What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder, where people find it difficult to fall asleep, or difficult to stay asleep. People with insomnia may also wake up in the morning and still feel tired. Insomnia can make people feel tired and unmotivated, and unable to concentrate throughout the day. Despite this however, people suffering from insomnia may still find it difficult to nap during the day due to their condition.
Some people may experience insomnia for short periods of time, without it causing too many problems, however it can last for months or even years in some cases.
- 1 in 3 adults will experience insomnia at some point in their life.
Insomnia can be commonly diagnosed along with anxiety and depression.
Children can also be diagnosed with insomnia, however this is rare.
What causes it?
Insomnia can be triggered by several factors, including physical, environmental and lifestyle factors. Physical factors mean that something in our body is causing us to struggle with sleep. Examples of these include: some health conditions; pregnancy; medication; substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and, finally, neurotransmitters in the brain. Environmental factors include poor sleeping environment, while lifestyle factors include shift work, poor sleeping pattern and drug misuse. Mental health can also contribute to insomnia; stress, schizophrenia, mood and anxiety disorders can often impact a person’s sleeping habits.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of insomnia may include fatigue, poor work or school performance, low mood, short temper, lack of energy and motivation, worrying about sleep, daytime sleepiness and impulsiveness or aggression. It is important to note that symptoms and causes of insomnia can be very different for each patient.
How is it diagnosed?
When seeking a diagnosis, people tend to visit their GP. The GP will assess several aspects of sleep, such as: the person’s belief about normal sleep; daytime impact of poor sleep; how long symptoms have lasted and, also, if there are other conditions that may be causing poor sleep. The GP may ask the patient to keep a sleep diary for 2 weeks, to understand more about the sleep problems. Short term insomnia may be diagnosed if symptoms have lasted between 1-4 weeks, whereas long term insomnia will be diagnosed if symptoms have lasted for more than 4 weeks. The GP may also refer the patient to a sleep clinic or specialist, if they feel that the diagnosis may be more complex.
How is it treated?
There are several ways to tackle insomnia. Firstly, treatment for any underlying cause that is affecting your sleep, e.g. anxiety, will probably improve your sleep. The GP may recommend practicing good sleep hygiene , which are steps to help your sleep – e.g. consistent patterns of sleep and waking, relaxing bed time routine, comfortable sleep environment, avoid napping during the day, avoiding caffeine and nicotine at night. CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia) may be advised if changing your sleeping habits are not effective. The aim of this is to change unhelpful thoughts about sleep, which may be adding to insomnia. Sleeping tablets are less commonly used, however may be prescribed in severe cases.