Category Archives: Sleep

National Sleep Awareness Week 2008… Yes Really!

This week March 3-8 the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is holding National Sleep Awareness Week (NSAW, but SNAW would have sounded so much better.)

Had you hear about this week?

Each year it seems to be getting bigger so eventually you might.

Let me quote from the NSF’s “Sleep in America Poll 2008 – Summary of Findings”

“Long work days that often extend late into the night are causing Americans to doze on the job, at the wheel, and on their spouses, according to NSF’s 2008 Sleep in America poll. Among the poll respondents, 29% fell asleep or became very sleepy at work in the past month, 36% have fallen asleep or nodded off while driving in the past year, and 20% have lost interest in sex because they are too sleepy.”

Okay let me get straight to the point.

The Gold Sponsors of this event are:

  • Boehringer Ingelheim – makers of pramipexole known by the names Mirapexin®, Sifrol®, Pexola®, Mirapex®, which is a treatment for a sleeping disorder called Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Sanofi Aventis: makers of zolpidem known by the names Ambien®, Ambien CR®, Stilnox®, Myslee®, which is one of the world’s most popular sleeping medications.

The promotion of sleep awareness means the promotion of the awareness of sleep disorders, and of course, their treatments. It is hardly surprising that these companies are footing a big chunk of the bill.

It is hard for me to assess such an arrangement and it’s effects.

At least the evidence is that sleeping medication is more effective than anti-depressants at doing the job they are named for.

Except you need to consider whether they are effective long-term.

Certainly sleeping medication is not authorized for long-term use, even though that is how many, many people end up using them.

So how much is “awareness” based on marketing and “disease-mongering”, and how much on community benefit.

The NSF has a similar paradox to the one I find myself in when I talk about the system I have for helping people use sleeping pills safely and for as little time as possible.

By making sleeping pills safer to take, am I encouraging more people to take sleeping pills rather than fear them?

Am I contributing to the over-medicalization of something that is simply a part of being human?


Overall I hope I am contributing to your ability to make your own choice. After all that’s what self-help is all about.

-Dr Martin Russell

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Heath’s Death

A friend of mine suggested I should write about Heath Ledger’s unexpected death.

In fact he suggested I should do some media publicity about the material I have about taking sleeping pills safely since Heath was found with sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills in the room.

Well I wasn’t up for a media campaign, and I wasn’t even going to write about this subject on this blog. A little too raw, the story is still a little unclear, and it’s always awkward for readers of this blog who might find death a personal topic of interest. This is where the disclaimer comes in.

However there was one post I found to be worth a read from a self help perspective:

Also, if you are taking sleeping pills, or considering doing so, then I urge you to check these videos out for your own safety:

-Dr Martin Russell

3 Basic Things That Aren’t Understood

My father is an anesthetist, which means he puts people to sleep for their surgical operations.

We have been using anesthetics for surgery, childbirth etc since ether was recognized for this purpose back in the mid 1800’s. There are now about a dozen main general anesthetic agents, Nitrous oxide ie Laughing gas, Halothane, various forms of ethers and so on.

Millions of people go off to sleep each year, have their treatment, and wake up afterwards, and here is the kicker…

We have no idea how it happened!

Theories are all over the place, but it’s still guesswork as to how they did their job.

But time and time and time and again they do!

Go back and re-read the last 4 sentences, but substitute hypnosis for anesthetics. It is the same.

The theories for hypnosis are equally as poor, and in dispute, as those for anaesthetics. It’s hard to even define what hypnosis is in the first place.

Both hypnosis and anesthesia have been extensively applied, and heavily researched and studied.

Let me give you a third item that is even more basic.

Going to sleep.

We don’t even know how to explain what sleep is, or how we go from being awake to drifting off and falling asleep.

So consider this… What hope does a new or uncommon treatment have of being studied and actually understood, when we have so little ability to understand what we are already using?

Does that mean we throw away something because we don’t know HOW it works?

Well I’m very pleased to know general anesthetics are around if I need an operation, and my wife wouldn’t wish to have had her third child without hypnosis beforehand.

Personally we’re not going to wait until scientific knowledge catches up.

-Dr Martin Russell

15 Actions To Help Yourself

Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Forget goal setting.

Start taking self help action. It can be massive action, small steps, or incremental change to a new direction.

