Insomnia is one of the most common health problems with about one third of the UK population thought to experience insomnia at some time during the year. Most people need between 6-9 hours of sleep a night, though those over 70 generally only need 6 hours of sleep per night on average. Insomnia is having difficulty getting enough sleep to feel refreshed.
Symptoms of insomnia can include:
- lying awake at night
- waking up several times during the night
- waking early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep
- feeling tired and not refreshed by sleep
- not being able to function properly during the day and finding it difficult to concentrate
A lack of sleep can also affect your mood and cause tiredness and fatigue. You should speak to your doctor if lack of sleep is affecting your daily life and you feel it is causing a problem. Your doctor may suggest you keep a sleep diary. In this you record your sleeping habits for at least two weeks, including details of:
- the time you go to bed
- how long it takes you to go to sleep
- the number of times you wake up during the night, and at what time
- the number of day time naps you have
- the times of meals, alcohol consumption, exercise and stress
If you have long term insomnia (lasting 4 weeks or more) the doctor may suggest cognitive and behavioural treatments. If that doesn’t work the doctor may prescribe sleeping tablets on a short term basis to help with your insomnia.
Causes of Insomnia
Insomnia can be caused by many things, including:
- stress: some people develop insomnia in response to a stressful event and it continues even when the stress has been resolved. This is because they have become used to associating the sleeping environment with being alert.
- underlying health conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease, neurological disease, hormonal problems, joint or muscle problems, restless legs, sleep apnoea and long term pain
- alcohol and drug misuse: drinking too much alcohol and taking drugs can affect a person’s sleeping pattern. Stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine can also affect you sleep
- Medication: antidepressants, epilepsy medication, high blood pressure tablets, HRT, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, stimulant drugs like methylphenidate and some asthma inhalers can all cause insomnia
- jet lag
Self Help For Insomnia
Insomnia can often be prevented by changing your daytime and bedtime habits, or by improving your bedtime environment;
- Set a specific time to get up each day, seven days a week, even if you haven’t had enough sleep
- Don’t take a nap during the day
- Take daily exercise for about 30 minutes at least 4 hours before you go to bed
- Stop drinking tea and coffee about 4 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant
- Avoid alcohol and smoking. These too are stimulants
- Don’t eat a big meal or spicy food just before bedtime
- Only go to bed when you are tired
- Try to create a bedtime routine like taking a bath and drinking a warm milky drink
- Don’t lie in bed feeling anxious about sleeping. Instead go into another room and do something else like reading or watching TV before trying again
- Don’t watch the clock because it will only make you anxious
- Write a list of your worries and any ideas to solve them, then try to forget them until morning
- Use thick blonds or curtains, or wear an eye mask if early morning sunlight or bright streetlamps affect your sleep
- Wear earplugs if noise is a problem
- Don’t use the bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex. Don’t watch television, make phone calls or work while you are in bed
- Make sure your mattress is comfortable and that you have a pillow you like plus adequate bed covers for the time of year
If you want to discuss any of these points with our pharmacist then please call into any Newline Pharmacy branch and ask if you can chat to our pharmacist.
- How many people suffer from insomnia?
- How much sleep does an adult need?
- So how many hours is that?
- Does this change as you get older?
- Name two symptoms of insomnia
- What causes insomnia?
- What can I do to help?
- When should I visit my GP?
- What might my doctor suggest?
- What if they don’t work?
[expand title=”Quiz Answers”]
- Up to one third of the people in the UK at some point in the year
- Enough to make you feel refreshed
- It varies though most adults need between 6-9 hours
- Yes, most over 70 only need 6 hours
- Lying awake at night, waking up during the night, waking early and not getting back to sleep, irritability
- Stress, health conditions, psychiatric problems, alcohol and drug misuse, medication, jet lag
- Follow a good sleep regime
- If you have had insomnia for more than 4 weeks, or if it is affecting your daily life
- Cognitive and behavioural treatments
- A short term course of sleeping tablets