Insomnia is when you find it difficult getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. It can affect your quality of life if you feel tired and find it hard to concentrate during the day.
It’s important to have enough good quality sleep in order to function properly – it helps to rest and repair your body and mind. Most adults need around seven to nine hours’ sleep each night.
Insomnia is thought to affect about a third of people in the UK. You’re more likely to have difficulty sleeping as you get older because your sleep pattern changes – half of people over 65 have insomnia at some point.
Symptoms of insomnia
If you have insomnia, it means that despite having the time and opportunity to get enough sleep, you may:
have difficulty getting to sleep
difficulty staying asleep (waking up often and finding it hard to get back to sleep)
wake up early in the morning
feel tired, irritable and unable to concentrate the next day
You might have such problems for a few weeks (short-term insomnia) or they may carry on for longer (long-term insomnia). If you continue to have trouble sleeping over a long time, it can really start to affect all aspects of your life – including work or school, and your social and home life. It can also make you more likely to develop various health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and depression.
Causes of insomnia
There can be many things that contribute to insomnia. Here are just some of the potential causes.
Environmental factors such as noise, light seeping through your blinds, an uncomfortable bed or feeling too hot or cold can all affect your ability to sleep.
Lifestyle habits such as an irregular sleep routine, eating late at night, not getting enough exercise, or exercising too late at night can make it difficult to sleep.
Something causing you temporary stress or worry such as a new job, work stress, financial concerns or a bereavement in the family may keep you awake.
Having a mental health condition such as stress, anxiety or depression may cause insomnia.
Jet lag and shift work can disturb your sleep patterns.
Drinking alcohol can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. Many people see alcohol as a way to help with sleep problems; but the effect it has on your sleep can make the situation worse.
Too much caffeine – for instance, drinking lots of tea and coffee – can keep you awake.
Certain medicines including antidepressants and medicines for high blood pressure and epilepsy can affect how well you sleep.
Certain health conditions such as an overactive thyroid, asthma, acid reflux or heart disease can make it hard to sleep. Night sweats due to the menopause may cause insomnia. For more information on this, see our FAQ: Can the menopause cause insomnia?
Self help for insomnia
It’s worth thinking about ways to improve your sleep habits and routines to help you to sleep well. This is often referred to as ‘sleep hygiene’. Here are some do’s and don’ts to try.
Establish a regular bedtime routine by going to bed and getting up at roughly the same times every day. Try not to sleep in late to compensate for a bad night’s sleep.
Make sure you get some regular exercise, but don’t do any strenuous activity within four hours of going to bed because this might disturb your sleep.
Try to relax before bedtime. You could try having a warm bath, a warm milky drink, reading or listening to soothing music to help you relax. Some people find meditation or mindfulness techniques helpful. There are guides available online that you can try for free.
If you can’t sleep within half an hour or so, get up and do something relaxing like reading until you feel tired enough to sleep. If something is on your mind, write it down and aim to deal with it the next day.
Make sure your bedroom is comfortable – not too hot, cold, noisy or bright – and you have a supportive, comfy mattress on your bed.
Where possible, try to avoid using your bedroom for work.
Don’t have any drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol within six hours of going to bed.
Don’t smoke before you go to bed.
Don’t eat a heavy or rich meal late at night.
Try not to clock-watch. It might make you feel more frustrated about being awake and stop you getting back to sleep.
Try to have a break from screen time, including phones and tablets before bed. Using these devices at bedtime is associated with inadequate sleep – particularly in children.
Don’t take naps during the day. It can make it difficult for you to sleep at night.
Seeking help for insomnia
If you’ve tried the self-help measures and you’re still having trouble sleeping, it’s worth seeing your GP for advice. Your GP will ask you about your sleep patterns and how lack of sleep might be impacting your life. They may also examine you to look for any signs of a physical condition that could affect your sleep. Most of the time, your GP will be able to tell if you’re having sleep problems and what might be causing them just from talking to you.