Almost everything you read on this site includes something immediately actionable. But here are the top 15 actions so far…

1. If you are having a horrible time this holiday season then give yourself a break by following this post here before the end of New Year’s Day January 1st. (Interestingly this one has so far been taken up only by women. This is definitely one for men to do too, and may be even more important for them.)

2. If you are having trouble sleeping, or are taking something to help you sleep, take back control of your sleep and your sleeping pills tonight.

3. If you have a warped sense of humor about medicine, self help and the helping professions, then you can add your own ideas to this growing list.

4. If you need Will Power, go here.

5. If you want to learn internet marketing and how to run an internet business, and you have the time, but not the money, then you can learn as an intern.

6. If something you come across on this site interests you, or irks you, or inspires you, add a comment at the bottom. It’s simple to do.

7. If you only have 5 minutes a day to improve your life, do this.

8. If you would like articles for your ezine or online newsletter, then go to my Contact Page and let me know your name, website, ezine name, and email address, and I will include you in my distribution list when I send out the articles I write for this site.

9. If you want to rock the foundations of what you believe is true about life, spirituality, and the importance of human beings then reading this book here could do it for you.

10. If you are wanting a new way to act in the world, take the mindset from this dying man’s life lesson.

11. If you have a particular issue you are wanting help for, then check if I cover it in one of the online self help ‘sessions’ I have available as products on the left-hand side of my blog. If you’re not sure where to start then Self Help Meeting is the one, and if you are looking for something I don’t have yet, then leave a comment on this post to recommend one I should make.

12. If you want to do something about our society being over medicated with pills, you can help out on a campaign to reduce the use of sleeping pills here.

13. If you take yourself too seriously (as if anyone in this category would believe this of themselves) then here is the cure.

14. If you are interested in what you are reading, then join the blog notification list:


15. If you think someone else might be interested in something you have come across here, you can click on the Share This icon at the bottom of each post and pick one of the options, including email, to quickly and easily spread the word to others.

-Dr Martin Russell

Self Help For Sleeping Pills – The Campaign

I want to change the world, or at least a bit of it.

So I’m giving some stuff away for free, and I’m wanting your help.

If you agree that people are popping too many pills in this world, or you just have an interest in helping people improve their lives then read on…

Working as a family doctor, and now as a counselor, one common issue people have is trouble sleeping.

They can’t get a good night’s rest.

They come to me and I offer them stress reduction, sleep hygiene, hypnosis, meditation among other self help methods.

But like it or not, many people want to pop a pill.

It turns out that sleeping pills are in fact a growth industry. Over the past decade the sales of prescription sedatives, much of which is sleeping pills, has doubled to $4 Billion in 2006 in the US alone.

The prediction is for an explosion to $5 Billion in the US by 2010. The rest of the world is following this frightening trend.

Even worse, remember that this is just on prescription pills. The dollar amounts are WAAYY bigger if you add in all the non-prescription sleeping pills, potions, sprays, etc, etc.

Most people worry about the side effects, but here is the real issue.

These pills are not recommended to be used longer than 2-4 weeks!

Yet whether prescription medication, natural, herbal, alternative or whatever, people end up taking them for months, years, and sometimes the rest of their lives!

This is unforgivably horrendous.

But what can be done?

It’s easy to just say “Don’t take the pills”, but that message won’t stop this pill-popping avalanche.

People take sleeping pills because they want sleep and the pills work.

If they used them short-term it would be okay, but people don’t.

Many people end up taking them long-term. They don’t want to, but if they simply follow the instructions on the packet and pop a pill each night for 2-4 weeks they find that when they stop the pills, more often than not, their sleeping problems come straight back.

They don’t even have to be physically addicted to the drugs, it’s just that they haven’t broken their habit of poor sleep.

So they go back on the sleeping pills again.

They are caught!

This recurring Sleeping Pill Catch-22 can be avoided!

Back when I was a family doctor, I began suggesting a 3-step system for my patients to help them take sleeping medication in the smallest effective dose, for as little time as possible, and without risking getting addicted.

I’ve recommended it in my counseling practice too.

It even helps people who are already taking sleeping pills, prescription and otherwise.

As far as I’m concerned they should stuff instructions for this 3-step system into every packet sold.

If you haven’t guessed by now I’m passionate about this.

My big dream is to stop the sleeping pill market in it’s tracks, and reverse it into steady decline, simply by having people take the pills they way they were meant to be used – short-term.

One thing is guaranteed. I can’t do this campaign alone.

So here is where you come in.

