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Mental Health and Wellbeing

Sleep Problems and Insomnia

Everyone has times when they struggle to sleep or find themselves waking up in the night. How much sleep someone needs and how to get the best rest is different for everyone and varies throughout their lifetime. The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours per night, children need between 9 and 13 hours whereas babies and toddler need 12 to 17 hours throughout the day. Most common sleep problems usually sort themselves out within a month, but in some cases, it can last longer and then start to affect daily life. Trouble sleeping can cause extreme tiredness and can lead to daily tasks becoming harder. In some cases, regularly experiencing problems sleep could be a sign of insomnia. Insomnia can last for months (short-term insomnia) or even years (long-term) insomnia, sometimes making changes to sleeping habits can help improve it.

Symptoms of Insomnia

  • Struggle to get to sleep
  • Waking up several times in the night
  • Lie awake in bed at night
  • Waking up earlier than normal and struggling to get back to sleep
  • Still feeling tired even after a decent sleep
  • Finding it hard to nap during the day even when tired
  • Feeling tired and being irritable during the day
  • Difficulties concentrating during the day due to being tired

What causes Insomnia

There are various reasons that insomnia can occur however, the most common are:

  • A room that is either too hot or too cold
  • Stress, depression or anxiety
  • Noise
  • Uncomfortable bed
  • Shift work
  • Jet lag
  • Alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
  • Recreational drugs like ecstasy or cocaine


Insomnia can also be a side effect of various conditions and the medications used to treat them:

  • Mental health conditions such as Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Menopause


Other things can affect a person’s ability to get restful sleep, which can lead to insomnia:

  • Long-term pain
  • Sleepwalking
  • Snoring or having difficulty breathing while sleeping (Sleep Apnoea)
  • Suddenly falling asleep anywhere and at any time (Narcolepsy)
  • Nightmares or night terrors. These are most common in young children but can happen to anyone

Things you can try to help

  • Go to bed and aim to get up at the same time every day
  • Make sure that your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Use curtains, blinds an eye mask or ear plugs if you need them
  • Exercise regularly throughout the day
  • Make sure that your mattress, pillow and covers are comfortable
  • Relax 1 hour before going to bed. For example have a relaxing bath and read a book

Things to avoid

  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol, tea or coffee for at least 6 hours before going to bed
  • Do not eat a big meal late at night
  • Do not exercise at least 4 hours before going to bed
  • Do not watch TV or use devices, such as smart phones or tablets, right before going to bed. The bright light can make you more awake. If you do use them, try to use a blue light filter.
  • Try not to nap during the day
  • Do not drive if you feel sleepy
  • Try not to sleep in after a bad night’s sleep and stick to your regular sleeping hours instead.

Medical Attention

Sleeping aids can be purchased from your pharmacist but you should follow the instructions carefully. Sleep aids cannot cure insomnia but they might help you sleep better a few weeks. It is advisable to see a GP if changing your sleeping habit has not helped you get better, particularly if you have been having trouble for a while and it is now affecting your daily life, who will determine the best course of treatment for you. Most of the time, GPs will advise cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as this can help you change the thoughts and behaviours that can keep you from sleeping. In some cases, you may be referred to a sleep clinic, especially if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea. Medical professionals are reluctant to prescribe sleeping pills since they can have some serious side effects and they can be addictive. They are only prescribed for a few days and only if you insomnia is very bad and other treatments have not worked.