If there doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause for your insomnia, they may suggest keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. It can be a good idea to do this before your appointment. Record things like:
the time you go to bed
how long it takes you to get to sleep
how often you wake up during the night and for how long
what time you wake up in the morning
if you feel tired during the day or have any naps
your mealtimes and how much alcohol and caffeine you drink during the day
how much exercise you do or any significant events during the day
Devices that track your sleep can often give you an estimate of the amount of sleep you’re getting. But they’re not always very accurate, so you shouldn’t rely on them. If your GP thinks you might have a specific sleep disorder, they may refer you to a sleep specialist for more tests. For more information, see our FAQ, What do tests for insomnia involve?
If you need help now
This page is designed to provide general health information. If you need help now, please use the following services.
Samaritans 116 123 (UK and ROI) This helpline is free for you to call and talk to someone. www.samaritans.org
Mind website. Click the ‘Get help now’ button on the page. This is a tool that is designed to help you understand what’s happening to you and how you can help yourself.
If you think you might harm yourself or are worried someone else might come to immediate harm, call the emergency services on 999 or go to your local accident and emergency department.
Treatment of insomnia
If you have any health conditions that could be affecting your sleep, your GP will make sure you’re receiving the right treatment for these. For instance, if you’re waking up due to pain or hot flushes, your GP can prescribe treatment. They will also go through the sleep hygiene measures listed in the section, Self-help for insomnia. They may suggest some of the following treatment options.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping for several weeks or more, your GP may suggest referring you to psychological services to try a behavioural therapy. These may include the following.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you to recognise and deal with any negative thoughts and habits around your sleep. CBT is often combined with one of the other methods.
Stimulus-control therapy can help you to re-associate your bed and bedroom with going to sleep and to create a regular sleep routine.
Relaxation therapy can help you relax your muscles and clear your mind of distracting thoughts.
Sleep-restriction therapy limits the amount of time you spend in bed to the time when you actually go to sleep. You can then gradually increase the time you spend in bed as your sleep improves.
Your GP may refer you to an appropriate specialist who can provide these therapies, or they may provide you with self-help materials. In some areas, your GP may be able to give you access to online CBT-based self-help tools, such as Sleepio.
Doctors only recommend medicines for insomnia (sleeping pills) as a last resort, if you’re unable to function during the day because of insomnia. These medicines are often associated with side-effects such as making you feel sleepy the next day. They also become gradually less effective the longer you take them, and you can become dependent on them if you take them for a long time. If you take them, you should only use them for as short a time as possible.
The main types of sleeping tablets include the following.
Antihistamines, which you can buy over-the-counter from your pharmacy without a prescription. Examples are Nytol, Phenergan and Sominex. These aren’t suitable if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have certain health conditions. If you’re in any doubt, check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking them.
Hypnotic medicines, which your GP may prescribe for a limited time if your insomnia is having a really severe effect on your day-to-day life. Examples include benzodiazepines, such as temazepam or loprazolam, and non-benzodiazepine ‘z-drugs’, such as zopiclone, zaleplon or zolpidem.
Melatonin, which your doctor may prescribe for up to 13 weeks, if you’re over 55 and are having ongoing problems with insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces, which helps to control your sleep pattern. It’s worth bearing in mind that it can cause some side-effects like headaches and joint pain.
If you take sleeping pills, be sure to follow any advice from your doctor or pharmacist, and take note of any warnings in the information leaflet. These may include not driving or operating machinery during the day after using them, for example.
There isn’t enough good quality research to show whether complementary therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal remedies help with insomnia, but some people do try them. If you decide to give them a try, make sure you choose a reputable practitioner, registered with the appropriate regulatory body.
