1 – sleeping tablet at 2.30 am for 3 am bedtime, bright lightbox at 11 am.
Day 2 – sleeping tablet at 1.30 am, lightbox at 10 am.
Day 3 – sleeping tablet at 12.30 am, lightbox at 9 am.
Day 4 – no sleeping tablet, lightbox at 9 am.

After that I would relax and use the lightbox whenever I woke up, instead of setting an alarm clock.  This method worked for me every time, including when I had to go on a night flight and deal with a 3 hour time difference to boot.

If you are using darkness therapy, you may not need the sleeping tablets at all.  Just put on the tinted glasses/switch over to orange lighting an hour earlier every evening.  The usual recommendation is to commence darkness therapy three hours before your desired bedtime, though some people find that they get sleepy too early if they do this.  Obviously getting sleepy too early is not a deterrent for DSPS sufferers!

For the above problem, I’d suggest starting the darkness therapy three or four hours before your current bedtime to begin with, and seeing what happened.  It may take a few nights to kick in fully.  Use the bright lightbox when you wake up.  You can wait until you wake up naturally, depending on how effective the darkness therapy is for you, or you can set an alarm so that you make yourself use the lightbox an hour earlier every day.  Since you’re not using sleeping tablets and therefore don’t need to worry about getting the process completed in a hurry, you can try shifting your sleep more slowly, even by 15 min a night.  Keep a diary of what you’re doing so that you don’t lose track.

If you have Non-24 Sleep-Wake Disorder, I’d suggest waiting until your circadian clock has shifted around to your ideal bedtime and waking time before trying anything, then hitting it with light therapy, darkness therapy and/or sleeping tablets to stabilise it there.  The sleeping tablets are a short-term measure, but the light and darkness therapies can be continued full-time and indeed should if you have a circadian rhythm disorder.

If your problem is jet lag or shift work, rather than a misbehaving body clock, you’ll have to experiment to find out what suits you best, and you may only need to use light/darkness therapies occasionally.  Sleeping tablets are best reserved for occasional use, so if you are going to be moving your sleep pattern every week or so, I wouldn’t advise them, and I would certainly suggest that you discuss this with your doctor.  Some companies give their night shift workers yellow safety goggles to wear when they go home in the daytime, so that the light on their journey won’t keep them awake.

If your problem is instead Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome, then use bright light therapy in the evenings instead to keep you awake for longer.  I have absolutely no idea how darkness therapy would factor in here, but if you’re using it for other purposes (e.g. sounder sleep), I would imagine you would want to be careful not to start it too early in the evening, and remember that darkness therapy alone is unlikely to shift your body clock in the desired fashion.  Light therapy will be the key here.

For any of these problems, dawn simulation alone is unlikely to be enough to shift your body clock, at least in my experience, but may be very helpful in sticking to a good pattern once you have one in place.  I recently went back to dawn simulation, and while I had already stabilised my body clock using light therapy and darkness therapy by now, I think it may be adding a little extra help, and my partner is certainly finding that the dawn simulation makes it much easier to get up in the mornings.

Medication for sleep

January 26, 2010

Short-term medication

Doctors are reluctant to hand out sleeping tablets for good reason.  They’re most often highly addictive and can cause rebound insomnia, as well as the usual risk of side-effects.  They can be used sensibly, however.  If you’re going through a particularly stressful time such as a bereavement, sleeping tablets may be used for a few weeks.  If your bedtime has crept to far too late, sleeping tablets may be used for a short time (no more than a week; I can only do three days, then I get rebound insomnia), preferably in conjunction with bright light therapy, to move it back to where it should be.  Sleeping tablets can be scary things, so research side effects carefully and the first time you take a new med, make sure you can sleep in the next morning if need be.  I’ve tried Zolpidol and Zolpidem (Ambien), and while Ambien seemed to work OK at first, I tried it again and got hallucinations that night and was groggy for the next week.  I now use Temazepam 20mg for no more than three nights in a row, and probably do this a few times a year.  That said, now that I am nicely settled into darkness therapy, it doesn’t seem to be necessary.

Long-term medication

Most people shouldn’t be taking this, but instead improving their sleep hygiene and so forth.  If you have a sleep disorder that can only be helped by medication, it may be possible, though it should always be discussed with your doctor.  My sleep study showed that I don’t get enough deep sleep, as is common with ME.  I can improve my sleep hygiene until the cows come home, I’m never going to get enough deep sleep, so long-term meds make sense for people like me as long as I can tolerate them, and since I have only recently discovered darkness therapy, this is what my GP spent some time trying me on.  Rarely people will take the stronger hypnotics for long-term use, but it’s far from being a first port of call and I would not be able to do it myself.  Antihistamines and low-dose tricyclic antidepressants are common for long-term use.  I didn’t get on well with either: the antihistamines made me a zombie in the day but not particularly sleepy at night, while the amitriptylene (low-dose tricyclic) did great things for my sleep but caused too many side-effects.

