Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
Check if you have insomnia
You have insomnia 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 you need
Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. On average we need:
- adults: 7 to 9 hours
- children: 9 to 13 hours
- toddlers and babies: 12 to 17 hours
If you’re constantly tired during the day you probably don’t get enough sleep.
What causes insomnia
The most common causes are:
- stress, anxiety, depression
- a room that’s too hot or cold
- uncomfortable beds
- alcohol, caffeine, nicotine
- recreational drugs like cocaine or Ecstasy
- jet lag, shift work
Illnesses and other things that can cause insomnia
Illnesses and medications that can cause insomnia:
- mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder
- Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
- restless leg syndrome
- overactive thyroid
Many medications for these illnesses can also cause insomnia.
Things that keep you from getting a good night’s sleep:
- long-term pain
- snoring, or interrupted normal breathing while sleeping (sleep apnoea)
- suddenly falling asleep anywhere (narcolepsy)
- nightmares, night terrors - children can suffer from these
How you can treat insomnia yourself
Insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
- go to bed and wake up at the same time every day - only go to bed when you feel tired
- relax at least 1 hour before bed - for example take a bath or read a book
- make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet - for example use thick curtains, blinds, an eye mask, ear plugs
- regular exercise during the day
- make sure your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable
- smoke, drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least 6 hours before going to bed
- eat a big meal late at night
- exercise at least 4 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
How your pharmacist can help with insomnia
You can get sleeping pills from a pharmacy. However, they won’t get rid of your insomnia and have many side effects.
Sleeping pills can often make you drowsy the next day. You might find it hard to get things done.
You shouldn’t drive the day after taking sleeping pills.
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
To get you the right treatment your GP will try to find out what’s causing your insomnia.
Sometimes your GP will refer you to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 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.
Sleeping pills are only prescribed for a few days or weeks at the most if:
- your insomnia is very bad
- other treatments haven’t worked
If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.