Insomnia, we’ve all heard of the term, but at what point does a lack of sleep at night become categorised as a serious treatable condition?
To get to the bottom of this life-interrupting condition and how you can solve the problem of broken sleep every night, we’ve delved into medical guidance and spoken to Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert at The Sleep Consultancy.
What is Insomnia?
‘Insomnia’ is a general term used to refer to regular sleep issues. Sufferers find it difficult to fall and/or stay asleep. This can last months, or years in extreme cases.
How Is Insomnia Diagnosed?
You may have insomnia if you regularly suffer from a combination of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty going to sleep
- Feeling tired after waking up
- Despite being tired, you cannot nap
- Restlessness and waking several times during the night
- Waking early and cannot go back to sleep
Types of Insomnia
There are two main types of insomnia: acute and chronic.
These categorisations depend on how long insomnia lasts; acute insomnia refers to short-term, from one night to a few weeks, whereas chronic insomnia lasts longer, at least three nights a week for three months or more.
Insomnia can also be filtered further by cause. For example, if insomnia can be attributed to mental comorbidity (one or more co-occurring conditions), medical comorbidity, or another sleep disorder.
What is the Main Cause of Insomnia?
Insomnia can be caused by a number of factors, but some of the most common are:
- Poor mental health – anxiety, depression, stress, etc.
- Inhospitable sleep environment – noise, light, hot or cold, uncomfortable bed, etc.
- Poor diet – too much caffeine, sugar or alcohol.
- Some illnesses and prescribed medications
- Use of recreational drugs and smoking
- Inconsistent sleeping pattern caused by jet lag or shift work
We recently ran a study into the causes of sleeplessness, the results of which you can read in our round-up: Revealing Our Social Insomnia Study Findings: What Keeps You Up At Night?
How Common is Insomnia?
The NHS describes insomnia as a common problem, estimating it regularly affects around one in three people in the UK. It is particularly prevalent in older people.
How to Cure Insomnia
The good news is, if you can identify the underlying physical, mental or environmental factors, you can begin to treat your sleeplessness and your insomnia could be cured.
Insomnia treatment at home could include introducing a regular sleep routine, a rule regarding switching off computers, televisions and phones at least an hour before bed, and having a relaxing bath to help you unwind.
Alternatively, make your bedroom more hospitable for sleep by investing in high-quality blackout blinds and a comfortable and supportive memory foam mattress.
For further sleep tips, which will hopefully leave you feeling more rested, discover our blogs: Understanding Light Sleep: How to Become a Better Sleeper and Why Do I Toss and Turn All Night? We Asked an Expert
However, it is important to note, in extreme insomnia cases, these lifestyle changes may not be enough. We would always recommend speaking to a doctor if your insomnia has lasted for more than a month or is affecting your daily life.
A doctor will likely reinforce the above tips, may offer cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), and, in some extreme instances, sleeping pills.
A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved
Everybody needs a good night sleep, so we’re keen to encourage conversation around sleep issues, including insomnia, to help share tips and advice, and hopefully get a few more hours of nod for all involved.
Peer reviewed by Dr Neil Stanley, Independent Sleep Expert, on 22/10/19.