Insomnia : start your consultation
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Insomnia is a condition that affects your quality of sleep. It's common to experience sleeping problems once in a while. However, if you have insomnia, you struggle to sleep most nights.
It can affect many aspects of your physical and mental health. In simple cases, changing your sleeping habits can improve your symptoms. However, some people may require prescription treatment.
Insomnia is a condition where people struggle to fall or stay asleep. How common it is depends on the definition used. However, population studies have shown that around 30% of people worldwide have at least one or more insomnia symptoms.
It can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life, not just your sleep. This is especially true for people who have chronic insomnia.
Insomnia can be classified in several different ways. The main distinction is between acute and chronic insomnia.
It can also be defined by the types of symptoms and their cause.
Understanding the type of insomnia you have will help your doctor find the cause and choose the best treatment for you.
There is no single cause of insomnia. However, most experts believe that it is likely caused by hyperarousal.
This is where your body and brain are active when they don’t need to be, which disrupts your sleep pattern. This can include a raised heart rate, higher body temperature and higher levels of certain hormones (e.g. cortisol).
There are several potential causes of hyperarousal. In some rare cases, the cause isn’t clear.
The simplest cause of insomnia is poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves your habits and environment when you go to bed. For example, too much light or sound can stimulate your brain and keep you awake. Going to bed at different times or napping during the day can also affect your sleep.
Another common cause is stress and anxiety. It can be triggered by general worries or when more serious events occur (e.g. losing a job or a loved one).
This can cause you to stay awake worrying, which keeps your brain active. The problem then becomes cyclical as you start to worry about the lack of sleep as well as the original trigger.
Your life and your habits can affect your sleep as well.
Stimulants like caffeine or nicotine can disrupt your sleep if regularly taken before bed. This includes coffee, cigarettes, energy drinks and any recreational drugs. An unhealthy diet can also cause you to sleep more poorly.
Another factor that can cause it is irregular sleeping patterns. If you do shift work or have jet lag from a long-haul flight.
A range of physical and mental health conditions can cause insomnia.
Risk factors for insomnia include:
The condition is also common in pregnant women and the elderly.
It can also be a side effect of certain medications. Some examples include:
Always check the patient information leaflet of any new medication you take so you can be prepared for any side effects.
The most notable sign of insomnia is sleep difficulties. Symptoms of insomnia include:
Depending on the nature of your condition, you may experience one symptom or all.
What sets insomnia aside from acute sleeping problems is the impact it has on your daily life. This is because sleep is important for your body’s day-to-day functioning.
Daytime symptoms include:
Keeping a sleep diary will track your symptoms and how much sleep you have. This will help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Most doctors can diagnose it from a description of your symptoms. There are no direct tests for insomnia. However, you may need other tests to rule out other sleep conditions.
How you treat your symptoms will depend on what's causing them. For some, it may be as simple as improving your sleep habits with home remedies. For others, it may require prescription treatment.
One of the simplest ways to improve and prevent insomnia is to have a good bedtime routine and sleeping environment. These tips and tricks will help your mind and body feel more prepared to sleep.
The first part of good sleep hygiene is a consistent sleep schedule. This ensures you get the right amount of sleep each night. Most adults need 7-9 hours each night.
A sleep schedule will also help with consistency and help you fall asleep more naturally.
Another part of good sleep hygiene is your bedtime routine. It will help you wind down and feel ready for sleep.
The final part of good sleep hygiene is optimising your bedroom.
Make sure your room is at the right temperature - a cooler is best.
Use a comfortable mattress and pillows.
Limit light exposure by using heavy curtains or an eye mask.
Drown out any noise by using earplugs or white noise.
Use calming scents like lavender.
Choose the right bedding for you.
Your lifestyle can also have a significant impact on your sleep. Some factors include:
Limiting a lot of these activities will help to improve your sleep, but will also contribute to a healthier lifestyle overall.
If changing your lifestyle and sleep habits hasn’t helped, your GP may be able to refer you for a specific kind of therapy.
It is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy called CBT-I. It involves using cognitive techniques to help you sleep. It can include sleep restriction therapy and relaxation training. Therapy may be carried out in small groups or one-to-one sessions.
Other types of therapy may be beneficial if you have other mental health conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression.
Your doctor may prescribe you sleeping pills if other treatments have not worked or your symptoms are severe. Benzodiazepines, hypnotics and Z-drugs (e.g. zopiclone) are all prescribed for sleeping problems.
However, these sleeping tablets should only be used in the short term as they can cause side effects, become addictive and mask the underlying problem.
There are several over-the-counter sleeping pills available. These include antihistamines or herbal options like valerian root extract. Yet, these are not generally recommended for insomnia. There is little evidence that they help.
A safer alternative is Melatonin (Circadin). It works by releasing more melatonin into your body, which helps to regulate your sleep cycle. It can be used for longer than other sleeping pills and has a lower risk of side effects.
You can order Melatonin online at HealthExpress.
Melatonin is only licenced for use by those over the age of 55. Evidence suggests that it is less effective for those younger than 55, as the cause of their insomnia is generally not a lack of melatonin.
However, it is still available as an off-label medication for anyone younger and is effective in treating insomnia in those age groups.
You will need to complete a consultation which will be reviewed by one of our UK-registered doctors. Your treatment will then be dispensed and dispatched to your door as early as the next day.