Sleep is not just ‘time out’ from our busy routine. Most of us need to sleep well to help our bodies recover from the day and to allow healing to take place.

But with increasingly busy lives it’s estimated that we now sleep around 90 minutes less each night than we did in the 1920s.

Lack of sleep can make us feel physically unwell as well as stressed and anxious, and scientists also believe that it contributes to heart disease, premature ageing and road accident deaths.

There are more than 80 different sleep problems listed in the medical textbooks, ranging from the inability to get to sleep (insomnia) to the inability to stay awake (narcolepsy). Many sleep problems are temporary, and you may find the self-help measures below help get you back to more normal sleeping pattern. But sleep problems can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as a problem with your thyroid gland or depression.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting an estimated 20% of people.

Typical symptoms are:

  • problems falling asleep
  • problems staying asleep (so that you wake up several times each night)
  • waking up too early
  • daytime sleepiness, anxiety, impaired concentration and memory and irritability
  • Short-term insomnia, lasting for a few nights or a few weeks, generally affects people who are temporarily experiencing one or more of the following:
  • Stress
  • Change in environmental noise levels
  • extreme change in temperature
  • a different routine, perhaps due to jet lag
  • side effects from medicines

Chronic insomnia, lasting for a month or longer, often results from a combination of factors that sometimes include underlying physical or mental health problems. It can also be due to behavioural factors such as too much caffeine or alcohol or a long-term disruption to your routine such as shift work.