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Insomnia & Sleeping Tablets

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  • What is Insomnia?

    Insomnia is basically characterised as an inability to fall, or stay asleep.

    Insomnia is quite often an associated symptom of another condition, such as depression or anxiety. Insomnia is a common problem in the UK, affecting approximately one in every three people. It is particularly common amongst the elderly.

  • What causes Insomnia?

    Bouts of insomnia can be triggered by a variety of factors. Unfortunately, the cause is not always clear, but often, insomnia can be associated with the following:
    • Stress and anxiety.
    • A poor sleeping environment – this can include too much light or noise, an uncomfortable bed, or hot and cold temperatures.
    • Physical health conditions, such as chronic pain, sleep disorders or heart problems.
    • Mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression
    • Certain medicines can cause insomnia as a side-effect. These include certain antidepressants, epilepsy medication and steroid medicines.
  • What are the symptoms of Insomnia?

    Insomnia sufferers will likely experience at least one of the following symptoms:
    • A difficulty in falling asleep.
    • Being awake for long periods of the night.
    • Waking up several times during the night.
    • Waking up too early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.
    • Not feeling refreshed after waking up.
    • An inability to nap during the day, despite being tired.
    • Feeling tired and irritable during the day.
    • Difficulty in concentrating.
  • How long does Insomnia last?

    Occasional episodes of insomnia can come and go without posing any serious problems. However, for some, insomnia can last for several weeks, months, or even years at a time. This persistent form of insomnia can significantly impact a persons quality of life.
  • Is there anything I can do about my Insomnia?

    There are a number of techniques and self-help tips that can help you to get a good nights sleep.
    These include:
    • Having a consistent and regular sleeping regime, setting specific times for retiring to bed and for waking up.
    • Attempt to relax before bedtime. Try having a warm, relaxing bath, or listen to some soft, calming music.
    • Use thick curtains or blackout blinds to reduce the amount of light in your sleeping environment.
    • Use earplugs to block out any unwanted noise. 
    • Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol for at least a few hours prior to bedtime.
    • Avoid eating heavy meals before going to bed.
    • Try to avoid using technology with black-lit screens shortly before going to bed. This includes; TVs, smartphones, tablets, or computers.
    • Try not to nap during the day.
    • Write a list of your problems and then jot down potential solutions. Doing this before bedtime will help your anxious mind switch off until morning.
    Some sufferers find over-the-counter sleeping tablets helpful, however, they fail to address the underlying problems and carry the risk of some troublesome side-effects. Examples of over-the–counter sleeping tablets include:
    • Nytol
    • Sominex
  • Will I need to see a Doctor about my Insomnia?

    It is advised to speak to your GP should any lack of sleep begin to affect your daily life. This is particularly the case if the problem has persisted for one month or longer.
    Your doctor may ask about your sleeping and lifestyle habits. They will also check your medical history for any illness or medication that may be contributing to your insomnia. It will probably be recommended that you start to keep a sleep diary. This will usually cover a period of about two weeks and is aimed at providing your doctor with a better understanding of your sleep patterns. The sleep diary will consist of logging all the key aspects of your bedtime routine, including:
    • The time you go to bed.
    • The time you wake up.
    • How long it takes to fall asleep.
    • How many times you wake up during the night.
  • What is Cognative Behavioural Therapy in relation to Insomnia?

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a method for treating insomnia. It can be practiced on its own, or used in conjunction with medication.
    The first stage of CBT-I looks at identifying the underlying causes of the insomnia. Once identified, CBT-I aims to alter the behaviours and thought patterns that are contributing to the insomnia. For many sufferers, CBT-I has proven to have long-lasting results.
  • Will I need to treat my Insomnia?

    Before opting for treatment, your GP will first attempt to identify any underlying health issue that might be causing the insomnia, such as anxiety. They may also reiterate the self-help tips outlined above ( Is there anything I can do about my insomnia? ).
    In some cases, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be suggested. This type of therapy involves talking to a qualified therapist who will attempt to help you avoid the thoughts and behaviours that are affecting your sleep. This is normally the first line of recommended treatment, which, if successful, can lead to long-term improvement.
    Prescription medicines are typically only used as a last resort. This is because they fail to treat the underlying cause of the insomnia. They also carry the risk of several unwanted side-effects, and with repeated use they can often become less effective. If sleeping tablets are prescribed, they should only be used for short spells of a few days or weeks at a time. Examples of prescription sleeping tablets include:
    • Zopiclone (Zimovane)
    • Zolpidem (Stilnoct)
  • Can Insomnia be life threatening?

    In the majority of cases, insomnia isn't life-threatening.
    Bouts of insomnia will be experienced by most adults during the course of their life, and in most cases, the condition will usually resolve itself. If insomnia is a secondary symptom to obstructive, complex, or central sleep apnoea, then under these circumstances, it can potentially be life-threatening. However, it is important to recognise that the insomnia itself is not the danger, but rather the cause of the insomnia.
  • Can Insomnia be prevented?

    If the insomnia is being caused by an underlying health issue, then the best way to prevent it is to address and manage the issue causing the problem. For example, if insomnia is being triggered by anxiety, then tackling the cause of the anxiety will help relieve the associated insomnia.
    Practicing good sleep hygiene techniques can help prevent insomnia. Good sleep hygiene refers to adopting habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. Listed below are some good sleep hygiene practices that have proven effective at preventing insomnia.
    • Wake up at the same time every day – if you're prone to bouts of insomnia, it is beneficial to have a regular get- up time every day. This will help the body to ingrain a consistent sleep pattern.
    • Eliminate stimulants, such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine – the effects of stimulants like caffeine can remain in the body for several hours. It is advised not to consume or inhale anything stimulating for at least a few hours prior to going to bed.
    • Avoid eating before going to bed – eating late can activate the digestive system, which can potentially keep you up. If a sufferer of acid reflux or heartburn, it is particularly important to avoid eating and drinking directly before bed, as this can exacerbate your symptoms.
    • Avoid drinking before bedtime – drinking lots of fluid can overwhelm your bladder, which will lead to frequent awakenings for visits to the toilet. These arousals will interrupt your sleep.
    • Regular exercise – this will help to improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep. However, it is important not to exercise immediately before bed, as this can have a stimulating effect on the bodys metabolism, which is not conducive to sleep.
    • Create a comfortable sleeping environment – factors such as temperature, noise levels and lighting should all be set at a level that encourages sleep. These factors may vary from person to person. For example, some people require silence to help them sleep, whilst others prefer some soft background noise. It is also extremely important that your bed feels comfortable.
    • Reducing stress – there are a number of techniques and therapies designed to relax the mind and body prior to going to bed. For example, deep breathing techniques, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
    • Limit activities in bed to sleeping and sex – if you suffer from insomnia, it is important to avoid any activity that could potentially increase your alertness, such as admin tasks or watching TV - the bed should only be associated with sleep.
    • Limit napping during the day – catching up on lost sleep by napping can affect the quality of your night-time slumber. It is recommended to avoid, or at least limit daytime naps if possible.

Authored By:

A photo of  Chris Newbury

Chris Newbury

BPharm IP

Published on: 29-05-2019

Last modified on: 29-05-2019

Chris is a vastly experienced clinical pharmacist and has been registered as an Independent Prescriber since 2014.

Reviewed By:

A photo of  Leanne Sinclair

Leanne Sinclair


Reviewed on: 29-05-2019

Next review date: 29-05-2021

Leanne is a clinical pharmacist with years of experience working in pharmacy.

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