How can I ease my insomnia?

Louisa Wilkins asks three different practitioners for their advice on overcoming 4am waking spells

Woman having sleeping problems
Image Credit: Rex Features
Insomnia is a condition which means you either have problems going to sleep, or you wake in themiddle of the night and can't get back to sleep.

The American National Sleep Foundation says that 40 million adults in the US suffer from sleep disorders, and that 60 per cent have problems sleeping at least a few nights a week.

One of the most common sleep disorders is insomnia, a condition which means you either have problems going to sleep, or you wake in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, or you wake very early in the morning. All of which can leave you feeling like you haven't slept at all and cause sleepiness throughout the day.

Chronic insomnia means you suffer from sleeplessness three times a week or more, for more than a month. Acute insomnia refers to short-term sleep issues.

There are two types of insomnia - primary and secondary. Primary is generally caused by lifestyle, stress, anxiety and emotional upheaval. Secondary insomnia occurs as a result of something else - for example, because of medication you are taking, or because of too much caffeine in the diet. Secondary insomnia accounts for 80 per cent of all insomnia cases and can usually be rectified quite easily, once the cause is identified. However, primary is more difficult to treat.


Dr Kasid Nouri, consultant neurologist at Welcare Hospital, Dubai

He says: "Top of my list of recommendations is to enforce good sleep hygiene. By this I mean sleeping only as much as necessary, going to bed when sleepy, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, not watching TV or reading in bed, relaxing before bed, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine - particularly during the evening.

"Be active during the day as physical activity reduces sleep latency, and don't go to bed hungry. Adjust the bedroom environment and deal with concerns and worries before bedtime.

"If unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and engage in a relaxation activity, such as meditation.

"Phototherapy can be effective for insomnia that is triggered by an internal body clock issue. It involves sitting in front of a specially designed light box for 30 to 40 minutes after waking up.

"Medicine may be recommended if insomnia interferes with the patient's ability to function during the day. Sedatives may be prescribed for short-term use, but taken nightly may result in addiction."


Kay Vosloo is a certified practitioner in colon hydrotherapy and a nutritionist at Synergy Integrated Medical Centre (

She says: "Fifty per cent of insomnia cases can be attributed to psychological disorders, such as anxiety and stress. It can also result from physical causes, like indigestion, muscle ache and physical pain. Caffeine consumption and the use of certain drugs can lead to insomnia. A lack of calcium and magnesium, as well as poor nutritional habits and eating too close to bedtime can also be to blame.

"Try not to eat heavy meals three hours before bedtime. Avoid cheese, chocolate, eggplant, potatoes, sugar, sausage, spinach, tomatoes and wine in the evening, as these contain a substance that releases norepinephrine - a brain stimulant. Bananas, dates, figs, tuna, turkey and yoghurt are high in tryptophan, which promotes sleep. Half a grapefruit may also help. Take a hot bath with Epsom salts to relax your muscles or add a few drops of pure organic chamomile or lavender essential oils to your bathwater. Keep a notepad by your bed and make notes of worries so you don't think too much while trying to fall asleep."

Alternative doctor

Dr Heather Eade is a doctor of complementary and alternative medicine at The Dubai Mall Medical Centre (

She says: "A naturopathic approach to insomnia involves examining and treating the underlying causes. Sleep disorders can be caused by hormonal changes, an overactive physiological response to stress, hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, anxiety, low levels of melatonin - a hormone that helps regulate the circadian rhythm or ‘body clock' - and low levels of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for feeling calm.

"A typical approach would be likely to involve dietary changes - correcting any nutritional deficiencies - and discussing lifestyle factors that can promote healthy sleep cycles. Examples of these factors include how daily activities can be scheduled to promote healthy sleep, meal times and sleep times. Acupuncture can be helpful, especially when hormonal changes, stress levels or anxiety disorders are present. Herbal remedies such as St. John's Wort, passion flower and valerian root can help. However, herbs should only be used under the supervision of a licensed naturopathic practitioner as they have certain contraindications."

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