Insomnia

Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.

Signs you may have insomnia

Signs you may have insomnia include if you regularly:

  • find it hard to go to sleep
  • wake up several times during the night
  • lie awake at night
  • wake up early and can't go back to sleep
  • still feel tired after waking up
  • find it hard to nap during the day even though you're tired
  • feel tired and irritable during the day
  • find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you're tired

You can have these symptoms for months, sometimes years.

How much sleep is normal

There is no standard definition of what is normal sleep.

About sleep:

  • it usually takes less than 30 minutes for a person to fall asleep
  • average total sleep time (during the night) decreases with age from about 8 hours at 15 years of age to less than 6 hours at 80 years of age

You probably don't get enough sleep if you're constantly tired during the day.

What causes insomnia

The most common causes of insomnia include:

  • stress, anxiety or depression
  • noise
  • a room that's too hot or cold
  • uncomfortable beds
  • alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
  • recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
  • jet lag
  • shift work

 Illnesses and other things that can cause insomnia

There are illnesses and medications that can cause insomnia.

These include:

Many medications for these illnesses can also cause insomnia, including antidepressants, blood pressure medication, steroids, thyroid medication and asthma medication. There are many more.

If you think your medication might be causing insomnia, speak to your pharmacist or GP for advice.

Things that keep you from getting a good night's sleep

There are things that can keep you from getting a good’s night sleep. These include:

  • long-term pain
  • sleepwalking
  • snoring or interrupted breathing while sleeping (sleep apnoea)
  • suddenly falling asleep anywhere (narcolepsy)
  • nightmares or night terrors – children can suffer from these

How you can treat insomnia yourself

Insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.

There are some things you can try to help improve your sleep.

These include:

Do

  • go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – only go to bed when you feel tired
  • relax at least one hour before bed – for example, take a bath or read a book
  • make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet – use thick curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs
  • exercise regularly during the day
  • make sure your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable

Don't

  • smoke, or drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least six  hours before going to bed
  • eat a big meal late at night
  • exercise at least four hours before bed
  • watch television or use devices right before going to bed – the bright light makes you more awake
  • nap during the day
  • drive when you feel sleepy
  • sleep in after a bad night's sleep – stick to your regular sleeping hours instead

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if:

  • changing your sleeping habits hasn't worked
  • you've had trouble sleeping for months
  • your insomnia is affecting your daily life in a way that makes it hard for you to cope

Treatment from your GP

Your GP will try to find out what's causing your insomnia so you get the right treatment.

Sometimes you will be referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy. This can help you change the thoughts and behaviours that keep you from sleeping.

GPs now rarely prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia. Sleeping pills can have serious side effects and you can become dependent on them.

They also only are effective for short term treatment, and stop working if you keep taking them.

Sleeping pills are only prescribed for a few days, or two weeks at the most, if:

  • your insomnia is very bad
  • other treatments haven't worked

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published February 2018

This page is due for review May 2021

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