Adult Carers

I can't sleep!

Insomnia is a difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. Insomnia is a very common problem. It affects around one in every three people in the UK, and it is especially common among older people.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia can take many forms. NHS Inform highlights some of the signs of a sleep problem as:

  • Finding it difficult to fall asleep
  • Lying awake for long periods at night
  • Waking up several times during the night
  • Waking up early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep
  • Not feeling refreshed when you get up
  • Finding it hard to nap during the day, despite feeling tired
  • Feeling tired and irritable during the day and having difficulty concentrating

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. However, if you constantly feel tired during the day, it may be because you are not getting enough sleep.

The things that affect our sleep are different for everyone.  The charity, Mind, explains that insomnia can be caused by:

  • Stresses or worries
  • Problems with where you sleep – for example, if you sleep somewhere uncomfortable or you’re being disturbed at night
  • Health conditions relating to sleep, also known as sleep disorders
  • Being a parent or carer
  • Taking certain kinds of medication, including starting or coming off medication
  • Using recreational drugs and alcohol
  • Working at night or being a shift worker
  • Current or past trauma
  • Mental and physical health problems, many of which can affect your sleep.

According to NHS Inform, going through the menopause can also cause sleep problems among older women.

Occasional episodes of insomnia may come and go without causing any serious problems, but for some people insomnia can last for months or even years.

Sleep is the foundation that the rest of your mental and physical health is built on. Long-term insomnia can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It can limit what you’re able to do during the day, affect your mood, and lead to relationship problems with friends, family and colleagues.

Action you can take right now

There is a lot of advice online about how to deal with sleep problems. Remember, though, that different things will work for different people at different times, so don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t work.

Breathing techniques

Research studies have shown that slowing the breath can be very effective in sending you into a more relaxing, peaceful state which can help you towards sleep. There are several breathing techniques that you can try – and several of these are described in the links below.  Try these two and see if either one works for you.

  • Option 1: Breathe in slowly and quietly to a count of 4. Then hold your breath for a count of 2, and then slowly exhale to a count of 4. Repeat.
  • Option 2: Breathe in slowly and quietly to a count of 4. Breath out slowly to a count of 6. Repeat.

More Information





  • A good night’s sleep, Personal Best, BBC Sounds (28 minutes) – Explains why sleep is important, and what we can do to improve the chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Sleep well, Just One Thing with Michael Moseley, BBC Sounds – A 5-episode series of podcasts (13-14 minutes each) in which chronic insomniac Dr Michael Moseley discusses scientifically-proven sleep techniques and provides a soundscape designed to help you to rest.
  • Radio 1’s deep sleepscapes, BBC Sounds (30 minutes each) – 32 immersive audio experiences to help you drift off into a deep sleep accompanied by a natural soundscape.



  • Tips for sleeping better, NHS Every Mind Matters (3 minutes) – Practical suggestions for giving yourself the best chance of falling asleep.
  • Tackle your worries, NHS Every Mind Matters (3 minutes) – If you lie awake at night worrying, make it a part of your daily routine before bed to write a list for the next day. This can help put your mind at rest.
  • Bedtime meditation video (beditation), NHS (35 minutes) – This exercise will help you release tension in your body, calm your mind and prepare you for restful sleep.

Where to get more help

If problems with sleep are worrying you or affecting your life, and if you’ve tried a range of self-help techniques and nothing has worked, see your GP to get a health check. Your doctor will be able to help you access support and treatment.



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