I Can’t Sleep

Insomnia describes not being able to get enough sleep. Some people suffer from regular insomnia throughout their lives; other people suffer from occasional bouts of insomnia.

Around one in four people will experience a period of insomnia at some point in their lives. It might be that you struggle to get to sleep for hours or that you only sleep for a few hours before waking up. Some insomniacs wake up very early in the morning and then can’t get back to sleep.

Different types of insomnia

There are three main types of insomnia:

  • Transient insomnia: lasts for two to three days
  • Short term insomnia: lasts for a few days to a few weeks
  • Chronic insomnia: happens most nights for more than three weeks.

Effects of insomnia

You need between seven and ten hours of sleep a night, depending on how old you are, but if you suffer from insomnia you’ll struggle to get this and will probably feel very drained and lacking in energy as a result.

Lack of sleep can mean you struggle to concentrate and can make you feel irritable, anxious and depressed.

What causes insomnia?

If you’re suffering from insomnia, there are several possible causes:


Maybe you’re worrying about exams, work, bullying, family stresses or relationship problems? Whatever it is that’s bothering you, if you take your worries to bed with you, it will make it much harder for you to get the sleep you need.

It might help to write your troubles down before you go to bed so that you can then physically put them to one side, rather than lying awake worrying about them.

Talking to someone could really help too. Take a look at the ‘Who Can Help?’ section of this article for suggestions of people to talk to.


The way you live your life, and your routine before bed, can have a real effect on your quality of sleep and may be to blame if you’re experiencing insomnia.


Eating late at night, drinking alcohol and smoking can all make it harder for you to get a good night’s sleep. Try to eat your evening meal a couple of hours before going to bed and avoid stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine.

Although alcohol might seem to help you get to sleep, it’s not the kind of refreshing sleep that your body needs and can often mean you’ll wake up in the night or earlier than usual.


Lack of exercise can mean you feel restless and struggle to sleep. Exercise will physically tire you out and will help you to have a good sleep. Regular exercise may help treat your insomnia, although avoid doing it just before bed as your body and mind need time to wind down.

Health problems

Some medical conditions cause involuntary movement, pain and discomfort which make it hard to fall asleep or to get a full night’s sleep.

Conditions which can lead to insomnia include: asthma, arthritis, headache, back pain and more.

Prescribed medicines can cause insomnia as a side effect, so check the information leaflet that comes with your medicine and speak to your GP. You may be able to take an alternative medicine if this is the cause of your insomnia, or it may be that your sleep patterns return to normal once you have finished the course of medicine

Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can also cause insomnia.

Treatments for insomnia

Professional treatment

If you’re suffering from insomnia, the first step is to seek medical advice so that you can identify the cause.

Your GP may then offer lifestyle advice, suggest counselling or therapy or prescribe sleeping tablets if it’s appropriate for you.

Lifestyle tips

If the cause of your insomnia is lifestyle-based, then there are lots of little things you can do to try and help yourself.

Try and make your bedroom a haven of peace and tranquillity! Rather than it being the place where you eat your meals, study, play computer games and watch TV, make your room the place where you go to sleep. The fewer distractions there are, the more relaxing you’ll find it and the easier you should find it to get to sleep.

A bath, hot milky drink and a few pages of a good book before bed will encourage sleep much more than watching a film, eating late at night or drinking alcohol.

Try and get into a routine of going to bed at a certain time and getting up at a set time, even at weekends. It might be difficult at first but it will really help your body settle into a routine and should make it much easier for you to sleep during the week.

Who can help?

Speak to your GP if you are suffering from insomnia, so that they can try and pinpoint the cause and discuss possible treatments. You can also visit NHS Direct at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk or call them on 0845 4647.

NHS Choices and Bupa both offer useful information on the symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment of insomnia.

If you’re worrying about something and it’s causing you to have problems sleeping, it could help to talk to someone about what’s bothering you. If you don’t have a friend, family member or someone else trusted that you feel comfortable talking to, Childline offer confidential help and advice.

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