Difficulty falling asleep, or inability to stay asleep for long periods of time, with significant impact on daily life, is referred to as insomnia.
Occasional episodes of insomnia may come and go without causing any serious problems, but for some people it can last for months or even years at a time. On an average, adults need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, while young children and toddlers need anywhere between 13-17 hours.
Persistent insomnia can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It can limit what you’re able to do during the day, affect your mood, and lead to relationship problems with friends, family and colleagues.
You may be suffering from insomnia if,
you find it difficult to fall asleep at night,
lie awake at night, wake up multiple times in the night, and then have difficulty falling asleep
don’t feel relaxed, or still feel tired after waking up
feel irritable during the day, and are in a bad mood for a majority of time.
Some common causes of insomnia include:
caffeine or alcohol intake less than 4 hours before bed time
night shift work, which significantly interferes with circadian rhythm
illnesses such as dementia, bipolar disorder, and drug abuse.
If your sleepless nights are interfering with your activities of daily living, it is best to seek treatment, so any underlying causes or offending medication can be identified and managed.
There are a number of things you can try to help yourself get a good night’s sleep if you have insomnia.
These are referrer to collectively as habits of sleep hygiene. Here are some changes you can make to improve your sleep hygiene:
setting regular times for going to bed and waking up
relaxing before bed time – try taking a warm bath or listening to calming music
using thick curtains or blinds, an eye mask and earplugs to stop you being woken up by light and noise
avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercise for a few hours before going to bed
not watching TV or using phones, tablets or computers shortly before going to bed
not napping during the day
writing a list of your worries, and any ideas about how to solve them, before going to bed to help youforget about them until the morning
Some people find over-the-counter sleeping tablets helpful, but they don’t address the underlying problem and can have troublesome side effects.
Keeping a sleep diary also helps identify your sleep pattern, and what changes you can make to improve your sleep situation. Sleep diaries should be kept for at least 2 weeks to identify reliable patterns.
Sleeping tablets (hypnotics) are medications that encourage sleep. They may be considered:
if your symptoms are particularly severe
to ease short-term insomnia
if the non-drug treatments mentioned above have failed to have an effect
However, doctors are usually reluctant to prescribe this type of medication as they relieve symptoms but do not treat the cause of your insomnia. If you have long-term insomnia, sleeping tablets are unlikely to help.