There are lots of reasons why we can’t sleep. It’s quite normal to struggle to sleep the night before a big event or during a particularly stressful period, for example after a bereavement. It’s also not unusual or problematic to have the odd bad night.
However, when poor sleep becomes almost the only type of sleep that you get, and you can’t sleep night after night, then something should be done to address the problem.
When people say ‘I can’t sleep’ what they’re describing is a specific category of insomnia. Insomnia comes in many forms but, for the layperson, it’s most commonly used to refer to problems falling asleep:
This type of insomnia is what people in the sleep medicine field call ‘sleep onset latency insomnia’ meaning that there is a delay in the timing of getting to sleep. People are thought to have sleep-onset insomnia if they take longer than 30 minutes to get to sleep on three or more nights per week during a single month.
Insomnia is the most frequently occurring sleep disorder and this sub-type of insomnia (where you can’t get to sleep) is the most common. It can be:
If you can’t get to sleep for hours but still have to get up for work or other commitments, then it’s likely that you’ll not be able to get enough sleep for your needs. Because this category of insomnia leads to reduced total sleep time it can really affect how you feel the next day.
Many people label themselves as insomniacs because they’re tired during the day. However, not all sleep deprivation is caused by insomnia. There’s a simple test that you can apply to see if what you’re experiencing could be insomnia.
If you’re lying in bed scrolling through feeds on your smartphone, reading a book or watching TV until late into the night then you’re not really trying to sleep. If that’s what’s causing you to feel tired the next day then it’s not insomnia.
Insomnia occurs when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep even though you had the opportunity to sleep. If you’re tired because you stayed up too late watching Netflix then it’s not really accurate to say that you ‘can’t sleep’ — the problem is more likely to be linked to how you’re prioritising your sleep.
If you’re actually giving yourself the chance to get enough sleep and you still can’t sleep, then there is a good chance that you have insomnia.
To get to the bottom of why you can’t sleep, it can be helpful to pinpoint when the problem started.
Problems getting to sleep can be temporary, caused by changes in lifestyle, temporary stressors, changes to routine etc. Temporary problems often get better on their own.
Longer term problems with getting to sleep are often linked to psychological or psychiatric causes but they can also be caused by other medical conditions and some medications.
In addition to problems getting to sleep, there are two other common sub-types of insomnia and it’s possible to have a combination of all three:
Treatment options vary, depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing and the possible causes.
Symptoms of insomnia include:
Do you have no problem falling asleep when you get into bed but then wake up 1-2 hours later unable to get back to sleep? If so, you could have insomnia and there’s a good chance that it could be caused by inadequate sleep pressure.
Sleep pressure starts building from the moment we wake. The longer we’re awake, the greater the pressure to sleep becomes. No one can stay awake forever. When the pressure to sleep is strong enough, sleep will take hold — it’s impossible to resist after a certain point.
However, sleep reduces sleep pressure. So, to stay asleep through the night, the pressure to sleep must be strong enough to initiate sleep to begin with and to keep you asleep through multiple sleep cycles.
If you’re struggling to stay asleep, you can find out how you can maximise your sleep pressure through our online course. Register here.
If you wake up earlier than you’d like to but you have no problem adjusting to new time zones if/when you travel, then there could be a simple fix.
In fact, sleep scientists have trumpeted an excellent solution to the problem of insomnia for more than 30 years. We think that it’s really important that more people know about this treatment and can get access to it.
That’s why we created Sleepstation in the first place — it was very difficult to get access to this type of insomnia treatment before. The treatment is a special type of therapy that addresses all forms of insomnia.
It’s the gold-standard approach and is recommended by doctors all over the world. It’s called CBTi and you can read more about it here. It’s also the treatment methodology that underpins our online sleep improvement programme.
So, if you’d like our support to apply the CBTi techniques and overcome your sleep problem start by checking if CBTi could work for you. You can do that by completing a short questionnaire here.
Chronic insomnia rarely gets better without treatment and good sleep is vital for your physical and mental health. Don’t suffer through it alone.
Our team is ready, willing and able to help you beat your insomnia for good. You might think you ‘can’t sleep’ but that problem doesn’t need to be permanent. Let’s change your mantra:
“I can’t sleep now but, with the right support, I can learn to change this.”