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What Is Insomnia?

23rd January 2020

Slumber Centre

We’ve all had a bad night’s sleep, haven’t we? Whether it’s from worrying about the next day, tossing and turning in an uncomfortable bed or a little jet lag (if you’re lucky), a sleepless night has happened to us all. But at what point does a lack of sleep become a serious problem? If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying in the land of nod on a regular basis, it might be time to look at your sleeping habits. When sleepless nights hit, it’s tempting to think you may be suffering from insomnia – but there’s actually a lot more to this complex sleeping disorder than first meets the eye.

What is insomnia?

Simply put, insomnia is a sleeping disorder that is characterised by difficulty falling or staying asleep. People with insomnia tend to feel unhappy with their sleep and experience multiple symptoms of tiredness, irritability, lack of energy and mood disturbances.

The causes of insomnia can be complex and frustrating, especially if you’re in need of a good night’s kip. It’s hard to pin lack of sleep down to one single factor, so covering all bases will help you solve the problem more quickly.

Do you have insomnia?

In most cases, people who experience sleeplessness around circumstantial events, such as bad news or stress, are suffering from what’s known as ‘acute insomnia’. This type of insomnia will pass in time, and often without treatment.

Other types of insomnia include chronic and severe disorders which cause disrupted sleep on a regular basis for at least three months. There are multiple causes for severe insomnia, so it’s important to know when to seek medical care and find the best course of treatment for you.

How much sleep do you need?

On average, adults need around 7 to 9 hours sleep a night, with children needing 9 to 13 hours. Everyone is different though, and if you’re feeling tired all the time, then the likelihood is that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Adults - 7 to 9 hours

Children - 9 to 13 hours

Toddlers and babies - 12 to 17 hours

NHS advice here.

If you’re still unsure if sleeplessness is a problem in your life, you can take an online insomnia test to help you get on the road to good sleep hygiene. Consider keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks to help you narrow down those pesky symptoms and triggers, too.

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Insomnia symptoms

Common symptoms of insomnia can range from difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep, to waking up too early and being unable to nap, even when you’re tired. People who experience sleep problems for months or even years might not even realise there’s a bigger problem. They become used to life with tiredness and work around it.

The below are all symptoms of insomnia:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep
  • Waking up during the night
  • Lying awake at night
  • Waking up early and being unable to go back to sleep
  • Feeling tired after waking up
  • Difficulty napping during the day even though you’re tired
  • Feeling tired and irritable during the day
  • Difficulty concentrating because you’re tired

The time to make a change or seek help is when insomnia starts affecting your day to day life. Only you can be the judge of that, but if your personal life or work performance starts to suffer as a result of fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating or mood swings, then it’s time to get some help.

Insomnia causes

Before you start worrying there’s something seriously wrong with you (and subsequently lose even more sleep!), let’s start with some of the most common and easy to solve causes of insomnia.

Your sleep environment can play a huge factor in your overall sleep quality, so it’s an excellent place to start on your quest for better sleep. Is it too noisy? Is it too hot or cold? Is your bed uncomfortable? If you answered yes to one (or all) of those, then it’s possible you’re staring the problem right in the face, or, rather, trying to sleep on it.

Away from the bedroom, habits can also affect your quality of sleep. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are common causes of poor sleep, as well as irregular work patterns and jet lag.

If none of these are ringing true to you, then it might be worth booking an appointment with your GP to see what else could be happening. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all affect your sleep, as well as some other underlying illnesses and their medications.

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How to treat insomnia

People often fixate on how to cure insomnia, but in truth, there’s no quick fix.

Treatment for an insomnia disorder often starts with a bit of self-care. Making some simple changes to your daily habits and where you sleep can make all the difference and result in a better night’s sleep.

As well as checking the temperature of the room and keeping a pair of ear-plugs and an eye mask to hand, be sure to check your bed is up to the job too. Having the correct support while you sleep is essential to waking up feeling refreshed. So, if you’ve been putting off purchasing a new mattress, duvet or set of pillows, now might be the time.

When it comes to life’s habits some things just can’t be avoided, such as a job or looking after a child. That said, it’s worth reviewing your daily routine to see if there are any areas you can adjust. Resisting that last cup of coffee before bed could make all the difference.

Exercising regularly and taking the time to relax before bed without any bright lights from your TV or smartphone can get you better prepared for sleep. Getting into a routine with your bedtime and morning alarm can help reset your body clock too.

Here are our dos and don’ts for getting a good night’s sleep:


  • Get into a routine with your bedtime and wake up call.
  • Relax before bed – a good book or a bath will do the trick!
  • Create a dark and quiet atmosphere in your bedroom.
  • Exercise during the day
  • Get comfortable with the right mattress, pillows, and covers.


  • Watch TV or play devices before bed – the bright lights will keep you up!
  • Take a nap during the day.
  • Drink too much tea, coffee or alcohol before bedtime.
  • Eat heavy foods before going to sleep.
  • Sleep in after a bad night of sleep – stick to your regular timings.

Help for severe insomnia is available too, so if the changes you’ve made to your sleeping habits haven’t helped, don’t worry! Seeing your GP can help get you on the right track.