If you’re having trouble nodding off, you’re not alone – around 30 per cent of us suffer from sleep disorders, including insomnia.
The good news is you can treat insomnia. The even-better news is you could beat it by tonight.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a medical condition where a previously good sleeper suffers from sleeplessness for a period lasting longer than several weeks.
What most of us actually suffer from is a lack of refreshing quality sleep, rather than not sleeping at all, leaving you feeling tired but wired.
Common insomnia causes
Your sleep could be disturbed by an external source, like your partner snoring, but experts say we’re in the middle of a sleep-debt crisis. Long work hours and a 24-hour culture means we sleep less than at any other time in recent history.
This non-stop lifestyle also runs on artificial light, which confuses our circadian rhythms; our body clock interprets light to mean ‘daylight’ and adapts to the new daytime.
Stress and anxiety are also enemies of good quality sleep. Your body metabolises the stress hormone cortisol during sleep, but a shortened sleep can mean cortisol levels do not drop far enough, so you wake up still feeling stressed.
Learn to sleep better
Our quality of sleep can be improved with better ‘sleep hygiene’ habits:
- Cut down on tea and coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant that also blocks the effects of adenosine, a compound that promotes sleep, which builds up when we’re awake. Give herbal teas a go instead of your afternoon cuppa.
- Avoid bright lights two hours before bedtime, including TV and computer screens, smartphones and tablets.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. A room temperature around 18°C is conducive to restful sleep. Invest in blackout curtains to block out bright streetlights, while earplugs can help with noise pollution.
- Avoid weekend lie-ins. Your body can’t store sleep, so lie-ins disrupt your circadian rhythms even further.
- Invest in a new mattress. After 10 years use, the structure will have deteriorated by up to 75 per cent!
- Set aside 30 minutes before bed to write down your worries and To Do list. Put them away before you fall asleep.
What are the best insomnia cures?
If better sleep hygiene hasn’t shifted your insomnia, there are a number of other potential remedies:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you understand how to alter unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, such as ‘I will never get to sleep’. Ask your GP to refer you to a CBT sleep specialist.
- Try taking 5-HTP supplements. Your body converts 5-HTP into serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone that may have a role to play in helping you sleep more soundly.
- Don’t worry if you’re not getting a full eight hours every night. If you feel refreshed when you wake up, you’ve had enough sleep.
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies