by Susan Gilbert
When the task at hand is to get a good night’s sleep, trying hard is not the way to succeed. Twisting and turning in search of a comfortable position in bed makes your body do the opposite of what it is supposed to do at night. Instead of slowing down, your heartbeat  races. Instead of relaxing, your muscles twitch.

You watch the clock and wonder what you’re doing wrong. Ten million people in the United States alone are seeking medical help for chronic insomnia – difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. For years it has been called a symptom of a number of  psychological problems, such as depression, that somehow alter the body’s sleep pattern.

Sleep specialists agree that psychological problems are a cause of insomnia, but also say bad habits can have the same effect. These include too little daytime activity and, ironically, its opposite, too much exercise.

Insomniacs usually begin losing sleep over some problem, such as a serious illness in the family,” says psychiatrist Robert Watson. “But unlike other people,” he adds, “they continue to have trouble sleeping – for months, even years.

According to Joyce and Kales, two psychiatrists at Penn State University in Pennsylvania, insomniacs  present a consistent personality profile. They take things hard, feel they haven’t lived “the right kind of life,” and are nervous and tense. Psychiatrists say insomniacs share another trait.

Thomas Coates of the University of California says, “another characteristic common to insomniacs is that they spend an excessive amount of time thinking 25 about sleep.” Contrary to the image of bad sleepers as workaholics, Coates’s study indicates that insomniacs spend more time relaxing than others do. He thinks their relative inactivity during the day may alter the body’s “clock.”

Instead of signalling the brain to slow down at night, the clock calls for more activity.  Sleeping late on weekends can also disrupt your body’s clock. This is a bad habit Robert Watson makes patients change at the Sleep Disorders Centre. He tells them to rise at the same time each day, even after a night of poor sleep. “After a while,” he says, “sleep improves.”


Even though it tires you out, exercise won’t guarantee a sound  sleep. If it is too strenuous, especially just before bedtime, it can drive your pulse too high, causing a restless night. Joyce and Kales use moderate afternoon exercise, along with methods such as psychotherapy to treat severe insomniacs. What is the best tiling to do on occasional sleepless nights?

Forget  sleeping pills. They can actually cause insomnia after three days, by altering the brain’s chemistry. Watson recommends drinking milk or eating cheese or tuna, because they are rich in natural sleep-producing aids. “There’s something to the old-fashioned remedy of drinking warm 45 milk before bedtime,” Watson says. Warming it won’t make any difference, but it will help you relax.


A. Mark the best choice.

1. Line 22, ‘trait’ means .

a) difficulty b) characteristic c) image

2. Line 35, ‘strenuous’ means .

a) tiring b) restless c) high

3. According to Robert Watson, is a bad habit of insomniacs.

a) the body clock which is disrupted b) going to bed late on weekends

c) sleeping longer than usual on weekends d) getting up at the same time every morning

4. Experts do not recommend sleeping pills as they .

a) are not natural b) can change the chemistry of the brain

c) don’t contain sleep producing aids d) Both (a) and (b).

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