Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
You have insomnia if you regularly:
If you have insomnia for a short time (less than 3 months) it’s called short-term insomnia. Insomnia that lasts 3 months or longer is called long-term insomnia.
Everyone needs different amounts of sleep.
adults need 7 to 9 hours
children need 9 to 13 hours
toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours
You probably do not get enough sleep if you’re constantly tired during the day.
The most common causes are:
stress, anxiety or depression
a room that’s too hot or cold
alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
relax at least 1 hour before bed, for example, take a bath or read a book
make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet – use curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs if needed
exercise regularly during the day
make sure your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable
do not smoke or drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least 6 hours before going to bed
do not eat a big meal late at night
do not exercise at least 4 hours before bed
do not watch television or use devices, like smartphones, right before going to bed, because the bright light makes you more awake
do not nap during the day
do not drive when you feel sleepy
do not sleep in after a bad night’s sleep and stick to your regular sleeping hours instead
You can buy tablets or liquids (sometimes called sleeping aids) from a pharmacy that may help you sleep better.
Some contain natural ingredients (valerian or lavender) while others, like Nytol, are an antihistamine.
They cannot cure insomnia but may help you sleep better for 1 to 2 weeks. They should not be taken for any longer.
Some of these products can have side effects, for instance, they may make you drowsy. This could make it difficult for you to do certain things like drive.
Check with your doctor before taking anything for your sleep problems.
A GP will try to find out what’s causing your insomnia so you get the right treatment.
Sometimes you’ll be referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
This can help you change the thoughts and behaviours that keep you from sleeping.
You may be referred to a sleep clinic if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.
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 have not worked