How can we beat insomnia?14th April 2009
An expert from the United States says he has developed a new programme to help those with insomnia, which can include up to half the adult population.
Gregg D Jacobs of Massachusetts University Medical School believes that his six-week programme is the first viable alternative to sleeping pills.
Trials in the US showed that 90% of people who used his method reduced their dependence on insomnia drugs, while 75% became normal sleepers.
A recent survey of UK adults showed that 80% of people would prefer a good night's sleep to sex.
Jacobs' programme is outlined in his book, Say Goodnight to Insomnia, in which he aims to teach relaxation and a change in attitude to sleep, including the use of cognitive behavioural therapy exercises.
Worrying, he argues, aggravates insomnia, turning the bedroom into a battleground rather than a haven of rest.
Inspired by his experience of monks in the Indian town of Sikkim, who wrapped themselves in wet sheets before meditation, and were able to raise their body temperature at will, Jacobs says the mind has the ability to control the body, and therefore to control sleep.
Training the mind to reject negative thoughts and habits can lead to an end to sleeplessness and a new life of energy and joy, he says.
Drugs are of limited usefulness, and only prevent insomnia in the short term, according to Jacobs, because sooner or later the brain gets used to medication, and the effects wear off.
What's more, drugs can induce memory loss, making it hard to tell whether one had a good night's sleep or not.
Jacobs says many people believe that eight hours constitutes a good night's sleep, whereas in fact people who only sleep for seven hours sleep longer.
Knowing this makes the quest for enough sleep less of a challenge.
Jacobs' plan hinges on a regular timetable for sleeping, with as much sunlight and exercise as possible during waking hours, leading to greater tiredness at night.
We should, he says, aim to always fall asleep - and wake up - at the same time every night, and a poor night's sleep should result in a later, rather than an earlier, bedtime.
Afternoon naps should always be taken before 4 pm, and should never last longer than 45 minutes, while two cups of coffee are all right before lunchtime, and a glass of wine at dinner is also acceptable.
Foods which are high in complex carbohydrates, like bread, biscuits and bagels, have a soporific effect. These can be taken as late-night snacks.
Sugary, fatty, spicy or high-protein food should be avoided in the evening, and Chinese takeaways containing monosodium glutamate are completely forbidden.
If one is still awake half an hour after going to bed, one should get up again, according to Jacobs, as tossing and turning for a long time is counter-productive.
Jacobs' programme also includes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercises to reduce stress and relax body and mind, as well as tips for dealing with shift work, children and jet lag.
Jacobs' book is published this week in the UK.
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