Why can’t I sleep?

What causes insomnia?

If a period of sleep loss becomes chronic and persists for a period of at least a month, then it becomes insomnia.

Insomnia is identified by four key symptoms-

Problems falling to sleep

Problems staying asleep

Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep

Not feeling refreshed from sleep

Although we are all different, research has shown us that there is a distinct pattern to how sleep loss becomes chronic. The pattern general follows three stages-

Firstly, a person may be more prone to sleep difficulty than others. They may be a naturally anxious person or struggle to ‘switch off’ at night. These factors would predispose somebody to insomnia. 

There is also usually something that triggers an episode of insomnia. This could be a period of emotional stress like losing a loved one or going through a divorce or it could be as simple as a cough and cold which disrupts your sleep pattern. These are all things that would lead most of us to lose some sleep but when things don’t return to normal, it can lead to insomnia.

As a result of the poor sleep, habits and behaviours develop which are intended to combat the effects of sleep loss but which end up making the problem worse.  We begin to focus on how to catch up on the lost sleep so change our behaviors to try and help such as tending to go to bed earlier or trying to sleep during the day. We  may drink tea or coffee to try and stay alert or engage in long wind down routines to try and be at our most relaxed before bed and although these things can help us in the short term they interfere in our sleep pattern in the long run.

We then start to spend more time in bed in order to get more sleep and may even try weird and wonderful techniques like lavender on the pillow, hot milk before bed and eating bananas, all of which will interfere with out natural ability to fall asleep as we are ‘trying’ too hard.   These actions, intended to overcome the initial sleeplessness, in actual fact have the opposite effect, training our bodies not to fall asleep, developing what we refer to as Conditioned Insomnia. The longer this goes on, the worse it becomes.

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  1. Why sleep hygiene is not enough to fix your sleep problem

  2. The ONLY three things you need to know about to manage your sleep

  3. Why CBT-i is the ONLY NHS recommended programme of treatment for poor sleepers and how it helps up to 80% of people improve sleep in under 4 weeks