What is insomnia?

Insomnia is used to describe a difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep despite having opportunity to do so. This lack of sleep not only makes you feel tired during the day, but it also can effect your memory, concentration and motivation levels, as well as your mood - making you feel irritable and increasing the likelihood of anxiety and depression. There are other physical effects in addition to tiredness such as; muscle aches (sometimes causing head and neck aches), hypertension, short stature in children and an increased risk from injury from falls (particularly in the elderly). These effects can decrease your quality of life, insomnia can decrease your performance at work which can sometimes be interpreted as laziness, there is also the fear that each night you will experience insomnia again - creating a harmful cycle.

Why does it happen?

Insomnia is a common symptom, affecting one in three people each year and between 10-15% of people at any one time. Bouts of insomnia may be temporary, fluctuate or be more long-term. Each person requires a different amount of sleep and what may be adequate for one person might not be adequate for another. Insomnia can be caused by physical conditions such as; heart problems, other sleeping disorders and long-term pain. It can also be caused by psychological conditions like depression and schizophrenia. Other causes include; anxiety and stress, certain medications, lifestyle factors such as shift work and jet lag, a poor sleeping environment and drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed.

What can you do?

The best way to treat insomnia is to target its cause whilst implementing good sleep hygiene practices. Talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very helpful and can help improve long-term sleep. Sleeping tablets can sometimes be helpful in the short term but do not treat the cause of insomnia and like all medications, they come with their own side effects and will become less effective over time. It is important to obtain help with insomnia particularly if it is lasting a long time and effecting your quality of life.