Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. This happens despite having enough opportunity to sleep.

Nearly everyone has problems sleeping at some point in their life, and it is thought that a third of people have bouts of insomnia. Insomnia appears to be more common in women and more likely to occur with age.

The most common problem in young people with insomnia is difficulty falling asleep (sleep-onset insomnia). An insomniac may also experience:

  • waking in the night (most common in older people)
  • not feeling refreshed after sleep and not being able to function normally during the day
  • feeling irritable and tired and finding it difficult to concentrate
  • waking when they have been disturbed from sleep by pain or noise
  • waking early in the morning
Inappropriate sleep habits and  overuse of stimulants such as caffeine are possible causes of insomnia which you may be able to identify and correct.
Some cause of insomnia are: a stressful event, psychiatric problems, physical condition, drug and substance misuse, certain medications anxiety and depression.
If you have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, consider seeing your GP to discuss your problem.

Some simple measures may help you to get a good night’s sleep. Try the below methods for at least three to four weeks. When you find that you are asleep for most of the time you are in bed, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier, but make sure you get up at the same time.

Daytime habits

  • Set a specific time for getting up each day. Stick to these times, seven days a week, even if you feel you have not had enough sleep. This should help you sleep better at night.
  • Do not take a nap during the day.
  • Take daily exercise, such as 30 minutes walking or cycling, at least four hours before you are planning to go to bed. This gives your body temperature a chance to cool down.

Bedtime habits

  • Stop drinking tea and coffee four hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, as these are also stimulants. Alcohol may make you sleepy at first but will wake you up when the effects have worn off.
  • Do not eat a big meal or spicy foods just before bedtime. A small snack that contains tryptophan (a natural sleep-promoting amino acid) may help, such as turkey, banana or fish.
  • Only ever go to bed when you are feeling tired.
  • Try to create a bedtime routine, such as a bath and warm milky drink every night. These activities will then be associated with sleep and will cause drowsiness.
  • If it takes longer than 20 or 30 minutes to get to sleep, do not lie in bed feeling anxious about sleeping. Instead, get up and go to another room for a short period and do something else, such as reading or watching television, then try again.
  • Do not watch the clock as this will only make you anxious.
  • Write a list of your worries and any ideas to solve them; then forget about it until morning.

Bedroom environment

  • Use thick blinds or curtains or wear an eye mask if the early morning sunlight or bright streetlamps affect your sleep.
  • Wear ear plugs if noise is a problem.
  • Do not use the bedroom for anything other than sleeping or sex. Do not watch television, make phone calls, eat or work while you are in bed.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable mattress, a pillow you like, and adequate bed covers for the time of year.