Sleep problems
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​What is insomnia?
Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning.

It is a common problem thought to regularly affect around one in every three people in the UK, and is particularly common in elderly people.

If you have insomnia, you may:

  • find it difficult to fall asleep
  • lie awake for long periods at night
  • wake up several times during the night
  • wake up early in the morning and not be able to get back to sleep
  • not feel refreshed when you get up
  • find it hard to nap during the day, despite feeling tired
  • feel tired and irritable during the day and have difficulty concentrating

Occasional episodes of insomnia may come and go without causing any serious problems, but for some people it can last for months or even years at a time.

Persistent insomnia can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It can limit what you're able to do during the day, affect your mood, and lead to relationship problems with friends, family and colleagues.

What causes insomnia?
It is not always clear what triggers insomnia, but it's often associated with:
  • stress and anxiety
  • a poor sleeping environment – such as an uncomfortable bed, or a bedroom that's too light, noisy, hot or cold
  • lifestyle factors – such as jet lag, shift work, or drinking alcohol or caffeine before going to bed
  • mental health conditions – such as depression and schizophrenia
  • physical health conditions – such as heart problems, other sleep disorders and long-term pain
  • certain medicines – such as some antidepressantsepilepsy medicines and steroid medication
Read more about the causes of insomnia.

How to get to sleep
If you have a hard time falling asleep, a regular bedtime ritual will help you wind down and prepare for sleep. Simple lifestyle changes can make a world of difference to your quality of sleep. Try these 10 tips to beat insomnia.
1. Keep regular sleep hours
Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better. Choose a time when you're likely to feel tired and sleepy.

2. Create a restful sleeping environment
Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest and sleep. Temperature, lighting and noise should be controlled so your bedroom environment helps you to fall (and stay) asleep.

If you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you, consider moving it somewhere else if it often disturbs you in the night.

3. Make sure your bed is comfortable
It's difficult to get restful sleep on a mattress that is too soft or too hard, or a bed that is too small or old.

4. Exercise regularly
Moderate exercise on a regular basis, such as swimming or walking, can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. Make sure you don't do vigorous exercise, such as running or the gym, too close to bedtime as it may keep you awake. 

5. Cut down on caffeine
Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea.

6.Don't over-indulge
Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt your sleep later on in the night.

7. Don't smoke
Nicotine is a stimulant. Smokers take longer to fall asleep, they wake up more frequently, and they often have more disrupted sleep.

8. Try to relax before going to bed
Have a warm bath, listen to quiet music or do some gentle yoga to relax the mind and body. Your doctor may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation CD.
9. Write away your worries
If you tend to lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you're in bed, trying to sleep.

10. If you can't sleep, get up
If you can't sleep, don't lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed. 

How can we help you?
If lack of sleep is persistent and affecting your daily life, make an appointment to see your GP.

Find out about Sleepio, a digital programme that helps people overcome sleep problems.
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