Insomnia is the inability to sleep or stay asleep. It can affect you long-term or short-term and affect other aspects of your life. There are a number of treatments for insomnia which can be bought online from Prescription Doctor's convenient online pharmacy.Find treatments Read more Learn how we work
Insomnia is condition in which a person finds it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. It's estimated that a third of Britons are affected by insomnia at any one time. It is more likely to affect women than man, especially during pregnancy and the menopause.
On the surface, a lack of sleep doesn't seem serious, but persistent difficulty to get a good night's shut-eye can pose a serious threat to your health and well-being.
Without sleep during the night, your productivity and alertness levels decrease during the day. This can make some activities, such as driving a car, riding a bike or operating machinery considerably more dangerous to yourself and those around you.
Lack of sufficient sleep can also contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lower sex drive, lower immunity and increases your risk of mental health disorders.
Difficulty sleeping is often linked to mental health such as anxiety or depression. Not only can anxiety and depression cause insomnia, but lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Insomnia can be a short-term or long-term (chronic) condition.
Short-term insomnia is classed as transient, intermittent or acute insomnia symptoms which last for less than 3 months. Short-term insomnia includes transient insomnia - this is insomnia which lasts for less than a week and doesn't recur, such as jet lag.
Long-term or chronic insomnia is classed as persistent symptoms which last for more than 3 months. This can be caused by medicines, mental health conditions, physical conditions (such as chronic pain) or shift work.
Insomnia can be caused by a number of different factors, including your diet and lifestyle.
Dietary causes of insomnia include:
Eating a large meal before bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable, making it harder for you to fall asleep. Drinking too many fluids before bed can disrupt your sleep as you need to wake during the night to empty your bladder.
Spicy and fatty foods can cause heartburn for some people, which can also affect their quality of sleep. If you find that certain foods give you heartburn, you should avoid them before bed.
Caffeinated beverages should be avoided in the afternoon and before bed as they can make it harder for you to get to sleep.
While alcohol can cause drowsiness, excessive alcohol consumption can also cause nausea, vomiting and a sensation of spinning when large quantities are consumes - these symptoms can disrupt your sleep.
Lifestyle causes of insomnia:
Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress can also cause insomnia. You should speak to your doctor if anxiety, depression or stress is causing you to lose sleep.
Medicines can also cause insomnia. If you are unsure whether a medicine you are taking is causing your insomnia, speak to your doctor or a pharmacist for advice. They might be able to offer advice on how to take the medicine to prevent it from affecting your sleep.
If you are unsure what might be causing your insomnia, it might be worth keeping a sleep diary to record what you do and eat before you go to bed. Your doctor can help you identify the possible cause of your insomnia and provide a suitable treatment for you.
Your events leading up to bedtime are important as they can influence the quality of sleep you get.
If you are struggling to sleep, you might consider doing some exercises to tire yourself out. But doing intense exercises before you are due to go to bed can increase your body temperature, accelerate your heart rate and increase the amount of adrenaline. These can make it difficult to fall asleep. Light stretches, such as Yoga, can help you become more restful.
Electronic devices, including TVs, computers and smartphones have screens which emit a blue light which can disturb your sleeping pattern. You should avoid using such devices an hour or so before going to sleep. Instead, consider reading a book.
You should aim to go to bed at the same time every night. Make sure you go to bed at an appropriate time to ensure you get about 8 hours of sleep.
Taking a warm bath can also allude you into a restful state. You may also wish to use a bath additive or body washes which are designed to help you relax.
If you struggle to get to sleep because you worry about what's happening the next day, write a "to-do" list before you go to bed. This helps to get the thoughts out of your head, allowing you to relax and fall asleep.
Listening to the radio or an audio relaxation guide can distract your mind before bed and help you sleep. You can find apps which are designed to help you sleep.
First and foremost, keep your bedroom dark. Darkness promotes the pineal gland in your brain to produce the sleep inducing hormone called melatonin, while light halts the production of this hormone. Draw your curtains. If light still seeps through, consider thicker or darker curtains. Make sure that any screens are turned off while you go to bed.
You should try to eliminate noise from your bedroom. Some people might not mind the hum of a fan or the soft sweeping sounds of passing traffic outside their bedroom window, while others may find them annoying. Sit in your room in and take a moment in the silence to listen for sounds which might disrupt your sleep and work to eliminate them.
You might be surprised to learn that keeping your bedroom cool can improve your sleep. You should keep your bedroom between 16°C and 18°C. Before sleep, your body temperature drops by a few degrees and remains constant as you sleep. Studies have shown that warm and humid environments have a greater negative impact on sleep than cool temperatures.
Finally, your bed should be comfy. This can be subjective, so take your time to find what works for you. If you have difficulty breathing when lying flat, prop your head up with cushions or use a neck cushion. If you sleep on your side, you may feel a benefit from placing a firm cushion between your knees - sleeping on your side can pull your spine out of alignment. Using a cushion between your knees prevents the twisting action which affects your spine.
Modern technology enables us to monitor how much sleep we get. Some fitness bands can track your sleep and provide feedback on how much sleep you got, whether you woke up during the night and other information which can benefit you or healthcare professionals.
It might be worth keeping a sleep journal. In your sleep journal, make a note of when you went to bed, whether you woke up during the night and what time, and how rested you feel in the morning. You should also include events leading up to bedtime - this can help you identify lifestyle habits which might affect your sleep. For example, you can note down what medicines you took before bed, whether you felt stressed or in pain before bedtime, as well as what you ate and drank before bed.
You should always speak to your doctor before taking any medicine to treat insomnia. Your doctor will be able to recommend the most suitable treatment for you based on the severity of your insomnia and your medical history.
In some cases, you might find that making adjustments to your lifestyle can help you fall asleep. For example, cutting down on caffeine, using your phone less before bed, going to bed at the same time or adapting your sleeping environment could make a significant impact to the quality of your sleep.
Insomnia can be caused an underlying condition such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, heartburn or sleep apnoea. Usually, treating the underlying condition can subsequently treat your insomnia.
If an underlying medical condition is affecting your sleep, it's important to speak to your doctor about what you can do to manage your condition and the ensuing insomnia.
If adjusting your lifestyle makes little to no difference on the quality of your sleep, you may seek medicines which can help you.
Over-the-counter treatments such as Nytol can help you get a good night's rest. While they can be bought over the counter, you should still speak to your doctor before taking them as they could interact with other medicines you might be taking.
Some cold and flu medicines are formulated to promote a good night's sleep, such as Night Nurse. This is because colds and the flu can make it difficult for you to go to sleep. Again, you should speak to your doctor or a pharmacist before taking such medicines.
If over-the-counter insomnia treatments have not worked, you should speak to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a medicine to manage any underlying issues which might be causing your insomnia, or the insomnia itself.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be used for both short- and long-term insomnia. It is a type of talk-therapy which helps you identify the causes of your insomnia and work on re-associating actions with sleep. Unlike medicines, the effects of CBT on insomnia are long-lasting and can prevent insomnia in the future.
Your doctor can provide you with more information about CBT and how it can help your insomnia.