What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the term used to describe difficulty getting to sleep leading to sufferers staying awake for significant periods of the night.  Those who are able to get to sleep but find it difficult to stay asleep for long enough could also be deemed as suffering from insomnia.  Waking up very early in the morning and finding it difficult to get back to sleep is another form of insomnia referred to as early morning waking.    Those who suffer from insomnia tend to feel tired and irritable throughout the day.  This subsequently affects their work, family, relationships and social life.  Most people experience bouts of insomnia periodically, however when this persists it could have a detrimental effect on a person’s mental health.

How much sleep is required?

Sleep requirements vary depending on age, occupation and level of activity.  Six to nine hours is the recommended amount of sleep, however some people require less and others need more than this.  You are most likely getting enough sleep if you are able to get through the day without feeling too tired or falling asleep and if you are able to perform daily tasks satisfactorily.

How common is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common problem which is thought to affect around one in three people in the United Kingdom.  People can suffer from bouts of insomnia secondary to stress, emotional and psychological difficulties.  However, if this persists or is prolonged can affect a person’s quality of life significantly.

What causes Insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by the following:

  • Can occur as part of a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder
  • Medical conditions such as heart problems, pain and breathing difficulties
  • Some prescribed medications can cause insomnia
  • Feeling stressed, overwhelmed and anxious
  • Lifestyle factors such as shift work, drinking alcohol or significant amounts of caffeinated drinks, using recreational drugs and jet lag
  • Insomnia can also be caused by a less than optimal sleeping environment such as an uncomfortable bed, noise, level of brightness, and poor temperature regulation

What can I do to help my sleeping problem?

There are practical measures that can be taken to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time on a daily basis
  • Relaxing before bedtime by listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath or reading a book
  • Using thick blinds or curtains to reduce the level of brightness in the room. You can also use an eye mask if this is not too uncomfortable and use earplugs if you are overly sensitive to noise
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks, nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercise prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid using phones, tablets, computers or watching television prior to going to bed
  • Avoid taking naps during the day
  • Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and abstain from using illegal recreational drugs
  • Minimise use of caffeinated drinks such as coffee, red bull and other stimulant beverages

What is the treatment for insomnia?

The approach to eradicate the symptoms of insomnia involves identifying the root cause of the insomnia.  If a cause has been established, the most appropriate course of action is to stop the offending agent in the case of prescribed medications, caffeine, alcohol and recreational substances.

For psychological and emotional difficulties such as stress, worry and anxiety, talk therapies in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be effective.  If insomnia occurs as part of a diagnosed mental health condition then your doctor may prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or mood stabilisers.  Prescription sleeping tablets may be used if all else fails and should be used as a short term measure.

Click here to view therapists that specialise in insomnia related conditions