Sleeping is vital to good mental health, so struggling to sleep can have a huge impact on a person’s happiness and enjoyment of life, as well as their ability to function. Some people with insomnia may develop depression or anxiety, and some people with depression or anxiety have trouble sleeping.
When a person is adjusting to new circumstances such as a new home or job, their sleep might be disturbed for a period. If a person has less than three months of disturbed sleep, their insomnia is still classed as short-term.
Some people struggle with sleep for long periods of life. If someone struggles to sleep for three months, with symptoms three or more times a week, they would be treated for chronic insomnia.
A person with insomnia might find it hard to get off to sleep at night, lie awake, wake in the night, or wake early and struggle to get back to sleep.
They might find this makes them feel tired and irritable during the day and affects concentration. Some people with insomnia also struggle to nap during the day after a poor night’s sleep.
If after a couple of weeks of poor sleep you notice you have been unable to get back to a normal pattern, seek help from your GP. Adults need around seven, eight or nine hours sleep a night to work best during the day.
There are a number of reasons why people can’t sleep, but anxiety and poor sleep hygiene top the list. Sometimes people can identify ‘triggers’ around the time the insomnia began such as stress or change that might explain why they have struggled to sleep since.
Stress, anxiety and depression are common causes of insomnia, but sleeping somewhere that’s noisy, hot or cold or uncomfortable (known as ‘poor sleep hygiene’) can also stop people sleeping. Alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs disturb sleep, as does jet lag and shift work (i.e. late-ending or night-time shifts).
It’s estimated that as much as a third of adults in the UK struggle with insomnia.
Insomnia can be a lifelong problem. Some people find it comes and goes, and for most people it resolves within weeks or months
Therapists can help cope with exacerbations of stress, depression or anxiety that might coincide with poor sleep.
One form of CBT (CBT-i) has been developed for the treatment of insomnia. It helps people with insomnia manage how they feel when they can’t sleep, and may increase the likelihood that good sleep hygiene
Sleeping somewhere that is quiet, dark, private, cool and comfortable is a good way to sleep well at night. For people struggling to sleep, experts recommend getting exercise in the day and doing something relaxing before bed (no screens – for example a book, a bath or both). It’s a good idea to break habits such as drinking alcohol or caffeine in the afternoon or evening, eating dinner late, exercising in the evening. For those struggling to get off to sleep, avoiding naps and lie-ins can make it easier to fall asleep at a regular time every night.