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June 2019
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2004-11-30 Model "illness" leads to insomnia

When I was a lad attending the Model School in Sligo, there was one particular year where school-going was all of a sudden not the joy it had been thus far.


One morning at home in Cartron, I arrived downstairs for breakfast, feigning illness, claiming I didn't feel at all well. It was an Oscar-winning performance. My concerned mother asked me what was wrong. "Insomnia, I think", I replied rather pathetically, clearing my throat for added effect.


I had heard the word somewhere, knew it was an illness of some kind, and thought it may be serious enough to merit a day or even two off school. "You're having trouble sleeping?", Mum enquired. "Em, Uh, yes", I said, realising at that moment the symptoms of the illness I had picked out of the blue. An hour later at the doctor's surgery, we all discussed my disrupted sleeping patterns, and how to remedy the problem. I got the day off school, but in hindsight, it wasn't really worth the trouble or the deceit.


For some, insomnia can be a waking hell. Whether it means being a light sleeper and never really achieving sound sleep, or maybe waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep, or simply taking forever to get to sleep at night - insomnia can take many forms. Often changes in sleeping patterns can be a result of changes at work, or travel plans, or more likely, heightened stress levels, depression or anxiety. Some insomnia obviously needs medical guidance, but there are certain factors which can aid getting into a good and healthy sleep pattern.


It is suggested that we all require six to eight hours of continuous sleep each night, but it is important in any case to always accept the number of hours you do sleep as being normal for you. You may only need five or six hours sleep; some need more. Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher seemed to be able to survive on two or three hours a night. Some would say napping is inadvisable, though often unavoidable. It is said by experts that when one needs to sleep more, or before a particularly early start, it is inadvisable to go to bed early and try to sleep. Trying anything too hard normally fails. It is however wise to adjust your body-clock so that you always go to bed at more or less the same time, and rise at the same time, so your body can sense when sleeping ought to happen naturally. As far as possible it is vital to make the hours before bedtime as relaxing as possible. Avoid working, loud music, big meals, intense discussions, intensive evening body-workouts and exciting television late at night.


Try to avoid caffeine in the form of tea, coffee, and even hot chocolate late at night. Hot milk is fine. Alcohol does of course induce sleep, but it is not quality sleep, and for that reason alcohol late in the evening can be detrimental to sound sleep. Instead, have a warm bath - possibly with some lavender - play soothing music, or read (nothing too stimulating).


Always try to save your bedroom for bedroom activity - sleep, and whatever else one associates a bedroom with. It is not an alternative office and should not be used as one. I personally cannot sleep with a luminous clock by my bed, as I end up watching it as the minutes tick by. As a watched kettle never boils, so too a watched clock never allows me to sleep.


As far as possible, try to avoid resorting to medication - sleeping tablets - but if absolutely necessary, consult your doctor, remembering that like most medication, sleeping pills can become addictive. They ought to be only a temporary solution. A dependency on tablets can be unhealthy.


A Melatonin supplement available from health food stores can be of help, though again, under doctor's orders, not mine! I usually keep herbal sleeping tablets near my bed, and a set of ear-plugs; psychologically I know that they are always there in an emergency. With regular daytime exercise (never too late into the evening), healthy eating and ample sleep, your quality of life ought to improve.

And trust me, I have never been flippant about insomnia since.