The symptoms of insomnia depend on the type of sleeping problem that you have.
The symptoms of insomnia depend on the type of sleeping problem you have.
In the UK, up to a third of people are thought to experience insomnia at some point each year. Symptoms can include:
- lying awake for long periods at night before falling asleep
- waking up several times during the night
- waking up early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep
- feeling tired and not refreshed by sleep
- not being able to function properly during the day and finding it difficult to concentrate
A lack of sleep can also affect your mood and cause tiredness and fatigue during the day.
How much sleep do I need?
It's difficult to define what 'normal sleep' is because every individual is different. Many things influence the amount of sleep you need, including your age, lifestyle, diet and environment.
Most healthy adults sleep for about seven to nine hours a night. As you get older, it becomes more difficult to maintain that amount, even though you still need it.
When to visit your GP
You should consider speaking to your GP if a lack of sleep is affecting your daily life and you feel that it's causing a problem.
Fatigue caused by insomnia can affect your mood and create problems with personal relationships and in the workplace.
Read more about simple methods that may help prevent insomnia.
Insomnia can be caused by stress, psychiatric problems, underlying physical conditions, alcohol and drug misuse or as a side effect of certain medications.
Insomnia can be caused by many different things, including stress, underlying health conditions, and alcohol or drug misuse.
The causes of insomnia are discussed in more detail below.
Some people develop insomnia in response to a stressful event, and it continues even when the stress has been resolved. This is because they have become used to associating the sleeping environment with being alert.
Worrying about things, such as work and health, is likely to keep you awake at night. Worrying about not being able to fall asleep can also stop you from actually falling asleep, creating a 'vicious circle'.
Underlying psychiatric problems can often affect a person's sleeping patterns. For example:
- mental health conditions – such as depression or bipolar disorder
- anxiety disorders – such as generalised anxiety, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder
- psychotic disorders – such as schizophrenia
Insomnia can also be caused by underlying physical conditions including:
- heart disease
- respiratory disease – such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma
- neurological disease – such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease
- hormonal problems – such as an overactive thyroid
- joint or muscle problems – such as arthritis
- problems with the genital or urinary organs – such as urinary incontinence or an enlarged prostate
- sleep disorders – such as restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy or sleep apnoea
- long-term pain
Alcohol and drug misuse
Drinking too much alcohol and taking drugs can affect a person's sleeping pattern.
Stimulants, such as nicotine and drinking too much caffeine (contained in tea, coffee and energy drinks) can also affect your sleep.
Some prescribed treatments or medicines available over-the-counter can cause insomnia. These include:
- epilepsy medicine
- medication for high blood pressure (hypertension), such as beta-blockers
- hormone replacement therapy
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- stimulant drugs, such as methylphenidate, which is often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or modafinil, which is used to treat narcolepsy (a long-term sleep disorder that disrupts normal sleeping patterns)
- some medicines used to treat asthma, such as salbutamol, salmeterol and theophylline
A disturbed sleep pattern is one of the most common symptoms of jet lag.
After a long-haul flight, you may find it difficult to sleep at the correct times. For example, you may be awake at night and sleep during the day.