Insomnia is a common condition seen by family physicians. The usual short-term treatment for it is medication that involves hypnotics. These medications are habit-forming drugs and with long usage people can become dependent on them.
The problem can start for many reasons. In many people who work in shifts, the body rhythm is disturbed disturbing the normal sleep pattern. In many young mothers the sleep pattern gets disturbed waking intermittently at night to look after the baby’s needs. Caring for an old relative at night can also disturb the sleep pattern.
In almost all of these cases, the subconscious mind has got the message that sleep would put someone at risk. So in order to deal with this perceived ‘danger’, the mind goes into an alert state and does not allow the body to sleep. No amount of conscious logic or reason can convince the subconscious to let the body sleep. This increases physical tension.
In order for the body to rest, the tension has to be reduced. When the perceived fears are addressed, the body goes into a state if tiredness and then it is allowed to fall asleep. One of the exercises that I have suggested to my patients is this: At bedtime, when you are going to sleep, sit in the bed. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and then through your nose push the breath out forcefully but slowly. Next, take a deep breath and this time breathe out slowly and easily through the nose. Continue breathing like this with alternate breaths till you start to fall asleep.
With simple sleep problems, this exercise works well.
The underlying reason for most of the sleep problems is fear. Fear of the future is the worry. If fear issues are addressed in counseling or psychotherapy, sleep can become better. The other reason of sleep problem is anger. Most of the people would be unaware that they are carrying anger in their bodies. They might feel that because they do not worry, sleep disturbance is simply a disturbance of the body rhythm. In almost all such cases that I have seen, anger has been an underlying issue. Addressing the anger benefits sleep.
Sleep disturbance is commonly seen in anxiety, depression, psychosis and mania. Many psychiatric conditions start with disturbed sleep. It is important to take insomnia seriously. It is good to address the issue as soon as it starts than to let it build up and cause complications.
Pradeep K Chadha is a psychiatrist who specialises in helping patients with meditation and imagery using little or no medication. He is the author of The Stress Barrier-Nature's Way To Overcoming Stress published by Blackhall Publishing, Dublin. He is based in Dublin, Ireland. His website address is http://www.drpkchadha.com
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