Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, even though you've had enough opportunity to sleep. This video gives expert information about the condition, such as what causes or maintains it and different opportunities to deal with it. Also find out how Jane manages her insomnia.

Media last reviewed: 13/06/2014

Next review due: 13/06/2016

Sleep stages

Sleep is a natural state of unconsciousness that enables your body to rest.

While asleep, your body goes through different sleep stages in a cycle that lasts about 90 minutes. You may go through five cycles in a night. The sleep stages are:

  • drowsiness
  • light sleep
  • deep sleep
  • dreaming, also known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep

Moodzone: sleep problems

Dr Chris Williams explains what you can do to give yourself the best chance of a good night's sleep. This podcast is one of an eight-part series for Moodzone

Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, even though you've had enough opportunity to sleep.

Most people experience problems sleeping at some point in their life. It's thought that a third of people in the UK have episodes of insomnia. It tends to be more common in women and more likely to occur with age.

It's difficult to define what normal sleep is because everyone is different. Your age, lifestyle, environment and diet all play a part in influencing the amount of sleep you need. 

The most common symptoms of insomnia are:

  • difficulty falling asleep
  • waking up during the night
  • waking up early in the morning
  • feeling irritable and tired and finding it difficult to function during the day

Read more about the symptoms of insomnia.

What causes insomnia?

Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia, but it can also be caused by conditions such as depression, schizophrenia or asthma, some medications, and alcohol or drug misuse.

Read more about the causes of insomnia.

What to do

There is a range of things you can do to help you get to sleep, such as:

  • avoiding caffeine later in the day
  • avoiding heavy meals late at night
  • setting regular times to wake up
  • using thick curtains or blinds, an eye mask and earplugs to stop you being woken up by light and noise

This is often referred to as 'good sleep hygiene'.

Relaxation can also help. Try taking a warm bath an hour before you go to bed or listening to calming music.

Read more self-help tips for insomnia.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you're finding it difficult to get to sleep or to stay asleep, and it's affecting your daily life.

Fatigue due to insomnia can affect your mood and create relationship problems with loved ones and work colleagues.

Your GP may ask you about your sleeping routines, your daily alcohol and caffeine consumption, and your general lifestyle habits, such as diet and exercise.

They will also check your medical history for any illness or medication that may be contributing to your insomnia.

Sleep diary

Your GP may also suggest that you keep a sleep diary. This will help them and you to gain a better understanding of your sleep patterns. It can also help to decide which method of treatment to use.

You should keep a sleep diary for a minimum of two weeks, recording information such as:

  • the time you go bed
  • how long it takes you to get to sleep
  • the number of times you wake up in the night
  • what time it is when you wake up
  • episodes of daytime tiredness and naps
  • what time you eat meals, consume alcohol, take exercise and when you are stressed

Treating insomnia

The first step in treating insomnia is to identify and treat any underlying health condition, such as anxiety, that may be causing your sleep problems. 

Your GP will probably discuss things you can do at home (see above) which may help to improve your sleep.

In some cases, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) may be recommended. CBT-I is a type of talking therapy that can help you avoid the thoughts and behaviours affecting your sleep.

Sleeping tablets are a treatment of last resort and are often only used in the short-term with the smallest possible dose. Although they can sometimes relieve the symptoms of insomnia, they don't treat the cause. If you have long-term insomnia, it's unlikely that sleeping tablets will help.

Read more about treating insomnia.

Page last reviewed: 09/12/2013

Next review due: 09/12/2015


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

rebeccaxx said on 10 November 2014

ive been suffering with insomnia now for at least 7/8 months.. im only 19 years old and a university student and it sucks for me.i get at least 1 hours sleep every night or non at all and its ruining my head and social life... because i don't get any sleep i always have at least two arguments a day. ive tried sleeping tablets before and they still didn't help. any suggestions of what i can do/use to prevent this?

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suzyqi said on 18 February 2013

i get four hour's sleep a night if im really lucky i care for my mum so even i do get to sleep i wake far to easy it's starting to make my life really bad i cry for no reason get upset over anything and fall out with my boyfriend for no reason i can't carry on this way i know that sleeping tablet's are not the answer but i have tryed all the self help things and thay dont work i really don't know what more i can do or how much more i can take

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ML12 said on 05 October 2012

hove12 please don't try to take your life again. I cant pretend to know what your going through but that is not the answer. Please speak to someone, a friend, a counsellor, even me.....If you start believing you can get better, you will.

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hove12 said on 17 September 2012

There is no real help on the NHS. 12 years ago I went to see my GP about severe insomnia. When he heard the problem he looked so disinterested he actually started re-aranging his desk papaers and didn't keep eye contact. He advised a hot bath before bed and milky drink. My insomnia was much to bad to be helped by that. After 8 years of not having 1 goods night sleep I developed a mental and physical illness. All I wanted was some sleep tablets 12 years ago. My life is now in ruins as i have lost almost everything. The NHS needs to offer help for severe insomnia not just a weeks worth of sleep tablets.

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Maria de Suecia said on 18 November 2011

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water. Drink 1 hour before sleep to alkalize your blood.

This cured my life wrecking years long insomnia over night.

Eat an alkalizing diet so acidity does not deplete minerals.

Magnesium is essential.

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