Frequently asked questions
Can the menopause cause insomnia? Yes, insomnia is common during the menopause – often because of symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. Making a few lifestyle changes can help to reduce hot flushes and night sweats. Try wearing lighter clothing or sleeping in a cooler room. And try to avoid potential triggers, such as spicy food, caffeine, smoking and alcoholic drinks.If you’re finding it difficult to manage symptoms of the menopause, your GP may suggest trying hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This can help to control your symptoms, which in turn, may help you to sleep. There are risks and benefits of taking HRT, so it’s important to talk these through with your GP.
it taking you less than half an hour to fall asleep
you have fewer than three ‘mini wakes’ (when you briefly wake up for a minute or two) – throughout the night
feeling refreshed once you’ve woken up in the morning If you’re having trouble getting to sleep and feel that it’s affecting your life, contact your GP for advice.
What do tests for insomnia involve? Most people with insomnia can be diagnosed simply by describing their symptoms to their GP. If your GP thinks your insomnia may be caused by a specific sleep disorder, they may refer you to a sleep clinic or a specialist for further tests. Such disorders include sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome. Specific sleep disorder tests include the following.
Actigraphy. This can track your sleep habits over extended periods of several days or more. You wear a small, wristwatch-sized device that monitors your movement in relation to times of day.
A polysomnography test can record your brain activity, eye movements, sleep quality, heart rate and blood pressure, and assess your breathing. You’ll usually need to stay overnight at a sleep clinic for this test, although some private clinics offer a service where it can be performed in your own home. Your doctor may use these tests alongside sleep diaries to identify any sleep-related problems that you may have.
Yesterday 14th Nov 2021 I’m told was World Diabetes Day and I should have known because my granddaughter aged almost 4yrs has had it for a few years now.
My granddaughter has adapted so well to her diabetes which is type 1 that you would think even when she’s hi she is just a little over excited. However when her bloods are low she can be moody, stroppy and disobedient but we all love her just the same!
For more information on World Diabetes Day 2021 click the link below
Nobody saw you. At 3am, headlamp on, sneaking into her room Every. Single. Night. Praying she doesn’t wake as you bleed her finger for the 10th time today4mmol. Shit.Too low for 3am.Get the juice carton
“She needs this to survive,” you repeat to yourself“ Will she be able to handle this life?” “Will I?”
Nobody saw you cry Because you always had to be so strong You can’t let them see your broken heart You must keep going She has to be so brave, you must set the example Soldier on
Nobody saw you desperately shoving sugar in your shaking and confused child“One more sip, baby”“One more gummy bear for mummy, please
”Nobody saw you Trying to count how many carbs she ate Tiny teeth marks on an apple – is that 5 carbs worth or 8?Did she eat three french fries, or was it six? Not enough insulin, she goes high and there’s long-term damage to her organs Too much insulin and we’re looking at an immediate and dangerous issue.
Nobody saw you on the phone With your insurance company With your diabetes supply company Your endocrinologist Your nurse10 phone calls this week when you were supposed to be working Or napping Or eating
Nobody saw you, nobody listened when you tried to educate them To tell them about a condition so complex that they can never truly understand unless they live with it It’s an autoimmune disease No, it can’t be prevented No, there is no cur eyes, she can eat.
that Nobody saw you So scared to sleep through an alarm Terrified they might not wake up in the morning Waking up to feel like you can’t do this crazy dance another day But you rise to take on another 24 hours – for them Check the blood sugar, treat the high, count the carbs, treat the low Nobody saw any of that They simply saw you at the park, the museum, grocery shopping
see you, brave ones see your grit and your daily grind I see your fears for the future I see your fierce love and determination for your child I see you raising a warrior, and in the process becoming one yourself!
Two years ago today I was told to put my child in a sailboat. Alone. She was to journey out to sea and I was not allowed to escort her. You can imagine the fight I put up. I yelled and pleaded. I dropped to my knees and bargained with God. I had a fit. But alas, my flailing was fruitless…she was literally taken out of my arms and thrown into the boat. I was given no choice. She had Type 1 Diabetes and there was no going back. She could not stay on shore. She could not live without the boat…it was part of her now. I watched the boat go out to sea and I cried for what felt like forever. The world seemed to be in constant motion, while I was stuck on pause…mourning her separation from the shore. The viciousness of the waves were horrifying. My child was helpless. I was helpless. I would have done anything to be on that boat. I willed her diabetes to enter my body so I could switch places with her But apparently, that isn’t how it works.