I spent several months taking a herbal sleeping aid, Lifeplan Valerian Formula, before I discovered that I didn’t need it once I had the orange glasses for darkness therapy.  If you’ve tried herbal sleeping tablets before and found them useless, check the dosage you were taking, as most of the ones on the market are so low-dose that I doubt there’s more than a placebo effect going on.  The Lifeplan one has a nice reasonable dose, and some people take two capsules at a time.  Some studies suggest that valerian should be taken off and on to avoid building up a tolerance, so for half my cycle I took the valerian formula, and the other half (when I’m premenstrual and more likely to get anxiety) I took 600mg passiflora and 400mg skullcap at bedtime, both in capsule form by Biohealth herbs.  Now that the darkness therapy has kicked in, I’m just using the passiflora and skullcap, as they are useful to treat the PMS, won’t harm my sleep even when taken on top of darkness therapy, and would make me groggy if I took them during the daytime.  The main herbs for sleep are relatively well-researched by now and often come up as effective as benxodiazepines, so again do your research, make sure it’s a reputable manufacturer, and talk to your doctor about what you’re doing.  This should only be used long-term by people who have pretty much no other way of getting a good night’s sleep, however; if you’re reasonably healthy, just keep it for occasional use.

I’ve tried melatonin tablets but they didn’t do a thing for me.  They’re not used in the UK, which makes me fairly cautious of them to begin with, and it’s uncertain how well melatonin works when given in oral tablet form.  This site discusses the problems that can occur from taking melatonin tablets.  I prefer to use darkness therapy instead, where I’m stimulating my body to produce melatonin itself.  If it’s a long-term sleeping problem, I’d suggest trying darkness therapy before medication, unless you need the medication for other reasons anyway, such as low-dose tricyclic antidepressants for pain.

Sleep hygiene

January 26, 2010

Google this and read a few articles on it.  This one by the ME specialist and researcher Dr Sarah Myhill* is particularly useful, though I’m not convinced that we should all be going to bed at half-past nine (Dr Myhill does admit that she’s a natural “lark” herself).  Note the areas you’re not doing well in and think about how you might be able to improve them, even if it’s just partially.  The main thing I had to stop doing was staying on the internet too late, it’s a big sleep-killer.  It’s important to keep yourself in a steady routine as far as possible, including regular mealtimes, if you have any problems with circadian rhythms.

For those of you who aren’t in the mood for hunting around for different articles, here are some sleep hygiene tips.

