We spend a third of our lives, or an average of 24 years sleeping – and yet up to 95% of us at some time have trouble sleeping.
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  • Updated:23 May 2000

03.Myths about sleep

1. I have no control over my sleep

You do have control over your sleeping time, but you may have to take it. One way to do that is by trying these sleep deprivation strategies.
Force yourself to lie in bed and stay awake – keep your eyes wide open. You may be surprised at the result.
Or determine how much sleep you’re getting each night using a sleep diary and no matter how little it is, only allow yourself that amount of time in bed each night for the following week. If you sleep, you can add 15 minutes to each night the next week.

2. When I feel bad through the day, it’s because I haven’t had enough sleep

A very interesting study measured the amount of sleep a group of severe insomniacs had over a week, and then asked them to report the symptoms they’d had as a result of not having slept. Then a group of non-insomniacs was forced to stay awake to match the sleep pattern of the insomniacs.
Despite having experienced exactly the same lack of sleep, the non-insomniacs reported very few symptoms. Unlike the insomniacs, they had decreased body tension and temperature.
So the reason you feel bad through the day is likely to be the anxiety about not sleeping.

3. Not sleeping will cause me serious health problems – I may suffer a breakdown

Insomnia has never caused any major health problems or killed anybody. If you didn’t sleep all night, it wouldn’t be fatal. Stop telling yourself how bad it is you can’t sleep. Instead, enjoy the time it takes you to drift off, remind yourself to relax, imagine a pleasant scenario.

4. Insomnia is due to a chemical imbalance in my body

Insomnia is a difficulty we all experience at some time, and it can be overcome. It is not a chemical problem. 

5. I cannot sleep because I am older

As people get older, there are changes in sleeping patterns that can make sleep more challenging. There is less deep restoring sleep and more nightime wakefulness and daytime sleepiness. There may be medical conditions(see Step 6) which interfere with sleep, particularly pain. However, studies of sleep problems in elderly people indicate that steps 1-5 will still improve sleep in 80% of cases.


Sleeping tablets

Unfortunately, although sleeping tablets may be appropriate to use occasionally for short periods, they cause major problems. 20-30% of all insomniacs and 50% of elderly insomniacs use medications to help them sleep.

Sleeping tablets work initially but you very quickly develop a tolerance to them. Studies show that after four weeks of continual use, they no longer have any effect on sleep at all.

When you stop taking them, you’ll experience a ‘rebound phenomenon’ – you’ll have a few nights’ bad sleep as you get back to normal. This means that after four weeks you’re no longer taking sleeping tablets to treat your insomnia, but rather to prevent you from suffering withdrawal symptoms.

The irony is that sleeping tablets cause far more problems with our levels of concentration than lack of sleep ever does.

The best strategy for stopping sleeping tablets is:

  • Decrease the amount you’re taking slowly over a period of around two weeks.
  • Remember you’ll have problems sleeping initlally due to coming off the tablets (the ‘rebound’ effect).
  • Use the knowledge you’ve acquired in steps 1-5 to help you deal with the insomnia.
  • Work in consultation with your doctor.

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