Some problems of bad sleeping:
You may have difficulty getting to sleep because the conditions are unsuitable â€“ your room may be too hot or too cold, too noisy or too light. Or there may have been a sudden change in your circumstances, such as moving into a new home or staying in a hotel, for example. You may be sharing your bed with a new partner; sharing takes practice, and sleeping alone for a night or two if possible may help you to catch up with sleep while you adjust. Or you may have lost a long-term partner through bereavement or separation and have difficulty sleeping alone.
If the change is a spell in hospital, you may be feeling very anxious, too. Being in pain, of course, will inevitably inhibit sleep. Any illness can temporarily change your sleeping habits. There are also a number of illnesses that may directly cause insomnia, including thyroid problems and post-viral fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME).
Some prescription drugs can disturb sleep: if you take a diuretic, for example, you may need to get up in the night to go to the toilet; some antidepressants may help you sleep, while others may cause sleep disturbance â€“ at least when you first start taking them. If you are taking prescription drugs and having problems sleeping, it's worth asking your GP or pharmacist about it. Sometimes, sleeping also becomes disturbed when you stop taking certain medicines, such as antidepressants, or minor tranquillisers.
Jet lag or shift-work can disrupt the internal body clock that tells you when to sleep and when to get up. If you have been awake all night, it may be difficult to get a good sleep starting in the morning, because your body temperature, adrenaline levels and general alertness are all increasing. Shift workers sometimes have to stop doing night work because of long-term fatigue.
Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine are all powerful drugs, which alter sleep. One cigarette may have a calming effect that promotes sleep, but as you smoke more, nicotine levels rise and act as a stimulant. Alcohol is also a sedative and makes you sleep, but when the amount of alcohol in the system drops, it can have the opposite effect, causing insomnia later on in the night. Long-term drinking can ruin natural sleeping patterns. Caffeine is a stimulant, and is present in tea and chocolate as well as coffee. Drinking a lot of caffeine-containing drinks during the day, as well as having them late at night, is likely to make it difficult to get to sleep and to stay asleep.
Sleeping problems are often connected to underlying emotional problems that are causing anxiety or depression. Somebody who is habitually very anxious may become afraid of falling asleep, because they fear they might die in their sleep. A depressed person, on the other hand, is more likely to wake in the early hours of the morning feeling panic-stricken or full of dread.
Any traumatic experience is likely to cause disturbed nights. Stressful events such as unemployment, bereavement or divorce frequently trigger bouts of insomnia.
Problems for older people
Although older people tend to sleep less, it can be easy to ignore the contribution of social factors, such as loneliness, poor living conditions, depression, or the effects of living in an institution, such as a nursing home or hospital. Insomnia can often be the result of not getting enough exercise, too, because people get less opportunity for physical activity as they get older.