Being unable to sleep properly is frustrating. Sleeplessness can also be worrying, especially when sleep problems gets in the way of you living your normal life.
Fact: If you don’t sleep well, you’re not alone. Research has shown that sleep problems affect about 1 in 10 people in the India.
While sleep problems often occur for no obvious reason, they may sometimes be caused by an underlying physical or mental health problem.
Don’t worry: Sleep problems are often short-lived and frequently get better by themselves after a week or so.
You can often improve your sleep by making some simple changes to your life, without the need for medical treatment.
Action: If your sleep problems persist and worry you – especially if they affect your life or if you have other symptoms – see your doctor (GP) for a check-up and to discuss what can be done about it
What are sleep problems?
Sleep problems mean different things to different people, from finding it hard to go to sleep to waking too frequently or too early
You may also start to worry when because of sleep problems you’re tired all the time and don’t feel rested.
Fact: Most people need on average between seven to nine hours sleep per night and fall asleep within 30 minutes
What causes sleep problems?
Poor sleep may occur for no apparent reason, but occasionally it may be caused by an underlying health or other problem.
Alcohol and drugs: Both can affect sleep, and using alcohol to get to sleep often makes matters worse in the long run
Bedroom: Your bedroom is too hot, cold, bright or noisy, or your bed is uncomfortable
Caffeine: You drink a lot of coffee or tea during the day and in the evening
Life-events: You worry about an exam or interview, have problems with friends or family, have fallen out with your partner, or you’ve lost someone close to you
Medication: You use prescribed drugs, such as asthma inhalers or steroids, that keep you awake
Mental health problems: You feel anxious, low or stressed
Physical health problems: You’re in pain, or you have hay fever, abdominal (belly) ache or other health symptoms
Screens: You watch exciting TV programmes, play computer games or do other screen-based activities just before bedtime
Sleep habits: You go to bed at different times each day and don’t have a routine
Jet lag: You arrive home after a trip abroad or another long journey
Fact: Having naps during the day may also affect your night-time sleep, so you may want to avoid them if you have problems sleeping.
What should I look out for?
Several warning signs may suggest an underlying physical or mental health problem that might be affecting your sleep.
Here are some examples:
Alcohol: You or other people are worried about the amount of alcohol you drink
Appetite: You’ve lost your appetite, or you eat much more than usual
Concentration: You find it hard to concentrate and to focus on your studies
Energy: You feel tired a lot of the time
Low mood: You feel low, down or hopeless, or and you don’t enjoy your life
Physical symptoms: You have other physical symptoms that prevent you from sleeping, such as pain, a runny nose or itchy skin
Self-worth: You feel bad about yourself, or you feel that you’ve let yourself or others down
Stress: You feel stressed, irritable or anxious
Action: See your doctor (GP) for advice if you show any of these warning signs or you’re worried about your sleep for any other reason. In particular, seek help if sleep problems affect your life and your studies, if you’ve tried self-care and it didn’t work, or if your sleep problems have been going on for two weeks or more and are not improving.
What can I do myself to improve my sleep?
You will often be able to improve your sleep by changing old habits and establishing new routines.
Here are some tips for tackling sleep problems:
Clocks: Remove or cover up clocks. Looking at a lit clock can make you more frustrated if you keep looking at it, and the light from the clock may also arouse your brain
Eating: Avoid eating too late in the evening. Have your evening meal no less than three hours before you go to bed. If you feel hungry before bedtime, limit yourself to a light snack only, such as fruit
Environment: Create the right environment for sleeping well. Make sure your bed is comfortable and that your room temperature is just right
Exercise: Exercise at the right times. Regular daily exercise can help you sleep, but avoid sport late in the evening because it can arouse your brain
Light: If your room is too light, consider getting light-reducing blinds or curtains, or try wearing an eye mask
Napping: Avoid daytime naps. They reduce your need for sleep at night, which normally builds up during the day
Noise: If you can’t sleep because of noise, see if you can do something about it. If not, consider using noise-reducing ear plugs, which you can buy from your pharmacy
Screens: Looking at screens – including your smartphone or tablet – in the hours before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep. The light from screens is thought to reduce the production of a sleep-promoting hormone in your body called melatonin
Staying up: Stay up a bit longer and avoid trying to go to sleep when your brain is wide awake and you don’t feel tired, because tossing and turning in bed can be frustrating when you can’t fall asleep
Stimulants: Drink at most one cup of coffee in the morning and avoid alcohol, cigarettes and other stimulating substances at night
Trying to go to sleep: Don’t try too hard to to go sleep. If you haven’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes or so, get up and try again once you feel sleepy
Tip: If you can’t sleep, you can also try taking a hot bath or using a hot water bottle, especially during colder spells.
What should I do next?
A useful first step is to keep a sleep diary in which you record your sleep patterns for one or two weeks.
Fact: A sleep diary gives you and your doctor (GP) an insight into your sleeping habits. Spotting any changes over time can also be useful for finding out what might be going on.
In your sleep diary record:
Exercise: Make a note of the times of any exercise and other physical activities that you do
Falling asleep: Note down the time you go to bed and how long it takes you to fall asleep
Food and drink: Jot down when and what you eat and drink (including coffee, tea, alcohol
Mood and feelings: Also document how you feel, and whether you’re stressed or anxious
Tiredness: Write down how tired you feel during the day and how often you nap or doze off
Waking: Record how often you wake up, and when
Tip: Find sleep diary templates online (see further info).
What treatment options to I have?
When sleep problems affect your life and the self-care tips haven’t worked for you, several treatment options may be available to you.
Tip: Whether or not you have an underlying health problem or not, your doctor will be able to advise you on the best way forward.
Possible treatments include:
Lifestyle changes: Try to reduce the time you spend in bed and make further lifestyle changes as appropriate (see self-care for more). If you feel low or anxious, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink may help with these problems too
Medication: When other treatments have failed, you may be offered medication, such as sleeping tablets, for a short duration
Training your mind: If appropriate, you may also benefit from psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness training or relaxation techniques, which can all be effective
Warning: Sleeping tablets (hypnotics) become less effective over time and you can become dependent on them. When you stop taking them, your sleep problems might get even worse. They can also have side effects, especially when taken with alcohol or other drugs.