Politics, sex, religion, and sleep…

These are the subjects I’ve learned not to discuss in public.

The last one is difficult… especially when, like me, you work in sleep.

Most of the time, when asked what I do, I might say something along the lines of “I’m a doctor” or “I’m an academic,” because every single time I mention I work in sleep, there’s always someone either suffering from sleep issues or who has a close relative with insomnia.

Here’s how a conversation I had at a wedding a few weeks ago went:

Them: So, you must know how to help people sleep, right?

I read that meditation can help. I have a friend who treated his insomnia with magnesium, but it’s done nothing for me. Is that possible? Or is it because I take it at the wrong time? Is that the trick?

Me: Well, not really…

Those won’t really solve your sleep problem. There aren’t any tricks, techniques, or supplements that will “get you to sleep.”

You can definitely overcome insomnia, but it requires following a specific therapy consistently over several weeks.

Them: Oh? But a couple of months ago, I read an article in The Telegraph saying they can improve your sleep.

Me: I regularly review studies and explore ways we can advance sleep disorder treatment.

However, when it comes to people who have been suffering from sleep issues persistently for more than few months (not studies done on the general public) I’ve found that only Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Insomnia have real evidence of effectiveness.

Them: And what about medical marijuana?

Me: Not really… I haven’t seen any robust scientific studies that would allow me to confidently tell you it can be effective.

Them: Oh, okay. And what about falling asleep? Do you have any special technique I could use to fall asleep when I have a racing mind?

Me: Unfortunately, no…

All I can offer is what I’ve seen in the hospitals, sleep disorder centers, sleep clinics, and labs I work with and I think the underlying issue here is that you have an insomnia type sleep problem that you need to address.

Because even if you’ve struggled with sleep for years or even decades, you most likely can fix your sleep problem. I can tell you this with confidence because I’ve helped thousands of people beat their insomnia. So I can assure you it’s possible…

…BUT it will require following a program for a few weeks.

Imagine you are out of shape. You can workout to get fit, gain muscle, lose fat, and become healthy.

But it requires following a program for a while. Doing a sports session sporadically will yield no results.

Incorporate a little every day, follow strategies to integrate movement into your life with minimal effort, and the results can be astonishing.

However, unless you are already quite fit, you won’t be able to get toned muscles to show off at the beach in just a few days.

The same principle applies to sleep.

No shortcut on the horizon

At this point, the the person I ended the “sleep talk” with a look of slight disdain.

I should have known not to talk about sleep. It happens to me all the time.

At times it’s demoralising. I really do wish there was a treatment or technique I could offer people to help them sleep like the good sleepers out there, especially when things have been particularly bad for a few nights.

But sadly, there isn’t, and it seems there is nothing on the horizon either.


Some approaches can help overcome long-term insomnia

However, there are approaches that can help!

Some basic online courses or books are very affordable or even free. Others may be more of an investment but include access to therapists and specialists.

Both can help you overcome a sleep problem that’s been plaguing you for years.

But they’ll require commitment from you; they require you to consistently follow the program, at least for a few weeks.

The basic ones are mostly one-size-fits-all and require extra grit, discipline, and resilience.

Others are much easier as they are tailored to you and offer specialist care and support along the way (which, from my many years of experience, is what most of us really need).


It’s a bit like getting fit

And to go back to our sports and fitness analogy, you can become super fit and healthy by following some YouTube videos and working out in the park.

…just as much as you can by having a team of nutritionists and sports coaches help you in a gym.

The most important thing is to select a program that feels right for you and stick to it.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for any advice it is most welcome..I have had insomnia for 32 years and done everything I can think over the years including Katherine Pinkham course which never helped at all at the cost of 270 £,would your course be similar to hers . Yours Margaret Rush.

    1. Hi Margaret, thanks for your message. There are many different types of courses out there and I understand it can be confusing. What we are doing at re:sleep is providing personalised programs and support – which means you aren’t alone, and should something become unfeasible and unsustainable in your life – we can change it to suit you, and help you get through it. Our program is not the DIY textbook one-size-fits-all model, because over the years this has not worked for my clients, but rather something more human and adaptive did. I studied insomnia sufferers for many years adapting this model to find out how to make it sustainable and suitable in each unique version of insomnia, of which there are many.

  2. I think your fitness analogy is really salient. Most people will see that having a personal trainer to oversee one’s physical activity is going to work much better than buying a book or an online course – unless totally committed of course, which most of us aren’t

    1. Hi Anna, I think it’s tricky for insomnia sufferers to commit when they have been sold many coping mechanisms and quick tricks in the past, which then don’t work to completely alleviate the problem. It can be hard to trust a sustainable and slightly longer model. The good thing is, we aren’t going away anytime soon, so once that person is ready, we are here. And then it’s only a matter of time to see improvements.

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