  • Your bed should be blissfully comfortable.  Opinions on exactly what your bed should be like seem to vary, so read up on this if you’re in any doubt, but you probably know what you prefer.  Do remember not to let your mattress get too elderly.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, so that your brain doesn’t associate it with wakefulness.  If there are good reasons why that’s not possible, for instance due to having ME/CFIDS, do think about how the process of association works and consider workarounds, such as switching to the sofa for part of the day, or even a spare bed.
  • Generally think about relaxing pre-bedtime routines and how you think about sleep.  Routines can make a surprising difference, and it helps to have a daytime mindset and a bedtime mindset.
  • Meditation, visualisation and the like can be very helpful, especially if your mind goes whizzing round in the evenings.  There are lots of different ways you can do this, so keep looking if the first method you find merely irritates you.  I quite like a Zen meditation technique where you repeatedly count to ten, one number with each breath.  Usually I just drift off while daydreaming.
  • It’s well-known that caffeine will keep you awake, but few people know that alcohol and nicotine do as as well.  If this applies, you can either change your habits in a big way, or at least remember not to drink/smoke after lunchtime for special occasions, such as when you will have to be up for an early morning appointment or anticipate that something will disrupt your sleep (e.g. travelling on an overnight bus).
  • Try to reserve energising activities for earlier in the day.  This can be tricky for natural night owls who feel at their most creative in the evening, or people who only really come to a few hours after they finish work, but it’s worth thinking about if you want to improve your sleep.  Knowing your natural tendencies is a big part of the battle.
  • Strenuous exercise is best reserved for earlier in the day, say up to mid-afternoon.
  • Computers are lethal for keeping you awake in the evening.  This is partly because they engage your mind, and partly because they emit a lot of blue light which suppresses the sleep hormone, melatonin (keep reading to find out more about this).  Either stay off the computer altogether, or use an orange screen filter, preferably combined with keeping to less energising activities (playing computer solitaire is fine, writing a blog post about something that really excites you is likely to lead to “how did it get to 5 am?” syndrome).
  • Televisions pose similar problems to computer screens, both in terms of blue light and getting your brain involved.  I manage as long as I wear my orange glasses to block the blue light, and generally keep to something relatively soporific if it’s just before bed.  This is the time for watching an episode of a not-terribly-exciting TV series, not for starting a two hour horror film.
  • Know your bladder!  Some people find that they go to the toilet all night if they so much sip a little water in the evening, in which case set yourself a time after which you won’t drink anything, or at least restrict fluids.  Other people are fine whatever they do, and these folks are good candidates for calming herbal teas, such as chamomile or lemon balm (melissa).  I recommend Dr Stuart’s Valerian Plus, which has a goodly amount of valerian in it, along with passiflora and hops which are both useful for sleep, but it doesn’t taste too bad for a valerian tea, probably because it has lots of linden blossom (lime flowers), which tastes beautiful as well as being calming.  If you find chamomile effective but don’t like the taste, there are some good chamomile blends out there, such as Twinings Chamomile & Limeflower.
  • Warm baths help for some people.  You can add Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), which are meant to relax the muscles, or a few drops of a calming essential oil such as lavender.  If you go for the aromatherapy option, don’t get too hung up on which oils are prescribed for insomnia, as reaction to smell is intensely personal and you just want whatever makes you feel relaxed.  Check whether the oil is listed as sedating (neroli is wonderful, although pricey so buy it diluted for this) or stimulating (rosemary is definitely not a bedtime oil).
  • You can also utilise aromatherapy by putting a single drop of a calming oil on a tissue and keeping it near your pillow.  I don’t recommend oil burners which use candles for obvious safety reasons; if you want to use an electric oil burner, plug it into a timer so that it won’t be on all night.  Another pleasant use for aromatherapy is to buy or make up an oil blend with calming essential oils, such as Roman chamomile and bergamot, and either apply it to yourself or, better still, get your partner (if you have one) to give you a gentle massage.
  • Some people are kept awake by chilly feet.  If this is the case, there’s the obvious sock option and the marginally less obvious hot water bottle or microwaveable rice bag option.
  • Warm bed, cool room, seems to be the advice I’m finding on most sites.  Probably worth following, and fresh air is always good, but as ever, go for what makes you most comfortable, don’t follow something you don’t get on with just because a website suggested it.
  • If you’re kept awake by worries or other thoughts, and you are either single or have a very deep-sleeping partner, you can try keeping a notepad by the bed for writing down anything that is keeping your mind on the hamster wheel.  Use a dim light for doing this, preferably one that is yellow, orange or red (see the articles on darkness therapy).
  • If you can’t get to sleep, or wake up in the night and can’t get to sleep, give it 20 minutes (this is the usual recommendations; many people would consider 20 minutes fantastically fast to get to sleep, so it may need to be longer for you), and if you still can’t sleep, go and do something relaxing in another room, such as reading or listening to soft music.  Again, use yellow/orange/red light if possible, and dim light at the very least.
  • And this applies for getting up to use the toilet in the night too.  It only takes a short exposure to white/blue light to suppress melatonin levels, unfortunately.  Don’t forget to take the hallway light levels into consideration either.
  • If your child insists on a nightlight, or you need one for navigating hallways, find something that’s yellow/orange/amber/red.  It is ludicrous how many nightlights are just the right kind of bluish white that will keep you awake.
  • On that subject, speak to your doctor if you’re being kept awake by your urinary tract or digestive system.  It is not normal to need to urinate several times during the night, or to be kept awake by gas, and it may be a sign of Overactive Bladder Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or a food intolerance (e.g. gluten), amongst other possibilities.
  • Ditto for pain: I don’t care if you dislike painkillers, any pain that is disrupting your sleep is serious enough to warrant being discussed with a doctor.  You may need to take medication or alter the medication you’re taking already, and you may also be able to find a non-drug solution.  Remember that poor sleep increases daytime pain levels, so it’s a vicious circle very much worth breaking.
  • While I’m marching people off to their doctors, remember that how you sleep reflects your mental health as well.  If you’re up half the night every night worrying, you may have an anxiety disorder, for instance.  Just because you may been experiencing it for as long as you can remember doesn’t mean that it’s healthy!
  • Find out what sort of sleep is normal for your age group, rather than following myths.  It is perfectly normal for teenagers to be on a late schedule, though this should improve by 20 or so.  It is not the case that you need less sleep when you’re elderly, however, although many elderly people do sleep less due to, say, pain from arthritis, or other similar problems which – you’ve guessed it – should be discussed with a doctor.
  • If an external factor is disrupting your sleep, don’t just assume that everyone has to put up with this, as there may be a solution for it.  Darkness therapy is useful for shift workers and new parents, for instance.  New curtains, if yours are letting the light in, may be unaffordable, but clip-in blackout linings are cheap and very effective.
  • If your partner snores, consider the following: earplugs, a white noise generator/tinnitus relaxer (some can be plugged into a pillow), separate bedrooms.  If you haven’t done this already, march them off to the doctor to be checked for sleep apnoea, a very common and rather dangerous condition.  This may mean that you end up having to listen to their CPAP machine instead of their snores, but at least they’ll be a lot healthier.

* Please note that Dr Myhill is now being viewed with caution.  See the Links page for more information.