Health & Fitness

See an expert for the root of your insomnia

Lack of sleep is a symptom not a disease entity. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Qn. “I have been encountering terrible insomnia for the past three months now. I have done multiple medical checks but doctors don’t seem to find anything wrong with my body. What would be causing these sleepless nights?”

Let me start off the answer to your question with what is truly the end of the process of answering the question. We will, for that reason, start off by discussing a concept that might sound alien to some people. Let me explain.

When we were in primary school, we were taught the subject of hygiene by our teachers. In this lesson, we learnt how to wash our hands after visiting the toilet, how to wash our hands before eating and we were also instructed on the need to brush our teeth. In the same vein, we were persuaded that a regular change of clothes with a daily bath was part of hygiene.

Today, we will tell you about sleep hygiene, which operates on the same principle as hygiene that we were taught in primary school. It is very much like my primary class teacher in the sense that it is a lesson about prevention of a disease.

The first lesson is about how much sleep your body needs. The average adult will lead a normal life if he can achieve about 6-8 hours of sleep. This big range takes account of “biological variables” between human beings. A good example is to say that there are some people who are normal and yet are five feet tall, while others are normal and are six feet tall! There is a big difference between these normal people.


Any adult who sleeps for three hours is in the abnormal range, as is the adult who sleeps (like a baby) for 16 hours in a day. So the first lesson in hygiene is to try to achieve the “normal” number of hours of sleep.

The second is about rhythm. Go to bed at the same time every night. This is because you then set the biological clock into a rhythm that the body is able to predict.

For some people, bedtime is 9pm and they rise very happily at 4am. For others, no sleep comes to them before midnight, and waking up time is 7am. Both get the prescribed hours and neither is better or worse than the other! The important thing is that both are regular in the time they go to sleep.

The other obvious measure of hygiene that people seem to forget is the need to sleep in a place without noise. It is not possible for parents to sleep when their teenage children have loud music in the house. Sadly, when the mother gets up and in anger screams at the teenagers, her adrenaline levels go up and she has problems falling off to sleep again because of the high levels of the adrenaline! Silence is important for a good night’s sleep.

The other hygiene measure for sleep is also obvious. It is easier (for most people) to sleep in a dark room. Lights in corridors or your TV sets or laptops from spouses cause delay in the onset of sleep, which causes anger and a rise in adrenaline and further delay in sleeping. For this reason, all activities in bed (other than sleep and sex) should be banned as part of sleep hygiene.

Daytime naps

In this latter regard, daytime naps are an enemy to good sleep. All this said, there are different things that people cite as promotive of sleep in their individual cases.

Some sleep best with the TV on, while others must read a book before falling off, and others drink some chocolate, others do vigorous exercise in the evening to ensure a good night’s sleep. All this goes to show that the human being is very variable in what is normal. What we have described here is the ordinary person.

The foregoing, however, is not your question because it is clear that you have, in the past, enjoyed good sleep.

Assuming that you have followed all the tips available for sleep hygiene, then you may have to seek help. For older people, for example, the reduced need for sleep that comes with advancing age is coupled with pains and aches all over. For older men in particular, problems with the urinary system means one keeps interrupting sleep to pass small amounts of urine.

That said, however, many sleep problems are related to psychological challenges, for instance depression. So, when a person who has enjoyed a good sleep pattern suddenly finds it difficult to sleep, then a mental health specialist might be of help.

Remember however, that (insomnia) or the lack of sleep, is a symptom not a disease entity. You must first establish the cause of the insomnia.

Please see a qualified person able to diagnose the root of the problem!