Insomnia is a very common problem, affecting around one in three people in the UK. Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. Whilst occasional episodes of insomnia may come and go without problems, the issue can persist in some people for months or even years. And persistent insomnia can have a serious impact on quality of life.
Those suffering from insomnia may find it difficult to fall asleep, lie awake for long periods at night, wake up during the night or wake up very early and find it hard to nap during the day even if they feel tired. They will often feel tired and irritable during the day and will find it hard to concentrate. On average, a normal adult needs around seven to nine hours of sleep a night and if you’re feeling tired throughout the day you are probably not getting enough sleep.
Whilst it’s not entirely clear what triggers insomnia it is often associated with certain triggers. These can include:
- Stress and anxiety
- A poor sleeping environment, such as an uncomfortable mattress or a bedroom that’s too light, noisy, hot or cold.
- Certain medicines including epilepsy medicines, steroid medication and some antidepressants.
- Mental health conditions.
- Lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol or caffeine just before bed, jet lag or shift work.
- Physical health conditions, such as heart problems, other sleep disorders or long-term pain.
You can take steps to try and get a good night’s sleep if you have insomnia. Things you can try include:
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, heavy meals and exercise for a few hours before going to bed.
- Try not to nap during the day.
- Relax before bed by taking a warm bath, listening to calming music or sitting quietly and reading a book.
- Don’t watch TV, use phones, tablets or computers just before bedtime.
- Use blackout blinds, thick curtains or an eye mask and earplugs to stop you being woken by light and noise.
- Set regular times for going to bed and waking up.
However, if your insomnia doesn’t improve it’s worth seeing your GP to get further help. They may suggest that you keep a sleep diary for a few weeks to get a better understanding of your sleep patterns. One of the significant treatments for insomnia is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) specifically designed for sufferers (CBT-I).
CBT-I can include various aspects to help with insomnia:
- Sleep restriction therapy – this limits the amount of time spent in bed to create mild sleep deprivation, thereby hopefully increasing sleep time.
- Biofeedback – sensors are placed on the body to measure functions such as heart rate and muscle tension, with the machine that the sensors are attached to indicating when you’re not relaxed by producing pictures or sounds.
- Stimulus control therapy – this aims to help sufferers associate the bedroom with sleep.
- Paradoxical intention – sufferers who have trouble getting to sleep concentrate on trying to stay awake and avoiding sleep – the idea being an almost reverse psychology.
- Relaxation training – this aims to reduce tension and minimise invasive thoughts that may be interfering with sleep.
Sometimes a range of drugs may also be suggested, including a form of melatonin, benzodiazepines or z-drugs.