Insomnia is the inability to sleep. This can be a problem falling asleep, staying asleep or both.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the inability to sleep. This can be a problem falling asleep, staying asleep or both. For some, insomnia can be short-lived, while for others it is a chronic problem. Insomnia can be a problem on its own or a symptom of another health concern. Those with insomnia often have difficulty with energy, concentration, and productivity. This can create a vicious loop where those with insomnia worry so much about getting a good night’s sleep that they can keep themselves up at night.

What are the common causes of insomnia?

There are many different causes of insomnia. Some of the more common ones are listed below:

  • Problems with sleep habits (e.g. watching TV in bed, taking long naps during the day)
  • Problems with the sleep environment (e.g. too much noise or light, disruption from a partner)
  • Stressors (e.g. work, financial, relationship worries can keep people awake at night)
  • Mental health illness (e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder)
  • Physical illness (e.g. pain, urinary problems, infection)
  • Substances (e.g. caffeine, alcohol, medications, illicit drugs)

How is insomnia treated?

Identifying the specific cause and treating it is the best way to target insomnia. While there is no exact test to determine the cause of insomnia, your family doctor may be able to identify the possible triggers and offer ideas for treatment.

One form of treatment for insomnia is sleep hygiene. These are skills and strategies that you can practice that help form a healthy and repeatable pattern of sleep.

Some of the important components of sleep hygiene include:

  • Waking up and getting out of bed at the same time every day
  • Avoiding caffeine during the afternoon and evening
  • Ensuring your sleep environment is quiet, dark and screen-free (e.g. no phones, computers, TV)
  • Avoiding naps during the day
  • Getting exercise each day, often best in the morning/afternoon

Medications that help people sleep are usually only prescribed for a short period of time. These medicines can be addictive and habit-forming and are often not effective in the long-term. People can develop tolerance to certain sleep medications and require more and more to get the same effect. As such, using sleep medicines in the short-term, while implementing sleep hygiene and other behavioural/lifestyle changes, will often yield the best results.

What should I do to get help?

If you or a friend or family member is suffering with insomnia, it is important to see your family doctor. If insomnia is related to a mental health condition, speak with a mental health professional.

Resources

  • HealthLink BC: Insomnia
    Call 811 or healthlinkbc.ca to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including information about insomnia.
  • AnxietyBC: Getting a good night’s sleep
    Tips to help improve your sleep.
  • Here to Help: Getting a good night’s sleep wellness module
    Find 10 tips to help you sleep well, and use the sleep diary to help you keep track your sleep skills and monitor your progress.
  • CBT – i Coach app
    The app will guide users through the process of learning about sleep, developing positive sleep routines, and improving their sleep environments. It provides a structured program that teaches strategies proven to improve sleep and help alleviate symptoms of insomnia.
  • Guided Mind app
    Guided meditations on a variety of topics dealing with the stresses and challenges of day-to-day life.
  • Deep Sleep app
    Provides guided meditations intended to help you overcome insomnia.
  • Headspace app
    Learn to meditate in just 10 minutes a day with the Headspace app. Daily meditation has been shown to help people stress less, exercise more and even sleep better.
  • Mindfulness Meditation app
    This app will help you practice meditation with a series of audios adapted to the different needs of your everyday life.