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Updated on February 11, 2013


Some things remain with you throughout life and recall comes at many and varied times, such as for me recently when studying some issues concerning sleep, or more correctly, the lack of it. My memory is of my old Primary School Headmaster addressing us children at Assembly. I can recall I was 8 at the time, so his words have stayed with me for close on 65 years.

What prompted his address, I do not recall, but his total ethos was "work hard and play hard", being the theme of most of his pearls cast before us swine. He set the seeds in me that in life you got out what you put in and thus, if you wanted something good for yourself you had to put something good into the mix first.

On the day in question, he basically explained to us that honest division of time on a daily basis was the way to succeed in life. Each day had 24 hours and thus, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for work and 8 hours for play was the required formula. Simplistic indeed, but with adjustment to fit short term specifics, the premise on which he expounded has been found to carry things forward for me.

At different times of life, the model alters due to pressures and the like but as a rule of thumb the divisions stand the test of time for a sound and healthy lifetime.



For most of people this is a temporary disruption and things soon return to kilter. Yet many also find their sleep problem stretches longer and the very fabric of their lives is threatened and damaged by sleep deprivation. Sleep is such a key part of life that getting the balance right cannot be overstated. It is not for nothing that some prisoners are forcefully deprived of sleep after all !

In ordinary life, many suffer from insomnia at times of stress or even at times when they have no knowlege of what is causing their immediate problem. It is at such times that the problem usually arrives at the GP"S door accompanied by a request to be prescribed with "something to make me sleep". In most cases the request is effectively for a "sleeping pill". Indeed most GP"s can do little else to aid the patient. However, in too many cases, the aid becomes eventually the problem as too many end up taking pills long term.

The problem with sleeping pills is that they address the symptom and not the cause. Try telling that to a patient at the end of their tether after weeks of insomnia ! At that time, their sole wish is for something that will grant them the joy of sleep for at least a few hours regardless of consequences.

The particular causes of insomnia are many. Lack of regular exercise is one factor often forgotten, as is the environment for sleep.Too hot, too cold, too light, too noisy etc etc. Work pressures and the pressures of looking after a newish baby are often causes also. As a result, the sleeping pill is often seen as the reqiured quick fix and the refuge for a beleagured GP to prescribe.


GP"s have a tough task here. Clearly if a patient takes a week long course of pills and recovers their sleep pattern then all is well. The problem is when reliance on the pill becomes long term and the ""cure" becomes the new problem as some become addicted to the prescription .Sometimes in such cases, GP"s will prescribe a placebo pill which gives the patient the psychological boost of taking a pill but without the addiction forming constituents found in normal sleeping pills. For some this does the trick but others soon return requesting stronger doses, unaware they have been on a placebo.

As a result some become sleeping pill addicts sadly. GP"s now are fully aware of the dangers and know that if a patient needs more than two weeks on such a treatment, then addiction is a danger to be considered. In such cases other drugs, assisting the patient to come off the treatment gradually are implemented. Whatever is the case and whilst insomnia is a dangerous debilitating disease or condition, it has to be remembered that addiction to sleeping pills can also be a grave cause for concern.

The above in mind, more are seeking alternative remedies and successes have been found by some, if not by all, in treatments like acupuncture and hypnotherapy as well as herbal treatments As with all treatments there are plusses and minuses and very definitely what suits one does not fit another. In such cases, trial and error is still the only way to discover if a user can benefit.

Essentially, sleep, being a wonderful part of life, is something we all need. Too much and we become lazy, too little and we cease to function efficiently or effectively. The ultimate result of too much or too little is misery and that also relates to the effects of sleeping pills which can be a great force for good but also equal misery.

It seems therefore that in this case the real way forward is a mixture of both self help and intelligent prescribing by GP"s. Cetainly, best advice is that if you have been taking sleeping pills for more than 2 weeks you need to have a very serious consultation with your Doctor.


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