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Updated on March 24, 2010

How can you conquer insomnia?


Having trouble sleeping? Feel exhausted in the morning? You are not alone.

At any given time, about one in three people are experiencing insomnia. Insomnia can affect just about anyone, but some people are more likely to have it than others. Those most likely to experience insomnia include people over 60 years old, post-menopausal women, and people with a history of depression.

Insomnia comes in many forms, from having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, to problems with waking up too early. It can be classified in three different ways: transient (short term), intermittent (on and off) and chronic (constant)1.


This type of insomnia can last for several nights but usually resolves itself and is nothing to worry about. It is often caused simply by being stressed or overexcited, by excessive exercise close to bedtime, or by flu or other brief illnesses. It can also develop after long-distance journeys over multiple time zones (jet lag)1.


This type of insomnia can last up to two or three weeks and can be a result of emotional stress such as bereavement, job loss, or illness. Again, it usually gets better by itself. But if you find yourself caught in the vicious cycle of not sleeping because you are worried about not being able to sleep, you might consider seeking some medical advice, just to put your mind at rest1.


This type of insomnia lasts longer than a few weeks with poor sleep every night. It can have many different causes, but again it can be improved by taking strategic action. Seeking medical advice will help you to find the root of the problem. For example, are you particularly worried about something, or are you perhaps drinking or eating too late at night?1

Help yourself to a better night's sleep

Simple changes to your bedtime routine can significantly affect your sleep quality:
  • Make sure that your bed is comfortable, that the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold. Aim for 64°F, and adjust as needed to see what works for you. Also make sure that the bedroom is dark and quiet.
  • Prepare for sleep. Wind down in the evening by wearing comfortable clothes and doing something peaceful. Try not to stimulate yourself with an exciting movie or loud music.
  • Have a warm mug of a caffeine-free, milk-based drink. This is thought to increase the production of serotonin in the brain, which can make you relaxed and sleepy.
  • If you find that you do wake up periodically throughout the night and struggle to get back to sleep, get up and do something constructive like reading, or writing a letter. Don't return to bed until you feel sleepy2.
  • The average smoker sleeps about 30 minutes less than a non-smoker. Nicotine is a very strong stimulant and may delay the onset of sleep, so try to avoid smoking in the hours before bedtime.
  • Cut back on chocolate, coffee, tea, and alcohol in the evenings. Coffee, tea and even chocolate contain caffeine, a stimulant that increases alertness, while alcohol disrupts sleeping patterns.


  1. Dement W, Vaughan C. The Promise of Sleep. Macmillan. 1999.
  2. O'Hanlon B. Sleep: The Common Sense Approach. Newleaf. 2000
  3. Idzikowski C. Insomnia.Newleaf. 1999


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