One of my ex-problems is restless, troubled sleep. I would struggle all night it seemed trying to solve dreamed problems, over and over. The stress associated with dealing with these imagined issues was far more intense than solving problems while awake. I once dreamed the bed was a sinking ship and I was saving Penny (my first wife) from drowning. I was acting it out, physically. After that she wrote a note to posterity stating that should I injure her in my sleep, it was likely I was dreaming. Frequently I would sleepwalk. One day in about 1992 I sleepwalked out of the front door right into the garage - so I decided to do something about it. The investigation started. The results may be of interest to anyone who has trouble finding peace on the pillow.

I have found four ways to ensure a night without those frustrating dreams. All these work well for me. If I am in great need of an (apparently) dreamless night, I will often combine any two remedies from these four.

  1. Naturally Caffeine-Free Herbal Tea, eg. from "Second Cup" Coffee stores. This comes in many flavours, and all are equally effective, but I prefer the taste of "Royal Raspberry." I have experimented with many other herbal teas, and have found none which work for me quite as well as the Second Cup variety.
  2. The homeopathic remedy "Noctura", made by Nelsons; not too easy to get in Canada, but available everywhere in UK and Europe, where homeopathy is very widely accepted and depended upon. In Canada I've used "Insomnia" from Homeocan, and "Sedatil" from Boiron Laboratories, and both work for me; Sedatil better than Insomnia, but it is more expensive. Sedatil is fairly widely available at pharmacies, but Homeocan products are harder to find - search under "homeopathy" in the Yellow Pages. In Ottawa they are available at Rainbow Foods on Richmond Road, and at the Ottawa Natural Clinic Pharmacy, 151 Slater, 235-3993.
  3. A hot milk drink before retiring is the traditional rest remedy, and has a scientific basis. However, taken daily this may increase your milk consumption (fat) unacceptably, unless it is skimmed. Also, in common with herbal tea, a drink before bed may increase the probability of waking in the night to empty the bladder.
In 2010 I came off Insomnia as a trial, and for some weeks seemed to sleep reasonably well. I had developed bursitis in both shoulders, which began waking me up every night. For me this was treatable by getting onto my back with arms beside me (the bursitis is sometimes triggered by lying on the shoulder). Eventally it was necessary to get up and remain vertical for 10 - 15 minutes, and then the pain would go and I could sleep again. Then one night I had a severe nighmare, believing that I had some major duties to perform before the morning, for which I got up for a wash and a shave at about 2:30 am., then not being able to remember what I was meant to be doing that was so important, I returned to my bed. Next day I decided to return to Insomnia, and from the first night, I slept through without a nightmare and without lying on my shoulder and causing pain. The following nights have been equally restful.

For me, eating cheese after about 7 pm will always have the opposite effect, causing me to have repetitative frustrating dreams, even when I have taken the precautions above. It could apply to you. Eating just before bed is not a good habit, but if you must snack, raisins and sultanas are satisfying and non-fattening and go well with herbal tea.

There is an excellent chapter on "Rest and the Art of Periodization" (Ch. 8) in Dr. Mark Walter's book "Personal Resilience."

In my view, some sleep disorders can be successfully treated using the above suggestions. I was concerned to hear a case recently when a patient was prescribed Prozac for sleeping. This seems extraordinary to me (unless she had other serious problems) and illustrates the fact that doctors are taught drug therapy exclusively. Buying disability insurance is harder for people who have taken Prozac since it indicates stress to an underwriter.

Related to the above discussion is the whole question of sleep deprivation. Most of us have one to two hours too little sleep each night, building up a sleep debt that manifests itself in a variety of symptoms such as falling asleep during the day if one is not focused stongly on the task at hand, eg. while attending a boring lecture or training session. This is an epidemic in today's society, and yet anyone can deal with the problem with no cost or expertise other than gong to bed earlier. All is expertly explained in Dr. James Maas's book "Power Sleep".

Below are links to sleep disorder web sites:

Royal Ottawa Sleep Disorders Centre
U of T centre for Sleep and Chronobiology
Sleep/wake disorders, Canada

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