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Having read Suzanne Moore’s article about insomnia (G2, 7 March), I had to write to correct some erroneous points.

1. Sleep studies do not tell us that people die after 11 days without sleep – this is a myth that has been around for many years and has absolutely no foundation in truth. 2. Cognitive behaviour therapy is not used in the NHS because it is a cheap option – it is used because there is a body of evidence that indicates that it is effective. Such therapy for insomnia has been well-researched in trials and found to be effective. Indeed, it would appear to be the only effective treatment that directly targets insomnia. 3. Mindfulness training is not another “cure-all”. Yes, there is a certain amount of research that suggests that it can be helpful in preventing a recurrence of depression, and it is seen as being helpful in counteracting the effects of stress. 4. I believe that Margaret Thatcher claimed to need only four hours sleep a night – perhaps if she’d had a few more hours she might have behaved a bit more compassionately.

Insomnia seems to be becoming increasingly common, and good sleep hygiene (healthy diet, regular exercise, comfortable bedroom, winding down in the evening and no caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or sleep medication) plus a basic understanding of the nature of sleep (recognising that we can never ever make ourselves sleep, and that the less we worry, and the more relaxed we are, the more likely we are to fall asleep) can help us to return to a good regular sleep pattern. Suzanne was very lucky to have been referred to a CBT insomnia programme (there seem to be very few available) – it is just a shame that she wasn’t prepared to put in the effort required to benefit from it.
Amanda Fergusson
NHS psychological therapy practitioner, Kilmarnock

• Suzanne Moore was badly advised by the person who advocated “sleep hygiene”, including no reading in bed. The trick is to slip from the real world to the dream one, so lying there rigid with anxiety to achieve unconsciousness is never going to work. Reading fiction, on the other hand, acts as a first breakaway from reality and gives the mind a first hold on the suppressed state of dream that is so firmly denied all day. Teenagers feel this need very acutely, being at that stage under the cosh to work “properly” at school and get the facts right, which is why they are compelled to spend all the time they can in a state of dozing half-sleep, letting their minds run free. Anyone who has ever had a general anaesthetic will know the difference between natural sleep and that out-of-time gap of total unbeing. Sleeping is our basic state. Babies sleep most of the time and, unless kept very happy, tend to complain when finding themselves awake. Old people increasingly return to the freedom of mind that waits to be comfortably rediscovered in an easy doze. But just as song and rhyme and rocking form a bridge for babies to get into their sleeping world, so does reading for grownup people. But do not read the Guardian in bed, and steer clear of non-fiction books. Read to go into another world, and raise no resistance. Dream actually comes before sleep, and is the way in. Dump the partner if he/she is in any way noisy or a nuisance, and don’t open your eyes when you switch the light off. Enjoy.
Alison Prince
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