Health Matters: sleep disturbance

Uppermill pharmacist IAN STRACHAN offers some top tips for dealing with sleep disturbance.

Ian Strachan headshot
Ian Strachan

INSOMNIA IS a difficulty in getting to sleep or merely staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning.

It’s believed around a third of people in the UK have episodes of insomnia, being more common in women and more likely to occur with age.

It’s difficult to define what normal sleep actually is because everyone’s needs are different, although lifestyle, environment and diet, can all play a part. Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up early in the morning
  • Feeling irritable and tired so finding it difficult to function during the day

What causes insomnia?

STRESS – Some people develop insomnia through stressful events, which persists even when the stress has resolved. Worrying about things such as work or health is likely to disturb our sleep. Even worrying about the fact you can’t sleep can actually inhibit our ability to sleep. Anxiety and mental health conditions may also contribute to disturbed sleep.

Insomnia can be linked to heart disease, thyroid problems arthritis, incontinence or even long-term pain.

Drinking too much alcohol and taking drugs effects our sleep pattern while stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine in tea, coffee and energy drinks may also contribute.

Various types of medication may effect our ability to sleep. I would recommend patients speak to their local pharmacist about how medication may influence sleep patterns.

There are a number of good sleep tips I use to help sufferers:

  • Try and establish fixed times for going to bed and waking up. It’s not wise to sleep in after a poor nights sleep
  • Try to relax before going to bed
  • Keep a comfortable sleeping environment – not too hot, not too cold, noisy or bright. Wear earplugs if noise is a problem
  • Avoid naps during the day
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night
  • Avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime. Exercise in the middle of day is beneficial
  • Avoid eating heavy meals late at night
  • Avoid checking the clock throughout the night
  • Only use the bedroom for sleeping and sex! Watching TV, making phone calls or playing on that Ipad is a no
  • Make sure your mattress is comfortable and you have a pillow you like. Also ensure there are adequate bed covers.

If your sleep disturbances last more than four weeks I would advise visiting your GP.

In the pharmacy I am increasingly asked about the value of complementary and alternative treatments.

My view is there is very limited evidence to suggest acupuncture or hypnotherapy are effective in treating insomnia. Herbal remedies like chamomile and passionflower are often reported to have positive effects. However they haven’t been thoroughly clinically tested so their effectiveness and long term safety is unknown.

Next time: we will look at frozen shoulder but until then I hope it’s sweet dreams.

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