Insomnia can be a vicious cycle

There's no doubt about the negative effects of poor or disrupted sleep over time

There's no doubt about the negative effects of poor or disrupted sleep over time. Small changes can make a big difference to sleep, Dr Craig Hudson tells Elaine Edwards.

In these hectic, stressful times, is there anyone who doesn't complain of trouble sleeping?

The knock-on effect of insomnia, often the result of anxieties about work, health, overloaded schedules, kids and family, is a vicious cycle of even more stress caused by that very lack of sleep.

Although the reasons we need it are still poorly understood, there's no doubt about the effects of poor or disrupted sleep over time.


Canadian psychiatrist Dr Craig Hudson in his book Feel Great Day and Night focuses on the reasons for poor sleep, including unhealthy patterns and habits that can ultimately impact negatively on all aspects of our wellbeing, including sex drive.

"The most common problems are heightened anxiety, depression, poor relationships, irritability, poor intimate relationships, a whole slew of things. If it goes on long enough, you can run into health concerns arising from insomnia," he says.

A prolific academic, Hudson's research interests include schizophrenia and work on how the amino acid tryptophan, which aids sleep, works on the central nervous system.

He believes his programme of small but effective lifestyle changes can make a power of difference to what he terms "sleep efficiency".

These include minor changes to diet and even to how people think about sleep, but they work, he says.

"Up to three-quarters of the population in North America, and I'm sure it's the same there, have problems falling asleep on an occasional basis. But almost one in six can have difficulties with sleep on a consistent basis.

"We call it lifestyle insomnia. People are trying to pack more and more into the course of a day. Our brains are hard-wired to work in a 25-hour day cycle and we're always trying to compress it into a 24-hour day, so it's a constant drive towards insomnia because of the way our brains are configured."

Dr Hudson's firm Biosential Incorporated has developed a natural product called Zenbev derived from pumpkin seeds, which stimulates the production of tryptophan. To be fair, he doesn't oversell the product.

He researched the use of natural products in medicine during a fellowship following his psychiatric training in Canada.

"I became more interested in the natural health aspect of research, which I think is largely ignored by rigorous psychiatry, to our discredit. Some of it is quite helpful and some of it is not, but when you do rigorous research you are able to pull out the things that actually work from the things that don't do anything. That's important."

Among Dr Hudson's suggestions for a restful night are a "pre-sleep" ritual or routine and perhaps half an hour spent reading or just doing nothing before bedtime.

"The other thing is to only go to bed when you feel sleepy. Don't go to bed when you're feeling frustrated or generally just hoping to get away from something - only go to bed when you feel tired."

He also urges people to avoid "clock-watching" in bed, which only serves to increase frustration.

"If you can't sleep after 15 or 20 minutes, then get out of bed until you feel sleepy."

"You should also remember that a bed is for sleeping and for sex, it's not for listening to the radio or watching television or for working."

A high-protein meal before bed will also reduce the amount of serotonin and melatonin available to the body: better to have small snack consisting of some sweet carbohydrate with a tiny amount of protein.

Dr Hudson brings good news for those simply concerned about odd rest patterns. Some of us are indeed natural early birds and some are wide-eyed late nighters who confound sleepy partners with their ability to stay up past 11.

"Some people are just genetically programmed to be up late at night or up early in the morning and if that's the way you've always been, don't try to change that. Some people just need a lot less sleep. People should be respectful of their body chemistry. Also, people should not try to fool themselves into thinking they're short sleepers when in fact they're not. People think they can be up late when they feel sleepy at 9 o'clock at night. If they feel sleepy, that's the time they should be heading off to bed."

Dr Craig J Hudson is holding a series of public seminars this week to promote his book Feel Great Day and Night. They will take place at Tara Towers Dublin, Mount Merrion tonight, Tuesday May 3rd, at the Metropole Hotel in Cork tomorrow, Wednesday May 4th and in the Limerick Strand Hotel, Limerick on Thursday May 5th (all at 8pm).

He will also host an event for health practitioners in the Dublin McEniff Grand Hotel on Tuesday, May 24th, at 7.30pm.