Many people assume that sleep comes naturally – it’s just one of those things that happens, isn’t it? But for an estimated one in three people in the UK, or one in two over the age of 65, sleep becomes a dreaded battle. Restless tossing and turning, wakening in the early hours with little hope of getting back to sleep – it’s a description that is all too familiar to those who suffer from insomnia. It can be frustrating, depressing, stressful and can significantly impair health, work performance and quality of life.
How much sleep do I need?
The issue is not so much the number of hours sleep you get, but whether or not you feel you get enough sleep. While most of us will go through short periods of disrupted sleep for one reason or another, prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can cause significant issues during the waking day and if this is you, the chances are that you are not getting enough sleep.
Symptoms of Insomnia
So how do you know if you are not getting the amount of sleep that you need? These are some clues:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Relying on medication or alcohol to get to sleep
- Waking during the night and struggling to get back to sleep again
- Excessive tiredness during the day
- Irritability, headaches and difficulty concentrating and difficulty concentrating
- Worries about sleeping
Causes of Insomnia
It isn’t always possible to spot the root cause, but often it lies in the following:
- Stress and anxiety
Day to day stresses and worries can lead to difficulty sleeping as our thoughts race and churn over thoughts of the past day’s events and of what is to come in the future. Sometimes insomnia can persist even after the stressful event has resolved. The brain has associated going to bed with being unable to sleep and this in turn results in more anxiety about sleeping.
- Poor sleep hygiene.
Inconsistent bed times, use of electronic equipment running up to bedtime and limited time to relax naturally prior to going to bed.
- Lifestyle factors
Excessive caffeine intake (found in coffee, tea and energy drinks), nicotine (a powerful stimulant found in cigarettes and cigarette substitutes), eating large meals close to bedtime, recreation drugs and shift working can all take their toll. Evidence suggests that alcohol significantly reduces the quality of your sleep, leaving you even more tired and stressed the following day.
- Physical and mental health conditions
Including pain and some types of medication.