Can’t sleep? Why taking the Blue Pill is Best! (Unless you’re an Italian man)

Insomnia is something all of us struggle with from time to time. Not being able to get off to sleep is perhaps one of the most frustrating and loathsome things in the world (second only to an itchy back).

Counting sheep never seems to work very well…
You can toss, turn, and even count sheep, but nothing seems to work. Sometimes your mind just refuses to switch off. Francis Scott Fitzgerald got it right when he said,

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”

Do you have a solution to insomnia? My father always has a glass of milk and a biscuit (ginger nut, incidentally) before bed. I find reading a book or listening to the radio normally works or me.

Many of us resort to herbal or medical remedies. If you had to choose one, which would you go for? Did you realise though that the colour of your remedy has an effect!? Read on to find out why blue is best…

What makes a medicine effective? The chemicals in them undoubtedly are important, but have you ever considered just how important the colour and size of the tablet is?

How well a remedy works depends a lot on the expectations of the person taking it. Bigger tablets work better for most things – they make us expect better results! And as for getting to sleep, blue coloured tablets work better than any other…

Even blue ‘dud’ tablets work pretty well!

I always knew there was something special about the blue smarties!

The Placebo Effect

After finishing my medical training, I spent eight weeks helping in a hospital in West Africa. The hospital was in a rural part of Gambia where people would walk several days just to receive basic medical care. ‘Western’ medicine was highly respected there, as were the doctors.

However, unscrupulous hospital workers would regularly steal medicine supplies to sell them on to locals. Oddly, it they didn’t care what types of medicines they were stealing; they were more interested in what the tablet looked like than what was in it! They knew that those that made the most money were the largest and most colourful tablets!

In Gambia, large red tablets attracted the highest prices on the 'black market'.

But similar things happen to us ‘more educated’ people in Westernised societies; I know how much happier I feel if I leave my GP surgery when I’ve been a prescription! There is something so reassuring about just being given a medication or tablet.

Scientific studies have shown that the simple act of taking a pill improves aches, pains, depression, sleeplessness and many other ailments. It is this ‘placebo’ effect that also explains why some people get benefit from treatments (e.g. homeopathy) that appear to have no active ingredients in!

Why Blue Sleeping Pills?

The placebo effect works well for sleeping problems and has been studied all over the world.

Remarkably, in nearly every culture and country, blue ‘sleeping’ tablets work better than any other colour!

Is seems that we associate specific feelings with certain colours, for example red tends to be associated with danger (probably because it is the same colour as blood). Blue on the other hand triggers a relaxed state of mind. So if your sleeping remedy isn’t working – just changing the colour of your tablet could help!

But there is one exception to the blue rule: Italian men (but not women)! Somehow an Italian man’s bran is wired differently!? What could beso different about these passionate and fashionable ‘stallions’ to the rest of us?

The answer: Football.

Italians love their football!
Italians’ are one of the most football-crazy (soccer) nations in the world. This national sport has ingrained itself into the inner psyche of the Italian man so much, that it literally colours their world. Don’t believe me? What is the colour of the national team strip? Azure Blue!

So when an Italian man sees the colour blue, they automatically think football! It would be like giving a motor racing fan a tablet shaped like a steering wheel!

So, giving an Italian man something blue certainly won’t be relaxing for him. He’ll probably start reliving THAT Roberto Baggio goal from Italia 90…

I wonder what yellow does for Brazilians…

Thanks for reading – your comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


Read More:

Get the full low-down on insomnia here

Daniel Moerman has extensively studied the placebo effect and has co-authored the book: Meaning, Medicine and the ‘Placebo Effect’

You can also read one of his articles on the placebo effect for free:
Moerman DE, & Jonas WB (2002). Deconstructing the placebo effect and finding the meaning response. Annals of internal medicine, 136 (6), 471-6 PMID: 11900500

Daniel Moerman also featured on the radio show WNYC Radioloab

2 responses to “Can’t sleep? Why taking the Blue Pill is Best! (Unless you’re an Italian man)”

  1. […] that when an Italian man sees the color blue, his subconscious automatically relates it to soccer. His cultural conditioning erases the placebo effect of tranquilizing blue… perhaps. Today I want to talk about the placebo effect in our objects […]

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