Unfortunately. I was given two tools to help my child. A telescope and limited control over the weather. I have vigilantly had my eye set to that telescope for 2 years. There have been long stretches when I wouldn’t leave the scope. I wouldn’t shower. I wouldn’t eat. I have had comments throughout the years that my attention would be better placed somewhere other than the boat. What they don’t understand is that my child is on that boat. My heart. My soul. How could I ever walk away from my scope? My one advantage is, with insulin and food, I can sometimes control the weather. I can smooth the waves and bring her close to shore. On those days it almost feels she is on land with me. On those days we dance together and laugh, and joke that the ocean has nothing on us. But other days the storms come in out of nowhere. The black clouds close in and the numbers ebb and flow with the powerful tide. On those days, I watch my child ride those waves and I spend the day at my scope…determined to change the colour of the clouds. If her boat capsized…I don’t know what I would do. Sure she is above water. Sure…she is surviving. But on the stormier days her sea sickness weighs so heavy on my shoulders, I’m sure I am going to run out of strength, and one day drown into despair myself. My child has grown up on her boat, and I am in awe every day of her constant vigilance, and her nimble control of her craft. She is an able captain now. She can hoist the sail, she can watch for the storm clouds. She can batten down the hatches. She can steer that boat away from immediate danger…she FEELS the sea. Her intuition is inspiring. My husband and I live our lives on the shore waiting for storms, hoping for sun…watching each and every wave.
Statins are a type of medication used to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood and protect the insides of the artery walls.
High levels of cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits building up in your arteries which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and can lead to angina, heart attack and stroke.
Why do I need to take statins?
You may be advised to take statins if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke in order to reduce your risk of another event. If you have peripheral arterial disease statins can help to slow the progression. If you are diabetic, you are at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and taking statins will help to reduce this risk.
Even if you’re in good health, you may be prescribed statins if you’re at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, for example, if you have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease. Statins can help lower your risk. A research study has also suggested statins can help reduce your risk of stroke if you’re aged over 65.
Why do I need to lower my cholesterol?
Cholesterol is essential for your body to work well, but too much ‘bad cholesterol’ (called low-density lipoprotein or LDL) is unhealthy. Statins reduce the amount of ‘bad cholesterol’ your body makes.
Your body will always make cholesterol so if you stop taking a statin, it’s likely your cholesterol levels will rise. If you are prescribed a statin, you need to take it every day. Statins are most beneficial when you take them on a long-term basis.
When should I take my statin?
It’s important to take your medication regularly as prescribed. Most statins are taken at night, as this is when most of your cholesterol is produced. Check with your doctor or pharmacist when you should be taking your statin.
Most statins come as tablets. The most common one is simvastatin. Look up your medication on the Medicine Guides website.
Are there any foods, drinks or other medications I should avoid?
Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any other medications. Taking certain medicines together may affect how well they work.
If you’re taking simvastatin or atorvastatin, avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice as they can increase your risk of side effects.
If you take another type of statin, limit your intake of grapefruit juice to very small quantities or you may want to avoid it all together.
What are the side effects of statins?
Like all medication, statins have potential side effects. The most common are muscular aches and pains, but many people experience none at all.
If you do experience side effects, or if your side effects change or become worse, tell your GP.
Statins target the liver cells where cholesterol is made. Before you start taking statins, you will have a blood test to check how well your liver works. Your doctor may request that you have a follow-up blood test a few months later. If your liver is affected, your doctor may want to reduce your dose or change your statin to another kind of medication that lowers your cholesterol.
The following story is in her mother’s words not mine!
