My thoughts on how medical professionals treat insomnia

My thoughts on how medical professionals treat insomnia

If you are a long-term sufferer of insomnia, you will almost certainly have tried many cures and remedies, both conventional and ‘alternative’. In this article, I will describe the standard treatments for insomnia by conventional medicine. I will also suggest the reasons why these are often unsuccessful. If you are one of those people for whom ‘nothing seems to work’, then this article may be very important for you. On the other hand, if your insomnia is a recent problem, you may be bewildered by the sheer number of sleeping remedies available — and you may be thinking about asking your doctor for a sleeping pill. Be warned, the philosophy behind sleeping naturally is completely incompatible with the taking of hypnotic sleeping drugs; below, I’ll show you why.

‘It takes one to know one’

I am convinced that only those who have really suffered can understand the particular psychology of insomnia. One reason for this belief is that many medical explanations and attitudes seem to shed little insight into the problem itself, particularly in terms of the consequences of insomnia and the way it can negatively affect a person’s life. Consider, for example, the following statement taken from one current, well-known sleep clinic’s online program.

“People worry unnecessarily about the effect that a night without sleep will have on the following day. Tests show that performance is hardly affected by lack of sleep, and the worst that can happen is that your mood will be affected.”

This advice is supposed to reassure us that our worst fears for the following day are unfounded. The implication seems to be that insomnia is only a problem insofar as it affects our productivity and efficiency, that mood is unimportant so long as we can still produce the same output. In other words, if your boss is satisfied, a little thing like a bad mood is irrelevant. With so little understanding of the debilitating effects of insomnia, it is statements like this that make me wonder whether their authors have ever known the utter misery of a missed night’s sleep. Could anyone who has experienced the waking hell of sleep deprivation suggest that mood is a minor consideration? Mood is not a small thing — mood is everything.

But when it comes to treating the condition, this lack of understanding is even more apparent. This article is devoted to the subject of sleeping pills, and if you can’t get any sleep at night, I advise you to read it thoroughly. Even if you think you have heard all there is to know on the matter, you may well learn something new. I am not a medical doctor, but in my opinion, nothing reveals the misunderstanding of sleep problems as much as the prescribing of hypnotic sleeping pills for long-term insomnia.

‘Can’t you give me something to make me sleep?’

Medical knowledge in many areas of human health is truly awe-inspiring, and some members of my immediate family certainly would not be alive today without the quick and brilliant actions of doctors. However, the more incredible doctors become at treating severe illness, the greater becomes our expectation that they should be able to cure any problem which may affect our lives. We often imagine that there must be a medical solution — in other words, a drug solution — to every problem. The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, insomnia does not have any ‘physical’ cause. This means that going to a medical doctor with a sleeping problem is a little like going with a broken heart — and any drug treatment is hardly likely to be effective!

My feeling is that the medical profession in Canada, America, Britain, Europe, and the western world in general has not always adequately acknowledged the significance of belief in cases of insomnia. Of course the placebo effect is well-recognised by doctors, but when it comes to insomnia, this goes way beyond the usual ‘positive-thinking-aids-recovery’ effect. Sleep can be such a fragile and elusive thing that belief can literally make the difference between sleeping and not. When treating insomnia, it is vital to instil a natural trust in one’s own ability to sleep. It is because of this fact that I now feel that any doctor who prescribes a drug for moderate to long-term insomnia has not fully understood the condition.

My absolute conviction is that the drug paradigm is completely wrong for the treatment of insomnia.