Why can’t I sleep? Common causes of insomnia and what you can do

Getting a good night’s sleep sets you up for the day. It can also affect your wider physical and mental health.

Insomnia is a condition where you have regular problems sleeping. It can get better by changing your habits and daily routine.

It’s thought that one in three people suffer from insomnia at some point during their lives. This is thought to be increasing due to the increased use of devices and screens near bedtime.

Read more: Why am I so tired? The diet changes you can make that could reduce your fatigue

How do I tell if I have insomnia?

You have insomnia if you regularly:

  • find it hard to go to sleep
  • wake up several times during the night
  • lie awake at night
  • wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
  • still feel tired after waking up
  • find it hard to nap during the day even though you’re tired
  • feel tired and irritable during the day
  • find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you’re tired

How much sleep do I need?

  • adults need seven to nine hours
  • children need nine to 13 hours
  • toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours

Common causes of insomnia

There are a number of things which could make your insomnia worse. Sometimes lifestyle factors like stress and anxiety cannot be avoided. Other causes are easier to eliminate. The most common causes are:

  • stress, anxiety, or depression
  • the noise
  • a room that’s too hot or cold
  • uncomfortable beds
  • alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine
  • recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
  • jet lag
  • shift work

How can I help myself?

There are a number of ways that you can help yourself at home if you suffer with insomnia. The NHS recommends trying all of the following steps:

  • go to bed and wake up at the same time every day

  • relax at least one hour before bed

  • make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet

  • exercise regularly during the day

  • Make sure your mattress, pillows, and covers are comfortable

Things to avoid

If you suffer from insomnia it’s tempting to try and sleep in later on days where you have had a bad night’s sleep. The NHS recommends that you avoid doing this and to stick to your regular sleep hours instead. Other things to avoid are:

  • smoking or drinking alcohol, tea, or coffee at least six hours before going to bed

  • eating a big meal late at night

  • exercising at least four hours before bed

  • watching television or using devices right before going to bed because the bright light makes you more awake

  • napping during the day

  • driving when you feel sleepy

Is there any medication for insomnia?

You can buy tablets or liquids from a pharmacy that may help you sleep better. Some contain natural ingredients while others, like Nytol, are an antihistamine.

They cannot cure insomnia but may help you sleep better for one to two weeks. They should not be taken for any longer. Some of these products can have side effects such as making you drowsy. This could make it difficult for you to do certain things like drive. Check with your doctor before taking anything for your sleep problems.


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