Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
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 cannot 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
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
- uncomfortable beds
- alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
- recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
- jet lag
- shift work
Illnesses and other things that can cause insomnia
Illnesses and medicines that can cause insomnia:
- mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
- Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease
- restless legs syndrome
- overactive thyroid
Many medicines for these illnesses can also cause insomnia.
Things that keep you from getting a good night's sleep:
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 – use thick curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs
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 right before going to bed – 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 – stick to your regular sleeping hours instead
How a pharmacist can help with insomnia
You can get sleeping aids from a pharmacy. But they will not get rid of your insomnia and they have many side effects.
Sleeping aids can often make you drowsy the next day. You might find it hard to get things done.
You should not drive the day after taking them.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- changing your sleeping habits has not worked
- you have had trouble sleeping for months
- your insomnia is affecting your daily life in a way that makes it hard for you to cope
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.
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