If there is truly one subject I could write a book on it’s this one. I have suffered chronic insomnia for almost thirty years and I really do know what it’s like not to be able to get to sleep because your mind is racing, and then when you do drop off to be wide awake again at 3 or 4am. Thanks to our modern way of life- open all hours, stress etc one in every four people now say they experience regular sleep problems. To get to sleep you need to switch your brain from it’s normal busy or beta state to a more relaxed alpha state. The best way to achieve this is by meditation, self hypnosis or relaxation tapes. No-one functions well when they are short of sleep as it not only compromises your immune system , but can also severely effect your daily life.

Recent studies have shown that lack of sleep can have almost as a drastic effect as drinking alcohol when it comes to driving. Many people including myself when absolutely desperate resort to prescription sleeping pills. The problem can then become addictive in that a pill equals sleep. Hence why it’s best only to use sleeping pills on the odd or occasional night – as when the body and brain become over tired it often becomes harder to get to sleep. Even though loathe to take them, the need for sleep is more important. But, in the long term prescription pills can affect your memory and upset delicate brain chemistry. It’s worth noting that if you tend to wake regularly between 3 and 5am you are likely to be suffering adrenal exhaustion due to long term negative stress. It can also mean that your liver is struggling in which case you need to cut down on fats, coffee and alcohol and eat lightly for a few days.

Foods to Avoid:

Caffeine is one of the most important substances to avoid after around 5pm in the afternoon. Having said that I have friends who can drink expresso and sleep like a log. I’m not one of them, if I were to drink filter coffee after early evening I can literally be awake until 3 or 4am. Remember that caffeine is not just in tea and coffee, it’s also in cola, chocolate, cocoa and some over the counter cold remedies. If you drink a fair amount of alcohol you tend to feel sleepy, but unfortunately because of the way it is metabolized in the body you might sleep for 2 – 3 hours and then wake up again and find it very difficult to get back to sleep. Don’t eat big meals late at night. Avoid red meat and too much protein, which tend to wake up the brain. Eat protein for breakfast and lunch.

Friendly Foods:

Try to make the last meal of the day a carbohydrate based one like pasta, potatoes or brown rice. These starchy foods can have a slight soporific effect. Eating carbohydrate rich foods before sleep also encourages the body to produce the feel good hormone like substance ‘ serotonin’ which helps to reduce anxiety. Serotonin is made from a constituent of protein called tryptophan, therefore include more foods such as fish, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, beans, avocados, bananas and wheat germ in your diet. Sprinkle wheat germ over any low sugar breakfast cereal, made from amaranth, oats, quinoa and kamut, that are sweetened with a little apple juice. Some people find that a banana an hour before they go to sleep helps them sleep through longer. Many people have porridge for breakfast but having it as a supper or late night snack made with organic rice milk and a chopped banana encourages sound sleep. If you are a regular tea of coffee drinker, gradually switch over to the decaffeinated varieties, don’t do this too quickly as caffeine withdrawal headaches can be quite unpleasant. Drink chamomile tea before going to bed and there are many Night time remedy mixes freely available. If you suffer low blood sugar problems then eat a banana or a Ryvita type cracker with a little honey just before going to bed. This helps you to stay asleep for longer periods. Eat more lettuce at night – it contains the natural sedative lactucarium which encourages deeper sleep. You can also heat crisp lettuce in stir fry’s etc, it’s delicious.

Useful Remedies:

Valerian and passiflora are two herbs which help enhance sleep patterns, and have been compared successfully with benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines help people to get to sleep faster, enhances the quality of their sleep and leaves them less cloudy headed when they wake up. Try Valerian Formula For details call 01204 707 420 Calcium and magnesium are nature’s tranquillisers, take a two in one formula with your evening meal. Calcium, 600mg and magnesium 300-400mg. Hops are a good alternative for people who don’t get on with valerian, it is available generally in tincture form take 1 – 2mls about an hour before you want to go to sleep. Take 100mg of a plant extract 5 hydroxytryptphan (5HTP) derived from the plant Griffonia twice daily to help boost serotonin levels naturally. The second pill should be taken at bedtime. A/v from good health stores. Take a B complex every morning to support your nerves and keep you calmer. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland which regulates our sleep/wake cycle. It has been used successfully for years for jet lag and is freely available in health shops outside the UK but in Britain you would need a prescription. To fill a prescription call 0207 436 5122. It can be ordered for your own use by calling Pharmwest on Freephone 0800 8923 8923 or log onto I take 1mg before bed as needed. Melatonin has been medically proven to aid restful sleep. If you are one of those people who has tried all the above and not found them successful, try taking some ginseng in the morning. Although most people take ginseng for energy, because it is an adaptogenic herb and helps balance the body, taking it in the morning can actually help balance the body’s sleep patterns at the end of the day. Take about 1000mg with breakfast for a month and see if this helps. Avoid Korean Ginseng if you suffer from high blood pressure.

Helpful Hints:

  • One of the simplest things to do is to try and get into a regular routine, go to sleep at a similar time.
  • Exercise on a regular basis can often improve sleep patterns but don’t exercise just before retiring as the endorphins released by the brain can be quite stimulating.
  • Find some way of reducing stress levels, as stressed individuals definitely have poorer sleep patterns.
  • Try reading a novel before bed, watch television, but nothing too stimulating. If you can’t sleep, don’t panic. Get up and do something relaxing like reading a few more pages of a novel until you start to relax and let go; then go back to bed.
  • Don’t try to go to sleep, allow yourself to fall asleep naturally. When I can’t sleep I pop downstairs and have a small bowl of porridge with a few raisons with some herbal tea and then I go back to bed and fall asleep almost immediately.
  • Meditation is particularly useful as it helps you clear the mind and get rid of all those extraneous thoughts. People who meditate on a regular basis enjoy better quality sleep.
  • Smoking can also cause insomnia so if you want another reason for giving up, poor sleep patterns might be the last push you need.
  • Massage your chest with a mixture of essential oils of Lavender, Clary Sage, Marjoram and Basil, or add them to a relaxing bath. You can buy a burner and let the aroma fill your room.
  • Don’t read any work papers close to bedtime; it stimulates your mind. Turn the bedside clock to the wall, then you will not panic about the time.
  • Try Flower Essences (Insomnia Blend) containing crowea, boronia and black-eyed Susan. A few drops on the tongue before bed aid sleep by slowing an over-active mind. For further details, contact Serena Smith on 020 7431 6153. Serena also makes a blend for children called Little Miracles that contain no alcohol.
  • Reflexology, homeopathy, acupuncture and hypnotherapy have all proved useful in restoring natural sleep patterns. I find homeopathic Lycopodium 30c really great for shutting down my overactive mind. Passiflora 6x before bed helps to induce restful sleep.
  • I have found Neuro-Linguistic Programming absolutely fantastic for helping to re-train my mind to aid restful sleep. It is so easy and there are many practitioners worldwide. Paul McKenna the world renowned hypnotherapist has made some great sleep CD’s and tapes. For details call 0845 230 2022 or log onto his website on, which also gives details of NLP courses and practitioners.
  • Many people have found a herbal remedy called Valerian Hops Complex containing hops, oats and valerian very helpful. Take 20-30 drops in a little juice half an hour before bed. BioForce Tel: 01294 277344.