Insomnia is often taken to mean an inability to sleep, but also refers to many different types of disrupted sleep or sleeping patterns. It can be short or long term depending on the cause, and can impact negatively upon everyday life. Luckily, there are techniques to help us get our much-needed shuteye. If nothing’s working, there are people you can talk to.

This might help you if:

  • You’re having trouble sleeping at night
  • You wake up regularly during the night
  • You feel sleepy when you wake up
  • You want some pointers that will help you sleep better
fuzzy socks and mug

What is insomnia?

Sleep is really important for our general wellbeing. Unfortunately, there are certain things that can get in the way of having a good night’s sleep. When these things are interrupting your sleep regularly, you may be experiencing the sleeping disorder called ‘insomnia’. Generally speaking, when somebody has insomnia it means that they have trouble sleeping at night but there are a range of different symptoms involved, including:

  • Having difficulties falling asleep
  • Waking up several times during the night and staying awake
  • Waking up before your alarm goes off and being unable to go back to sleep
  • Not feeling refreshed when you wake up in the morning
  • Having poor concentration during the day 
  • Getting tension headaches
  • Feeling fatigued throughout the day
  • Worrying about sleeping
People experience insomnia differently depending on what’s causing it. You might have experienced some or all of these symptoms of insomnia, or just one. 

Insomnia’s effects on your life

Getting enough sleep is really important in maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle. If you’re not getting enough sleep, or if your sleep is disrupted, you will probably find that it’s having a negative impact on your life. This might include not being able to concentrate, difficulties with remembering things, and not feeling energetic enough to socialise or play sport. It can also impact negatively on your mood and your decision-making skills. 

Acute/chronic insomnia

‘Acute’, or short-term, insomnia could be anything from a few nights to a few weeks of bad sleep. ‘Chronic’, or long-term, insomnia involves having at least three nights of bad sleep per week over the course of one month or longer. With the help of a few trusty tips, acute insomnia is usually pretty easy to treat. If you have been suffering from chronic insomnia, it’s a good idea to chat to someone you trust about it and go and see your GP. 

Possible causes of your lack of Zzzzzzzzzzzzs

There are lots of different things that can lead to insomnia. Sometimes, it’s a symptom of other health issues that are going on. However, if it seems to have come about all on its own, it could be due to:

  • Stress related to such things as work, study or your personal life
  • Environmental factors such as the temperature, lighting situation or noise levels in your bedroom
  • Using technology right before bed
  • Interruptions to your regular sleep routine, such as jetlag
  • Suffering from another mental illness, such as depression
  • Drug use, including alcohol and caffeine

What you can do to get some shuteye

How well we sleep during the night directly impacts how we function throughout the day. If we’re running on little to no sleep, it’s likely that we’re going to struggle with simple, everyday activities. Thankfully, there are some simple steps that you can take to improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Relaxation techniques – check out some of the different ways to relax.

  • Keep a sleep diary to identify the patterns in your sleep problems.

  • Avoid using technology for 30-minutes before bed – the mental stimulation and the artificial light can confuse your body into staying awake.

  • Avoid caffeine before bed – this includes black and green teas. Herbal teas are usually caffeine-free but be sure to read the packet.

  • Although exercise is useful in encouraging a good night’s sleep, try not to exercise strenuously within the 3-4 hours before you go to bed.

  • Try not to stress about not being able to sleep – ironically, stressing out about not getting enough sleep will just keep you awake for even longer. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?  You might just be a little bit tired tomorrow.

If nothing’s working

If you’ve tried these tips and you’re still having trouble getting to sleep at night, it’s a good idea to have a chat to your GP about it. What can you expect from the appointment? It’s likely that they will ask you all sorts of questions about your sleeping habits, including questions about how often you’ve been having trouble sleeping, and what exactly that involves for you. A sleep diary could come in handy for filling your doctor in on with what’s been going on. Your doctor will help you figure out a plan of attack that is suited to you and your lifestyle.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 06 August, 2015
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