How to beat insomnia

Mental preparation, not drugs, is the key to a good night's sleep.

Which would you rather have: sex or a good night's sleep? According to a recent survey, 80 per cent of us would choose sleep. The question is how to get it in an age of unrelenting pressure where, no longer able to crash in a cave after a day spent chasing mastodons, half the adult population suffers from restless nights.

Gregg D Jacobs of Massachusetts University Medical School believes that he has the answer. His book Say Goodnight to Insomnia, published in the UK this month, sets out a six-week programme which, he boasts, is the first viable alternative to sleeping pills. The statistics from trials in the US are impressive: 90 per cent of users reduced their dependence on drugs and 75 per cent became normal sleepers.

The programme aims to teach relaxation and change your attitude toward sleep. Nothing aggravates insomnia, Dr Jacobs argues, as much as worrying about it: this makes your bed a battleground rather than a snooze-inducing haven. ''Having the right mattress may make a small difference,'' he says, ''but behavioural factors are the critical ones.'' By training your mind to reject negative thoughts and habits, you cannot only escape sleeplessness but discover a new life of ''energy and joy''.

Jacobs began to formulate his theory on a visit to Sikkim in India, where he saw monks preparing to meditate by wrapping themselves in sheets soaked with icy water. To his amazement, instead of catching cold, they were able to dry the sheets by raising their body temperature. "It became clear to me," he says, "that the mind has the ability to control the body, and therefore to control sleep."

If the monks are the heroes of Say Goodnight to Insomnia, the villains are drug manufacturers. Jacobs believes that pills can only prevent sleeplessness in the short term; eventually the brain becomes inured to them and the side effects are pernicious. Patients may think they're sleeping better, but this is largely because the drugs cause memory loss and users simply forget that they've woken in the night.

Source - Telegraph