Woman with insomnia lying in bed with open eyes

A guide to insomnia

Believed to affect  third of Brits at some point1, insomnia makes it difficult for sufferers to fall or stay asleep. Read on to find out more about this common sleep disorder.

What is insomnia?

People with insomnia struggle to fall asleep or stay sleeping for long enough and is more common in the elderly.

Insomnia is also when people wake up frequently throughout the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.

Those with insomnia often wake up feeling tired even if they’ve had enough time to sleep.

Are there different types of insomnia?

Many people may experience insomnia at different points in their lives, but it can affect some people for months or years.

Short-term episodes are known as acute insomnia, often lasting from one night to several weeks.

Extended periods of insomnia are referred to as chronic insomnia. This is when someone has insomnia at least three nights a week for over a month.

What are the effects of insomnia?

Occasional episodes of insomnia are unlikely to have any long-lasting consequences. But over time, lack of sleep caused by persistent insomnia can affect overall health, energy levels, concentration and mood.

Causes of insomnia

Insomnia can be caused by a wide range of triggers including stress, medication and various health conditions.

How do stress and anxiety affect sleep?

From work problems and emotional worries to financial issues and bereavement, many people find it difficult to fall asleep during or after stressful and traumatic events. Lying awake thinking about getting to sleep can often cause frustration and anxiety.

Mental health problems can also contribute to insomnia. In particular, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder can play a part disrupting sleep.

Does your sleeping routine and environment contribute?

People with insomnia may find that going to bed at irregular times makes the issue worse. Aiming to go to bed at a similar time every night may help to develop a regular sleep pattern.

Other factors, such as shift changes at work or jet lag from flying long-haul to a different time zone, may also cause difficulty sleeping.

In addition, making sure your bedroom is not too hot, too cold or too bright may help you on your way to a good night’s sleep.

Can medical conditions cause insomnia?

There are several medical issues or conditions that can contribute to insomnia. These include respiratory, neurological and heart conditions such as asthma, Alzheimer’s disease or angina.

People with joint or muscle problems or those suffering from long term pain may also regularly struggle to sleep.

Other sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, night terrors and sleepwalking could also be to blame.

Do certain medications cause insomnia?

Various over-the-counter medications or prescriptions can cause insomnia. To be on the safe side, always check the leaflet that comes with medications to find out if insomnia is listed as a side effect.

Pay particular attention to steroid medications, some antidepressants, beta-blockers and other high blood pressure medications.

How does insomnia affect everyday life?

Most of us are familiar with feeling drowsy and irritable after a night without enough good quality sleep.

Similarly, long-term insomnia has a huge impact on our mood and energy during the day.

Lack of sleep usually leads to people with insomnia constantly feeling tired, short-tempered and lacking in concentration.

This can go on to affect relationships with friends and family as well as performance at work or school.

Insomnia help

If you’re coping with long-term insomnia, we’ve rounded up some tips so you can help yourself, along with guidance on when to see your GP.

What changes can I make before bed?

Making changes to your lifestyle, habits and where you sleep can help to improve your chances of falling asleep. Avoid napping during the day and take care not to smoke, have any caffeine or alcohol or eat heavy meals just before bed. Instead, unwind with a warm bath, gentle stretching exercises or listen to soothing music.

How can I change my habits?

Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day may help you sleep better by regulating your body clock. As worries and stress can often cause insomnia, write down a list of your concerns before you go to bed. This will help you come up with solutions so you can forget about them and fall asleep easier2.

Does where I sleep make a difference?

A noisy, bright or uncomfortable sleeping environment can make insomnia symptoms worse.

Make your bedroom suitable for sleep by:

  • removing any TVs, phones or other electronic devices
  • blocking light with an eye mask, blinds or thick curtains
  • wearing earplugs if there’s a chance of any noise disturbances
  • choosing a comfortable mattress and suitable bedding
  • making sure the room isn’t too hot or cold

When should I see my GP?

If you’re still having difficulty sleeping well after trying out these guidelines, book an appointment to see your doctor. They will try to diagnose what is causing your insomnia and offer ways to treat any underlying conditions.

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Related Topics

Sleep Disorders