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How to sleep better

4 Feb 2020

The health benefits of sleep are extensive. So how can you beat insomnia and get a better night’s sleep?

Sleeplessness is on the rise. A recent study found that 67% of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep, with 23% getting no more than 5 hours a night.* And although some people can manage on less, most of us need between 7 and 9 hours sleep to function effectively – with children and teenagers needing even more.

There are many different reasons for this increase in sleeplessness as insomnia reflects a wide range of issues – from depression to certain physical conditions, shift work through to stress. Because of this, it’s important to explore the particular reasons for your own insomnia - especially if it lasts more than a couple of months.

“Sleep helps prevent heart disease, diabetes and depression, boosts your immunity and can even increase fertility and sex drive. So it’s worth taking seriously. If it was a medicine, our GPs would prescribe it to everyone!”
Dr Asimah Hanif, Lead GP Livi.

Do you suffer from occasional or short-term sleeplessness?

For most people, sleeplessness happens from time to time and although it’s frustrating and tiring, it’s not long-lasting. In fact it’s perfectly normal and worrying about it can actually make things worse.

If it happens more regularly, it’s worth thinking carefully about the things that might be causing the problem – it could be something that’s worrying you or a change to your usual sleep routine. Try keeping a sleep diary and make a note when you sleep badly and when you sleep well. This diary will also be useful if you need to discuss it with a GP at any point.

Some of these simple sleep tips may also help - but remember different things work for different people, so it’s worth trying different things.

  • Exercise during the day (but just not before bed).
  • Avoid alcohol, heavy meals and caffeinated drinks before bed.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same each day.
  • Try a warm (not hot) bath an hour before you go to bed.
  • Get a comfortable bed, mattress and pillows – you spend a third of your life in bed!
  • Don’t use your mobile or computer in bed (or at least an hour before bed).
  • Try listening to calming music or reading a book.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet – use thick curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs.

You may want to see a pharmacist for sleep aids. However these can make you drowsy the next day.

When lack of sleep becomes a long-term problem

If you’ve tried the techniques described above, your insomnia has lasted a few months or more, or it’s making it hard to cope with your daily life, do talk to a GP. In severe cases our GPs may be able to refer you to psychology services such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help uncover the underlying reasons you can’t sleep. However, only in rare circumstances will they prescribe medication. They can also refer you to a range of NHS approved sleep apps which use different techniques to help you beat insomnia.

If it’s less severe, the GP will be able to help identify and advise on the possible causes of your insomnia and give guidance on good sleep hygiene.

*Aviva: Sleepless cities revealed that one in three adults suffer from insomnia.

Reviewed by: Asimah Hanif, Lead GP, Livi

Last updated:
4 Feb 2020

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