Insomnia is a persistent problem with getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking early and not returning to sleep. It is very common and it is estimated that one in three of us suffers from bouts of insomnia in our lifetimes.
Because you’re sleeping badly it makes sense to think you have insomnia and our research suggests that 51% of people go and buy sleep remedies without getting any advice from a health professional, such as a pharmacist.
Taking medicines without advice from a health professional can be dangerous. For example, you can misdiagnose your condition, take the wrong medicine, experience adverse side effects, take the wrong dose, or become addicted to certain medicines.
If you are worried about your sleeping habits or have been taking sleep remedies for a long period of time with no advice from a health professional, visit your local pharmacist or GP for further advice and support.
What you can do to help yourself
Before reaching for your medicine cabinet, try these simple techniques to help you get a better night’s sleep:
• Establish fixed times for going to bed and waking up and resist the temptation of lying in after a bad night’s sleep.
• Do not use the weekends to catch up on sleep as this may upset the natural body rhythm that you have got used to during the week.
• Avoid napping during the day.
• Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol within six hours of going to bed.
• Avoid strenuous exercise within four hours of going to bed (exercise in the middle of the day is beneficial).
• Avoid eating a heavy meal just before bed (a light snack may be helpful).
• Maintain a comfortable sleeping environment. Your bedroom should not be too hot, cold, noisy or bright (earplugs and eyeshades may help).
• Try to relax and wind down with a routine before going to bed.
• Only use the bedroom for sleep and sex and don’t use the bedroom for activities such as work, eating and television.
• Hide your alarm clock. Watching or checking the clock will not help you sleep.
• If you cannot sleep after 30 minutes get up. Try going into another room, reading or watching TV and return to bed when you feel sleepy.
If you are still having difficulty sleeping, consult your local pharmacist. They are experts in medicines and can talk to you about insomnia, advise you about medicines and other treatments and recommend a visit to your GP if needed. The vast majority of pharmacies now have private consultation area so you can talk to your pharmacist confidentially and you won’t be overheard.
Our research found that 30% of people with experience of insomnia who had taken sleeping remedies had taken them for more than a month without getting advice, including 14% of respondents had taken them for more than 6 months.
Long-term insomnia (defined as lasting for a month or more) usually relates to other health problems. Approximately 20% of long-term insomnia has no other health condition associated with it. The vast majority of cases are connected to underlying physical or mental health issues, for example asthma, heart disease, anxiety or depression. When asked how prevalent the underlying causes of insomnia are, 70% of respondents either did not know or significantly underestimated this figure, meaning that for many, the real reason for their insomnia could go untreated and put their health at risk.
Sleeping remedies can be effective for treatment of mild insomnia but are not a long-term solution. You may be treating a symptom rather than a cause and you won’t find out what’s really wrong without the advice of a health professional.