What is insomnia?

What is insomnia?

One third of the UK population suffers from insomnia, a prolonged and usually abnormal inability to obtain adequate, uninterrupted sleep. Symptoms may include having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning, feeling unrefreshed. The consequences are unpleasant, leaving sufferers feeling exhausted, irritable and unable to concentrate on simple tasks.

What causes insomnia?

There's no one specific trigger for insomnia but certain conditions seem to make individuals more likely to experience it:

* People aged over sixty
* Females
* Those with a history of depression

Stress is a major contributor. Traumatic events such as acute illness, injury or surgery, the loss of a loved one, exams, or trouble at work can all disrupt one's sleep patterns. In such cases, normal sleep almost always returns when the individual recovers from the event or becomes acclimated to the new situation.

Jet lag can also cause insomnia. Travelling east across time zones is more difficult to adjust to than travelling west, to earlier times. Usually one day of adjustment is all that is required to overcome the insomnia.

Environmental or lifestyle factors may also come into play - too much light in the bedroom or too much caffeine or stimulants in the body.

Can insomnia be treated?

Treatment is related to the cause, if the cause can be determined. Patients are evaluated with the help of a medical and sleep history (sleep diary). Chronic suffers may be treated through cognitive behavioural therapy involving relaxation and reconditioning.

One of the best ways to prevent insomnia is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Avoid going to bed feeling stressed and worried. If you're worried about falling asleep, it will be more difficult to fall asleep. Try not to eat too close to bedtime and avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Visit our advice and tips page for details on how to make your bedroom environment more suitable for sleep and how to relax your body and mind to help you get a good night's sleep.

Just remember, the less you worry about it, the more likely you'll achieve the perfect slumber.


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