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 experiences 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.
How to help insomniaOur quality of sleep can be improved with better ‘sleep hygiene’ habits or clean sleeping:
- Cut down on caffeine2: tea, coffee, energy drinks and cola. 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.
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. Studies have also shown that 5-HTP can help3.
If you’re still struggling to sleep for the recommended 7 to 9 hours, or waking feeling refreshed, sleeping aids are available, but they may make you feel more sleepy or drowsy the next day.
See your GP if changing your sleep habits hasn’t been effective and if the problem persists for a couple of months. Also book an appointment if your day-to-day work or life is affected by the lack of sleep.
Last updated: 24 February 2020