London: It's the very obsession with sleep and the negative side effects of not getting enough that's keeping people awake at night, says a sleep physiologist. "Once you start feeling anxious about sleep you become more alert and less able to drop off - creating the vicious cycle of insomnia many of us are all-too familiar with," a daily quoted Dr Guy Meadows, a sleep physiologist who runs The Sleep School in London, as saying.

Contrary to what many experts claim, Dr Meadows says the answer doesn't lie in sleeping pills or following elaborate bedtime routines, but in learning to think differently about sleep.

Good sleepers have no rules, said Dr Meadows.

"You ask them what they do to get to sleep and they'll say 'nothing'. "Ask an insomniac and they'll say 'everything' and give you a list as long as your arm - from running several miles a day, to avoiding caffeine, bathing in lavender oil and listening to relaxation CDs - and therein lies the problem," he explained.

"All these actions make you acutely aware of your insomnia, which ultimately makes the condition worse," he said.

The more you fear not being able to sleep, the more aware of the process you become, says Dr Meadows.
Dr Meadows's theory of sleep is simple. "It's a natural physical process. Our bodies know how to do it - we're just getting in the way. To win the battle once and for all, we have to stop fighting it," he said.

He has debunked some popular sleep myths. He says having a warm bath and a milky drink won't help you sleep well.

Sleep's a natural process that can't be controlled - and trying to do so by following routines or using props can lead to further anxiety, he explained.

A common coping strategy of many insomniacs is going to bed early in the hope of getting a little more sleep - or equally to sleep late at the weekend to "catch up".

But while these steps seem to make logical sense, a change of routine can actually disrupt your sleep cycle even more, meaning you don't feel as sleepy the following night, Dr Meadows said.

Taking a nap during the daytime can help you to cope in the short term, but for insomniacs it's another way of confusing your body clock and weakening the urge to sleep that happens naturally at night. If you do need a nap, limit it to no more than 20 minutes.

About setting a fixed time to sleep, he said, a self-imposed curfew can be too restrictive and could make you panic if you're working late or out with friends.

It's a good idea to keep bedtimes roughly similar, to keep your body clock on time and encourage your natural drive to sleep.

But there's no harm in a bit of variation of half an hour to an hour - or even enjoying the odd very late night out.

Having a healthy and flexible approach to sleep will help reduce pre-sleep anxiety.

Some people try eye masks and earplugs, but the sleep physiologist said that such props are just drawing attention to the action of trying to fall asleep. The result, you can easily become overreliant on them.

He also says no to sleeping pills. Sleeping medication knocks you out rather than sending you into a natural, deep sleep, so in the long term, it actually makes you feel worse, he said.


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