As many as one in three people can have some difficult with sleeping. Insomnia means that you regularly have problems with sleeping but it usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.

Insomnia equates to poor sleep, this may include not being able to get off to sleep, waking up too early or waking for long periods in the night.


Different people need different amounts of sleep. Whereas some people function well and are not tired during the day with just 3 – 4 hours’ sleep a night, others will require more. In fact, 6 – 9 hours per night is average but most people establish a pattern that is normal for them in their early adult life.


Poor sleep may develop for no apparent reason, however, there are a number of possible causes which include the following:

  • concern about wakefulness – you may feel that to wake in the night is not normal, and worry about getting back off to sleep and you may clock-watch and check the time each time you wake up
  • temporary problems – poor sleep is often temporary, this may be because of stress, a work or family problem, jet lag, a change of routine or a new baby.
  • stress, anxiety or depression – you may find it difficult to switch off your anxieties about work, home or personal problems
  • sleep apnoea – in this condition, the large airways narrow or collapse as you fall asleep, this not only causes snoring but also reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to the lungs. This causes you to wake up to breathe properly
  • street drugs – for example, ecstasy, cocaine, or cannabis
  • prescribed medicines – some medicines sometimes interfere with sleep, make sure to consult your GP if you’re experiencing problems
  • screen time – there is some evidence that the time we spend looking at electronic can affect our sleep, it may be that certain types of light from e-readers and electronic tablets can disrupt control of our natural day-and-night cycle


You may have insomnia if you regularly:

  • find it difficult 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 before you’re tired

You can have these symptoms for months, sometimes years.

The strict medical definition of insomnia is: ‘difficult in getting to sleep, difficult staying asleep, early wakening, or non-restorative sleep despite adequate time and opportunity to sleep, resulting in impaired daytime functioning, such as poor concentration, mood disturbance, and daytime tiredness.’


The following are commonly advised to help promote sleep in people with sleep difficulty, and may be all that is necessary:

  • reduce caffeine – do not have any food, medicines, or drinks that contain caffeine for six hours before bedtime
  • do not smoke within six hours before bedtime
  • do not drink alcohol within six hours before bedtime
  • do not have a heavy meal just before bedtime
  • do not do any strenuous exercise within four hours of bedtime (but exercising earlier in the day is helpful)
  • no matter how tired you are, do not sleep or nap during the day
  • switch the light out as soon as you get into bed


If changing your sleeping habits has not worked, you’ve had trouble sleeping for months or your insomnia is affecting your daily life in a way that makes it hard for you to cope, visit your GP.

A GP will try to find out what’s causing your insomnia so you get the right support and treatment you need.