Briana had an appointment at her local GP on Friday 23rd August 2019 in the morning. We had decided to make an appointment because we felt she possibly had a urine infection of some sort…..she was peeing a lot and was constantly thirsty! A few days before that when she was spending time with her cousins, she had drank her own juice plus most of their 2 bottles within quite a short space of time, but we thought she was maybe just thirsty with the hotter weather. But later that night after she was in bed for just over an hour we had gone up to check on her. Not even half way up the stairs there was a really strong sweet smell which we couldn’t understand. When we got into her room we realized her pyjamas and entire bed were completely soaked in pee. It was at that exact point that we realized something wasn’t quite right.
The day of her appointment came along and we walked down to the surgery together waiting to be told it was a urine infection. Doctors had went over a fairly accurate consultation which was pointing towards a urine infection but then felt it would be best to do just one more check – a blood glucose test. It was at that point that they realized it could be something else because her bloods didn’t even have a number, they just read as HI. We now know that her bloods must have been above 36mmol as that’s when the machine just reads as HI. I still remember the look on the nurses face when she said “I’ll just wipe her finger again, I maybe didn’t clean it thoroughly enough” and then she repeated the test to get the same outcome. And it was at that point that she started to explain what was going on and what would happen now. I think I maybe listened to half of it and then said “Ah but she did have quite sugary jam on her toast this morning so maybe that’s it?” I was totally in denial and felt about shocked as to what was going to happen. After the nurse explained that it wasn’t that and that we needed to make our way to the hospital I got a bit of a panic on. I didn’t have the car as my husband had it at work, and my mum was at a friends. I felt bad that I had to disrupt her plans but she came back to pick us up and take me home to grab a few things. We were aware at that point that it was going to be an overnight stay at least.
I phoned my husband on the way to the hospital to inform him of everything and he was equally shocked. I told him to finish work and nip home for more things before he popped up because I knew he had a busy afternoon. Once we got to the hospital they did another test which confirmed her bloods were still high. We got into the childrens ward and Briana didn’t seem fazed at all. She was excited to see all the toys and the colourful pictures around the ward. She was running down the corridor laughing, even though we knew she was poorly and everything was about to change. It was a very strange feeling as we were all stressing and she was having the time of her life! Oh how blissful it must have been to Briana – the unknown!
Lots seemed to have happen at once. My phone kept ringing as the family were wondering what was happening, nurses were in and out, and I was just in the middle faffing over everything that probably didn’t matter. Then a doctor came in to explain they needed to take a blood test. It scared the life out of me! I honestly had no idea how they would be able to do a blood test on a 19 month old child! But with a lot of distraction from watching Hey Duggee on my phone, very tight cuddles, and a lot of nurses holding her arms…..we got it! This was a big blood test that would confirm her diabetes but also check for Vitiligo and Coeliac Disease.
After her test was complete we were back in her room for a very short time. Then the diabetes specialist came in and suggested we go up to the toy room so Briana could play and he could have a discussion with me. Luckily my mum was still with me so she kept Briana amused while I tried my best to understand what was happening. The specialist was brilliant and he drew a diagram to explain to me what diabetes was and how it may affect all of our lives. And all I could think about is how am I meant to describe this all to Colin (my husband) when I don’t even know what it fully is. But with help from the nurses I managed later that night when he arrived. He brought his mum and dad with him too as they would normally visit on a Friday night, so they came up to see Briana in hospital.
We had to stay a week in total so we could learn how to do insulin injections, take her blood sugar levels and get our heads around carb counting. Throughout the week our parents also had to learn how to do all these things and eventually our sister-in-law as these are the people who liked having Briana around at their house or would babysit while we went to work.
That was truly the toughest week of our lives. Briana kept having hypos and we saw most hours of the night. The nurses and doctors were so supportive and helped us through really tough days and nights. And even when we were leaving they still offered as much help and support as they could. They understood that some days we had to go to work so we could afford to pay our bills, and did their best to get us back up to speed when either of us returned. We were fortunate enough to work our work schedules around each other so one of us were always there.
And then the day we left we had that exact feeling we had about 19 months before when we returned home with a newborn baby. It felt exactly the same! I felt like we were going home to do it all on our own, but we weren’t! We had so much support from the childrens ward, the diabetes team and all our family and friends. We will be forever grateful for that!