I originally made this as a product to sell. I would now prefer this information just gets out to people.

You may want this information on the link below for your own sleep. If so great. It’s all there for you. There is nothing left out and no extra product you need. It’s all yours.

However, even if it’s not for you personally I’d appreciate your help in making this known to as many people as possible. Sleeping problems are a not a common topic of conversation so you won’t know all of your family, friends, and colleagues who really want and need this system.

This is the page where I open up all the details for the 3-step system.

I appreciate you leaving your opinions, ideas, feedback, suggestions for how to get this message out there etc as a comment below.

-Dr Martin Russell

Dicken’s Therapy

Once in a while it’s worthwhile therapy to ponder your own death, Charles Dickens’ style.

The world ain’t so focused on you that it wouldn’t keep going if you died, so it’s a valuable exercise to try it out your mortality for a while.

When I suggest this to people in counseling I often call it Dicken’s Therapy.

It comes from the Dicken’s story of “A Christmas Carol” where elderly miser Scrooge is made to examine his life.

Scrooge is not swayed by reviewing his past life, nor by seeing the life of those around him in the present, but he is moved to massive change by being taken to his future funeral and finding that it is not at all what he hoped for.

The therapy of imagining your own death.

I also call it Mark Twain therapy, based on the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer version that has the two boys go off on wild adventures and come back to find everyone in the town’s church giving them a funeral because they have been given up as dead.

At their funeral they listen in and hear people speak about them in ways they’d never known when they were alive.

Therapy by mentally extrapolating on from your own death is a common enough idea.

Visit your own funeral Dicken’s style. Hover over your casket. Write out your own eulogy.

What would you WANT people to be saying about you?

What would they ACTUALLY say about you?

Are these two the same? And if not what can you do to close the gap?

What will you leave behind when you are gone, ie what is your legacy?

I often add in a sense of urgency and comparison by asking, “What if you died tomorrow?”

And yes I ask myself these questions too.

In fact it helped me make a decision just last week.

This online self help work is part of the legacy I want to leave to the world, but much of it is still being developed. I have much more I want to offer here.

However when I asked myself the “What if I died tomorrow?’ question, it cleared up one piece.

Hopefully this piece will be ready this week.

When I announce it, if you agree it’s worthwhile then you can join in. You’ll be able to make a difference to the lives of others and add it as another part your legacy too.

Oh, and if I do die tomorrow, then the few people who I’ve already spoken to about this can take this as part of my last will and testament. Go-ahead to find a way to do it for me. Thanks.

-Dr Martin Russell

Count On Your Blessings

The biggest problem with reading all the self-help literature is that so much of it is just ideas with very little real evidence to back it up.

Fortunately there are some notable exceptions.

But first, take a moment to do a bit of a self-assessment.

Do you want to have any of these changes in your life…?

– Better feelings about your life as a whole,
– More optimism about your expectations for the upcoming week.
– More regularly helping others if they have a personal problem or need emotional support.
– Fewer physical complaints.
– More exercise happening in your life automatically.
– Improved amounts of sleep and quality of sleep.
– And improvements in your well-being big enough that those closest to you notice it too.

Here’s a proven self help way to get all these results.

In a series of 3 studies back in 2003 researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough found that all these can be produced by doing a simple task for just 5 minutes each day over 3 weeks (or a couple of months if you want the exercise and physical benefits.)

Take a pad or diary and follow these instructions they gave study participants:

“There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.”

In the study some examples of gratitude-inducing experiences participants gave included: “waking up this morning,” “the generosity of friends,” “to God for giving me determination,” “for wonderful parents,” “to the Lord for just another day,” and “to the Rolling Stones.” (These were after all college students.)

Gratitude is such a simple activity.

It means acknowledging that we are blessed or advantaged in ways that have nothing to do with our own efforts.

If you are in the US and reading this on Thanksgiving Day then it may be even more important than it is for others to begin this gratitude diary starting today.

Self help doesn’t have to be hard. It’s available and ready when you are. You can count on it.

-Dr Martin Russell

Fall Back

I’ve just woken up an hour later.

Running an international website is such fun. In Australia we have just had our Daylight Saving Time change. Those of you in the European Union are doing/have done the same. And those of you in the US will wait another week.

So if you are confused about how remember how the time shifts, here is an officialized version…

“In spring, clocks spring forward from 12:59 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.; in fall, clocks fall back from 1:59 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.”

