What and Why?
Your body may need rest when it is tired, but has no use for sleep. Sleep is for your mind and your whole being, giving time for your daily experience to settle into perspective. Your need for sleep therefore varies considerably throughout your life and according to your circumstances.
For babies everything is new: they sleep not to avoid it but to digest what they are learning. Fit retired people tend to need much less because little of their daily experience is new any longer; almost everything falls neatly into place according to their well established outlook on life.
At any other age, your sleep requirement depends on how rapidly you are growing. If you settle into an accustomed routine with stable activities along familiar lines within settled relationships, you will find yourself able to manage with less sleep; but as soon as you become bored or under-stimulated by your present circumstances and begin to explore new interests your requirement increases. If you move house or change your job, the same thing happens temporarily and calls for a general increase in your recreational budget to cope with the rather stressful pace of change.
Inability to sleep when you are tired is a serious matter, as your mental efficiency will rapidly deteriorate. The cause may be something very simple like drinking stimulants too late at night. Otherwise spend a portion of your wakeful hours working out what is wrong and do something definite about it.
If you are ending each day with your spectrum of whole-personal needs inadequately met, you will not settle to rest at ease. Working late at night makes you unnaturally alert and overstimulated when recreational activity would balance the spectrum of your efforts for the day instead of aggravating it further. Depression may wake you early in the morning feeling gloomy and downhearted. Worst of all is working for too long close to the limits of your stress tolerance. You lie awake tense with worry (see tension), your mind working overtime so as not to lose your grip.
Hypnotic drugs merely alter your body chemistry and cannot ever meet whole-person needs like these. In any case they cease to work after a week or two. You must face and solve the underlying difficulties.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. Enough sleep?: If you wake naturally at a reasonable hour feeling your best and ready for anything, you are getting plenty of sleep. Adults usually fail this test, already heavily in overdraft. Children and teenagers should pass it easily, even if their idea of a respectable hour differs from yours. Act urgently if your child always needs wakening and is surly or slow first thing. See difficult teenagers and adolescence.
2. Identify what keeps you awake, makes your sleep fitful or arouses you too soon. Deal with depression in its own right. Switch off the television earlier. Avoid coffee, tea, cola, chocolate or cocoa late at night.
3. If you are under pressure from homework of any kind, work to a reasonable hour and get up earlier to finish it. You are far more efficient in the morning than at night and will sleep better if you are not over-tired. Problems you cannot solve late often drop out easily in the morning.
4. Always allow at least an hour of recreation before you go to bed. Music, conversation, a good book or a ration of light-hearted television or radio may suit you. A relaxing walk or even a brisk jog is sometimes what you need. A light supper of fruit or a hot drink may help if your evening meal is early. Sometimes a hot bath with lavender essence, finished with splashes all over of cold water, is the best end to the day. Seek to please yourself: your day-long exertions have probably not.
5. Supplementation: If your problem persists try Lecithin plus 50mg each of Vitamin B5 and Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxin). Too much Vitamin B Complex promotes alertness — don’t overdo it. Dolomite provides Magnesium, which sometimes helps. Siberian Ginseng is worth a month’s trial. Change these methodically at weekly intervals or longer to see which help.
6. If you cannot get to sleep, try splashing your feet in cold water for a few minutes. Better still, put on cold damp cotton socks and cover them with dry woollen ones: these should glow comfortably in bed and come off dry. Or try a Priessnitz pack.
7. Bach Flower remedy: If you are kept awake by thoughts going round and round in your head, try Bach White Chestnut Flower Remedy.
8. Herbs and Homeopathy: Try fresh heather or hops in your pillow (see herbs), homoeopathic Coffea Cruda (see homoeopathy) and lemon balm tea before using hypnotic medicines. Then limit the drug to one week in two, or four doses weekly, for a defined period before trying without them again.