Having trouble sleeping? You're not alone - but here's what you can do about it
According to latest research, some 10 million prescriptions for sleeping pills are written every year in England alone, with 86 per cent of us suffering from sleep disturbance.
And it’s not just your mood that will suffer – getting insufficient quality shut eye can be also be bad for your health, leading to problems such as heart disease and weight gain.
But often simply taking a careful look at your lifestyle, diet and pre-sleep habits can have a massive and dramatic positive impact.
As with much of life, fail to prepare, and you’ll prepare to fail – so, wind down in the hour or so bed by avoiding screens or anything stimulating, and instead have that hot bath, read a book, maybe listen to some calming music.
Try to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon or evening, and maybe have a light carbohydrate-based snack after dinner, such a small bowl of porridge, to balance your blood sugar levels and help to relax you.
One other common misconception is that you can ‘store’ or ‘catch up’ on sleep – what’s much better is to consistently have eight-plus solid hours a night, ideally going to bed and getting up around the same time.
Our bodies have in-built circadian rhythms and we really are creatures who thrive on habit. Weekend lie-ins won’t make up for poor sleep during the week.
One of the main causes for sleeplessness is back pain, so try to minimise this by buying a decent mattress - and make sure you change your mattress every eight to 10 years.
Also taking an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen before you go to bed can help ease muscle spasms in the night.
Try to avoid alcohol before bed, which might help you nod off quicker but is a diuretic, so will regularly make you have to get up to go to the loo in the early hours, and also disrupts deep sleep.
To help seal the deal, try a simple meditation ritual, which can relieve stress and improve the quality of sleep.
Try this exercise: close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nostrils to a count of three while expanding your stomach.
Hold for three seconds then exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to six while flattening your stomach. Repeat five times.
Doctors can prescribe sleeping pills to help people with short-term insomnia but these are not without their problems.
They can be highly addictive and do not always provide restful sleep. These are only really suitable in short courses and as a last resort, but with proper medical guidance can help reset your system.
There are also some over the counter treatments which can help to establish a routine of sleep, but again, these should be used as a short-term aid.
But don’t suffer in silence – do speak to your GP if you’re really struggling.
No sleep medication should be taken long term, and each has its pluses and minuses, so always seek proper medical guidance before taking anything to help you sleep.
And remember, whatever you’re prescribed, Pharmacy2U can provide free, convenient delivery of any prescription medication.
* Dr. Alexandra Phelan is a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions.