It's two in the morning and you're awake, staring at the ceiling for the third night this week, hoping against hope that you'll fall asleep in enough time to awaken feeling rested and refreshed, ready to tackle another busy day. Sound familiar? If it does, then you could be suffering from insomnia, and we at London Doctors Clinic are here to help. 


What is Insomnia?

Well, most people have trouble sleeping every once in a while, but insomnia is a bit different to the occasional bad night. Insomnia is a sleep disorder, in which a person develops a pattern of difficulty with sleeping, which can have a detrimental effect on your quality of life as time goes on.


I Can't Sleep: Do I Have Insomnia?

Common symptoms of insomnia include:

  • A feeling of dissatisfaction with the quality or quantity of your sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, or awakening earlier than desired in the mornings
  • Disturbed or inadequate sleep three or more nights per week
  • This difficulty with sleeping has been happening over a period of time (usually more than 1 month)
  • The cause of your insomnia cannot be better explained by another sleep or medical disorder


Why Can't I Sleep?

You will be more prone to suffering from insomnia if you are female, or of an older age. Insomnia may be caused by medical conditions such as acid reflux, arthritis, or back pain, or by psychological conditions such depression or anxiety. 

However, insomnia is more commonly caused by:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Shift work
  • Medications
  • Major life changes


Lifestyle factors such as stress have a significant affect on sleep


What are the Effects of Insomnia?

Insomnia, apart from being frustrating and isolating, can result in daytime sleepiness or low energy, irritability, and reduced performance at work or school, to name a few.

Lack of sleep it can also impact your mood and your physical health, increasing your risk for certain medical conditions and even potentially dangerous accidents, so it is important that you don't ignore this common problem, especially when help is so readily available.


How do you Treat Insomnia?

A good place to start is to visit your GP, who can assess you for insomnia and provide a definitive diagnosis, as well as giving you useful advice and support.

Your GP may want to know about various relevant aspects of your lifestyle, including:

  • Sleeping routines,
  • General lifestyle habits:
    • How much caffeine you drink each day,
    • How much exercise you do.
  • The degree of stress in your life at the present time,
  • Your current mood

Your GP may check your medical and medication history, or perform certain tests (for example, blood tests) to help identify factors which may be contributing to your insomnia. It may be suggested that you keep a sleep diary, so that you can chart your sleep and understand the pattern of your insomnia. Following this assessment, you and your Doctor will decide on the best way to proceed with treatment.


It's important to identify and patterns to your sleep issues, by means of a sleep diary


So, How Do I Get To Sleep?!

The question every insomniac is desperate for an answer to, but unfortunately there's no one simple answer. The first step in treating insomnia is making a conscious effort to amend lifestyle factors that may be contributing to the condition, known as sleep hygiene:

Sleep Hygiene

Often, the first line (and one of the most effective) treatments for insomnia is attention to sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a term used by doctors and other health professionals to describe the use of habits and practices that promote restful sleep on a regular basis. People who suffer with insomnia often resort to coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of their sleep deprivation which, while understandable, often worsen the problem over time.

Good sleep hygiene practices to combat insomnia include:

  • Avoiding napping during the day, no matter how tired you are
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, big meals and nicotine too close to bedtime, as all of these substances act as stimulants
  • Reduce exposure to phones, laptops, mobile devices and television for the last hour before you want to go to sleep, as the type of light emitted by these devices is thought to reduce the production of a hormone called melatonin by the brain, which is important to aid sleep
  • Stick to a sleep schedule, even at the weekends, in which you go to bed and wake up at the same times each day
  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool, and your bed comfortable
  • Half an hour of moderately vigorous exercise five times per week can help to relax your mind and tire your body
  • Create a familiar and relaxing bedtime routine that helps you unwind and practice this routine nightly 


Using phones or laptops before bed can have a detrimental effect on ability to sleep


Other Treatment Options For Insomnia:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Often, behavioural therapy may be helpful as a treatment to relieve insomnia. One of the most effective therapies for insomnia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which may be used with or without medications as a method of tackling insomnia. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) aims to identify and adjust thoughts and behaviours that are preventing the sufferer from sleeping well. Methods used include keeping a sleep diary, education regarding sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and learning how to deal with thoughts of stress or anxiety which may play on your mind at night-time.


Sleeping Pills

Occasionally, a doctor can prescribe medications, commonly referred to as "sleeping pills" to help you sleep. These medications are available by prescription only, and are effective, but they are usually only prescribed for a short period of time, so it’s advisable that you work on finding and addressing the underlying cause of your difficulty sleeping in order to experience a long term improvement. Options for taking short term prescription medication may be discussed with your GP. Our affordable private doctors offer this and many other GP surgery services at all 12 of our central London clinics with same day doctor appointments available, right up until the last minute! 

By Melissa Dillon