Insomnia means you regularly have problems sleeping. It usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
Check if you 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
If you have insomnia for a short time (less than 3 months) it’s called short-term insomnia. Insomnia that lasts 3 months or longer is called long-term insomnia.
How much sleep you need
Everyone needs different amounts of sleep.
- adults need 7 to 9 hours
- children need 9 to 13 hours
- toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours
You probably do not get enough sleep if you're constantly tired during the day.
What causes insomnia
The most common causes are:
- stress, anxiety or depression
- 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 you can treat insomnia yourself
Insomnia usually gets better by changing your sleeping habits.
How a pharmacist can help with insomnia
You can buy tablets or liquids (sometimes called sleeping aids) from a pharmacy that may help you sleep better.
Some contain natural ingredients (valerian, lavender or melatonin) while others, like Nytol, are an antihistamine.
They cannot cure insomnia but may help you sleep better for 1 to 2 weeks. They should not be taken for any longer.
Some of these products can have side effects, for instance, they may make 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.
Treatment from a GP
A GP will try to find out what's causing your insomnia so you get the right treatment.
Sometimes you'll be referred to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
This can help you change the thoughts and behaviours that keep you from sleeping.
You may be referred to a sleep clinic if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.
GPs now rarely prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia. Sleeping pills can have serious side effects and you can become dependent on them.
Sleeping pills are only prescribed for a few days, or weeks at the most, if:
- your insomnia is very bad
- other treatments have not worked
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