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Learn about insomnia

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Insomnia occurs in approximately one-third of the US population and can have a significant negative impact on someone’s day-to-day life. This article explores what insomnia is and what to do if you have it.

So what actually is it?

Insomnia means low-quality sleep along with daytime difficulties because of it. It can occur in many different forms, from difficulties falling to sleep, staying asleep, waking up too early without being able to get back to sleep, or not feeling refreshed from sleep. It leads to significant symptoms in the daytime, such as tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes problems controlling your emotions.

What is normal sleep? How do I know if I have insomnia?

Because everyone is unique, the amount of sleep someone requires to function their best varies from person to person and also tends to decrease with age. There are averages that most people do fit into. The majority of adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night, and the average range of time taken to fall asleep is between 10 to 30 minutes. It is also normal to wake up from time to time at night.

Because everyone’s sleep requirements differ, there are no set criteria to diagnose insomnia. If you have insomnia, you will have difficulty in one or more aspects of sleeping (falling or staying asleep or waking up early), along with daytime symptoms due to poor sleep. If you do not have daytime symptoms, then it is not insomnia.

Is there anything I can do to improve it?

Absolutely! Many people find they can improve their insomnia by simple changes they can make at home. This is known as sleep hygiene, and it is about getting the environment and bedroom routine optimized in order to aid your sleep. Routine is key. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day where possible and set a daily pre-bed routine that you follow every night, which includes some wind-down time/relaxation.

If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and start the routine again. Block out any noise and light from your room, and avoid using screens like your laptop or phone late at night. And lastly, try not to worry about not getting enough sleep, so avoid any clock watching or calculating how many hours are left till you wake up. The worry about not sleeping well actually makes your sleep worse.

When to seek advice from your doctor?

You should book an appointment to see your doctor if you have tried the sleep hygiene advice for 3 weeks or more and have not seen any improvement or if your day-to-day life is being significantly affected by insomnia. Insomnia can also be caused or linked to physical or mental health conditions, so if you have any other symptoms such as low mood, or physical health symptoms like difficulty breathing when lying down, restless legs, or needing to urinate multiple times in the night, then you should see your doctor.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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