Or in other words, “Spring forwards and fall back.”

I saw a truly outstanding TV trivia contestant stumped when asked which way the times went, but a simple play on words can give you the answer instantly. No matter where you are in the world.

Then it’s only tricky for people like me who need to remember that my Southern Hemisphere spring is the Northern Hemisphere’s fall, so I go two hours out of sync with most of my readers with each change. But hey, I’m also living about a day in the future for most of my readers too.

As you will discover this week, things like this can be important on this blog.

Thank goodness the internet itself doesn’t care what time it is.

-Dr Martin Russell

Occam’s Razor For Self Help

Medicine is an art. It’s meant to be a science, but in fact it isn’t. It is slightly more of a science than many other healing arts, but still most of the decisions made by doctors have very little to do with science based on solid, relevant evidence.

Psychiatric medicine is one of the worst offenders.

As much as psychiatry has tried to build itself a scientific basis it is still woefully flawed at many levels.

So as I began to dig to the bottom of the mess and realized how little basis psychiatry has for it’s scientific claims, I began to need other tools to help me decide how best to help people.

One of those tools is called Occam’s Razor (or Ockham’s Razor.)

Occam’s Razor says that if you have two equally valid explanations for what is going on, choose the simpler one.

It’s not a scientific principle, but it is a good rule of thumb.

In my line of work what this means is that I fix the causes that are definitely present, before I go after any others.

At one stage a woman came to me with a diagnosis of long-standing depression.

She had been on multiple anti-depressants, had sought the usual range of medical and non-medical help, and although she was still seeing a psychiatrist her local doctor had gotten desperate with her lack of improvement and had sent her along to see me.

She came to her assessment visit, and among many other questions I asked her when this all began.

She told me she had been fine all her life until the birth of the first of her three children about 18 years ago. Just 2 months after her son was born she had been diagnosed with post-partum depression, better known as the ‘baby blues’, and had been on and off medication ever since. She had had the same depression again with each of her two other children, and in fact with the last of the three she had had a short stay in hospital.

However even as they had grown up she still hadn’t got rid of the depression.

Fortunately this woman came to be a few years after I had had my first child and so I asked her a very specific question.

I asked her how well she slept after the birth of her first child.

She instantly said that she hadn’t slept at all. From the first night she had been kept awake by the baby crying, and to this day she was a very light and disrupted sleeper. Before having children she had always slept very soundly.

So here was the situation…

This woman was diagnosed with depression.

She had been told by psychiatrists and doctors that the cause was biological, set off by the hormonal changes she had had following the birth of her children.

What I was hearing however was that she had a history of chronic sleep deprivation, starting from two months before she was diagnosed. The effects of chronic sleep deprivation are much like depression ie lacking energy, moodiness, loss of interest in usual activities, unmotivated, poor concentration.

So I had two possible diagnoses: biological depression or chronic insomnia.

The diagnosis of hormonal or biological depression has no proof. It is just a list of complaints with a theory attached to it. There’s no blood test, or brain scan, or psychological checklist that can prove it.

However there was no question that this woman had chronic insomnia. It was just a question of whether this was the cause of her depressive complaints.

Applying Occam’s Razor made my next choice easy.

I recommended that to the woman that we treat her insomnia because until we improved her sleep any other treatment was just based on guesswork.

She was already taking sleeping pills, but they weren’t working for her, and she was worried about staying on them and getting addicted. So I taught her how to use the sleeping pills in a better way to get herself a full night’s rest, AND avoid any risk of being stuck on them. She was delighted.

In the end we never did need to address the “Depression” she had been diagnosed with. Treating the sleep alone was all she wanted to get her life back on track.

She certainly wasn’t the only person I have seen in this situation. In my counselling practice sleep issues are the second most common cause of depression that I treat.

If you have trouble sleeping, and have considered using pills or are currently on them, then you might find many other benefits to getting a better night’s rest.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety or Depression you may have been told that sleeping problems are one of the symptoms. That may be true, but insomnia can also CAUSE or at least worsen these problems, so consider the simple step of treating sleep issues directly.

However, don’t take sleeping pills the way they are usually recommended. Anyone who sells pills is working against their own best interests to tell you how to get off them quickly. So you won’t find the information I teach on the instructions in any pill packet.

Sleeping pills can be a real benefit, but you have to know how to use them effectively and safely, and you can discover how to do that here:

-Dr Martin W. Russell