Article by Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates
It’s World Sleep Day on 15th of March – and we all struggle with sleepless nights, now and again. However, for some people, trouble sleeping can become a real problem affecting health, relationships and daily life.
We spoke to a GP to get her advice on what insomnia is, and how it can be treated:
- What is insomnia?
If you suffer with insomnia, you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. You might wake up too early during the sleep period and be unable to get back to sleep again.
People with insomnia get insufficient sleep and wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed.
- Who suffers from it?
Anyone can suffer with insomnia. It can be caused by many different factors – including stress, stimulants (caffeine, nicotine and recreational drugs), alcohol, jet lag and certain medicines.
Physical health problems, hormonal imbalances and bladder control can also disrupt sleeping patterns, as well as some mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
- How much sleep do we really need?
Everyone has different internal ‘body clocks’ and so requires a different amount of sleep. However, generally, most adults require around 7-8 hours a night to function normally. Babies and young children will need more than this, the amount depending on their age.
- How can I sleep better?
There are a few things you can do to get a better night’s sleep:
- Keep a sleep diary to try and correlate the factors which are causing your insomnia
- Have a period of relaxation before you sleep, which might include a warm bath, reading, listen to music or gentle exercise.
- If you keep to a routine, your brain and internal body clock ‘learn’ when it is time to sleep and wake up. Set these times according to your daily schedule.
- Make your bedroom designed for sleep – with a comfy bed and no screens or electronic devices. Create a peaceful, quiet and dark area.
- Off-load your concerns by writing a ‘to do’ list before you go to bed.
- Can insomnia be treated?
If none of the above things helps, behavioural therapies such as CBT and medicines can work together to reduce brain activity.
You can use antihistamines or herbal remedies such as chamomile tea to make you sleepy.
Melatonin can be prescribed in the UK – it is a chemical which occurs naturally in the body to help regulate sleep.
Sleeping pills can also help – but they will quickly lose their effectiveness with persistent use. They don’t tackle the underlying problem, can become addictive and have side effects. It’s advisable to try behavioural therapies before relying on sleeping tablets.
Advice given by Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates, GP and medical team member at TheOnlineClinic