Most people experience an occasional night of sleeplessness. Excitement, worry or periods of illness can all take their toll on our sleep. Natural events in life such as puberty, pregnancy and shifts in sleep patterns as we age mean that we need less or more sleep at certain times during our lives.
These are all natural and by being aware of our body and mind’s needs we can adjust our sleep and remain healthy and active with different amounts of sleep.
When sleep becomes a problem it is important to take steps to redress the balance. Sleep is important to physical and mental health and the balance between sleep and wakefulness is easily disrupted. Many people pay little attention to their sleep yet sleep well throughout their lives. For others, sleep can be a constant problem and difficulties in falling asleep, restless nights and early waking can make life difficult. Add to these the more uncommon conditions such as Sleep Apnea, nightmares, sleep walking and a long list of other problems and it is important to recognise when sleep has become a problem.
The good news is that once the problem has been recognised, there is a lot of help at hand…
The first step is to recognise and accept that there is a problem. With more and more people involved in the 24 hour day, adapting to shift work and working unsociable hours many people get by with less sleep than they really need. For others, worrying that they are not having enough sleep is creating a problem that may not really exist!
Help from your Pharmacist
Pharmacists have knowledge and training that that can help anyone who is concerned with their sleep. Many high street chemists offer consultations with pharmacists that can help anyone who is confused with the products that are available over the counter or want more information.
They are a good first stop for anyone who is suffering from an occasional bout of sleep disruption. There are a number of products containing herbal remedies such as valerian and lemongrass that encourage the ability to fall asleep. They will be able to explain how these work, correct dosage and any side effects. They may also be able to advise on other factors that affect sleep such as spicy food, alcohol, caffeine and exercising at the right time.
Anyone on prescription medicines for other conditions should ask their pharmacist for advice on side affects and whether they affect their sleep. Many medicines increase drowsiness during the day but may cause disruption to night time sleep. A good pharmacist will give advice on the effects of prescribed medication and may work with the local GP to provide alternatives or make suggestions to improve sleep.
When to Look for Help
If lack of sleep is causing daytime drowsiness, anxiety, physical or emotional distress or affecting work or relationships it is time to get help. Pharmacists and GPs do not take insomnia or sleep problems lightly and have lots of ways they can help.
If the problem is short term and related to life changes, the pharmacist may be able to recommend help that will encourage the body to readjust and may resolve the problem. Many neighbourhood chemists also provide information on holistic therapies offered in their area such as yoga and medication classes that help train the body and mind to relax.
In longer term or more severe cases they will encourage involvement from a GP and may help answer any queries over prescriptions or side effects to existing medication.
The number of over the counter sleeping remedies is increasing and their effectiveness is improved by recognising and eliminating existing causes of sleeplessness. These include:
Anxiety and depression. Even worrying about not getting ‘enough’ sleep can keep you awake
Alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime all have an impact on sleep – adapt your days to improve your nights
Not enough or too much exercise before bedtime can leave you energised rather that relaxed.
Pharmacists do not prescribe sleeping pills and will encourage a sensible approach to recognising and improving sleep. Severe cases of insomnia or other sleep problems should be dealt with by a GP who may recommend further tests or investigation.
Using your pharmacist is just one of the tools available in the fight against insomnia and the search for long-term improved sleep.