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Health: Overcoming sleeping problems

Updated: 2011-08-11 18:24

<STRONG>Health</STRONG>: Overcoming sleeping problems

Since arriving in Beijing I've suffered terrible insomnia. I've had problems before, but never like this. I'm 55. What can I do to guarantee a good night's sleep?

Insomnia is a common problem all over the world, but there are many causes for sleeping problems, so we need to dig deeper into your history. For example, why do you think you've only had sleeping problems since arriving in Beijing? What is different about your lifestyle here? Smoking cigarettes certainly disrupts normal sleep, as the nicotine stays in your system for hours. Alcohol can initially make people sleepy, but then they wake up after a few hours. Caffeine is a common culprit for insomnia; many people who have caffeine in the afternoon or with dinner can develop poor sleep, even if this was routine for many years. It seems that as we get older, our bodies cannot process the caffeine as well. When I was an undergrad, I could have coffee at midnight and still sleep fine. Now if I have any caffeine after 4 pm I will have a lot of trouble falling asleep.

The most common reason I've seen in China for sleeping problems is overwork – people simply work too hard, late into the night. They read their laptops in bed and expect to have a normal sleep. It just doesn't work that way. Watching a screen late at night (TV or computer) can disrupt a healthy sleep routine. Also, the stress of thinking about unfinished work keeps many people awake at night.

I suggest you first take a look at your lifestyle in Beijing and how it was before to figure out what could be causing your insomnia and fix that change. Again, major culprits are caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, as well as stress.

There are many healthy ways to get a better night's sleep, especially regular exercise, which studies have shown can help with better sleep quality. Another technique could be to stop looking at any screen at least two hours before bedtime, while many people feel more relaxed at night after a herbal tea, such as chamomile.

As for medicines, there are a few prescriptions that can help you sleep better, but they are always a last resort and only taken as needed. It's far healthier to work on lifestyle changes first; if you still have problems, you should discuss with your doctor.

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Answers supplied by Dr Richard Saint Cyr, a family medicine doctor and director of clinical marketing and communications at United Family Hospital in Beijing. Read more from Richard on his blog, My Health Beijing.