Trouble falling asleep is one of the most common complaints in a condition called insomnia, a sleep disorder. In this disorder the person feels like his energy is being sapped and this in turn affects the health and production in work.
A normal adult generally needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Around 10 % to 15 % of people suffer from chronic insomnia and each one of us must have had our share of sleepless nights some time or the other in life.


There are many reasons why insomnia occurs. A stressful mind cannot sleep peacefully. If you are facing stressful situations like a job loss, messy divorce or death of someone you love you will have insomnia. If you are having anxiety or depression there is a chemical imbalance in the brain which results in sleeplessness.

Certain medications that cause insomnia are antidepressants, corticosteroids, blood pressure and heart medication and allergy medication. Caffeine in coffee, cola and tea are stimulants which keep you awake. Tobacco smoke contains nicotine that causes sleeplessness whereas alcohol might make you drowsy in the beginning but it later prevents deep sleep and causes you to wake up in the middle of the night.

Certain medical conditions may also lead to insomnia; it includes diabetes, lung disease, arthritis, cancer, congestive heart failure, overactive thyroid, gastro esophageal reflux disease, Alzheimer disease and Parkinson’s disease. Other causes of insomnia include travelling, change in work place or schedule, less physical activity and old age.


  • Difficulty falling asleep in the night
  • Awakening during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty in paying attention
  • Lack of focus
  • Narcolepsy (a sleep disorder, person experiences daytime sleep disorder)

Tips for a good night sleep

For a good night sleep, you must avoid alcohol, tobacco, decongestants, coffee, tea, chocolate and caffeinated soda.

Try to reduce the stress factor in your life by practicing stress relieving techniques like deep breathing, yoga and meditation.

Keep only 30 minutes aside for worrying about your problems. Once the time is up, don’t think about your problems for the rest of the day or night.

Drinking a glass of warm milk or eating a light snack like cheese crackers before going to bed is recommended for a good night sleep.

It is better that you avoid taking a nap in the afternoon if you are having trouble sleeping in the nights.


If you do not get enough sleep, it may affect you physically and mentally. The risk of diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease increases due to insomnia.

To diagnose it, the doctor may ask questions regarding your lifestyle, sleeping habits, smoking habit, intake of alcohol, and caffeine and the list of medications you are taking.

The doctor will also ask you if you are facing any stressful situations in life, regarding your bed partner and whether he or she snores, keeping you awake. The doctor also enquires about your medical history.

A blood test may be advised to check for thyroid function or any underlying disease. You may have to sleep at the sleep center where study of sleep known as Polysomnogram (PSG) is conducted to record various activities of the body like heartbeat, breathing, body and eye movements and brain waves.

Sleep diary

To keep a track of your sleep patterns the doctor will recommend you to maintain a sleep diary in which you have to record the time you go to bed, duration of your sleep, the number of times you wake up at night, and the time when you get up in the morning. The doctor will read these records to understand your sleep patterns.

Ancient remedies for sleep

The Greek God of sleep Hypnos is often showed in paintings and sculptors holding a poppy flower. In ancient Egypt and Greece, opium, lettuce juice, herb called henbane and bark of mandrake were used to induce sleep. In the early 20th century, barbiturates were used as sedatives but they turned out to be lethal when taken in overdose.

In the 1970’s the government took measures to ban sedatives that have side effects and that can cause death. After much research, fortunately we now have sedatives that are much safer to use. Perhaps the best and safest way to a good night sleep for all times is listening to your favorite bed time story from your granny or counting sheep jumping over the fence.

Insomnia treatment can be given to a person once you recognize the underlying cause and deal with it. In behavior therapy, you are taught good sleeping habits.

Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques are taught to reduce anxiety during bed time.

You may have to undergo cognitive behavior therapy where you may be taught to replace worry about inability to sleep, with positive thoughts.

Some people may benefit with the therapy called as stimulus control, where they are taught to limit their time in bed being awake, and associate the bed and bedroom to sleep and sex.

Another treatment called sleep restriction treatment, you may be forced a partial deprivation of sleep so that you become tired and go to bed easily the next night. This is continued till sleep is improved.

Medications that are prescribed for insomnia are sleeping pills like eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zolpidem (Ambein), Ramelteon (Rozerem) and Zaleplon (sonata). All medication should be taken only under doctor’s prescription.

Before trying any over the counter sleep aid it is better to consult your doctor. These medications should not be taken for a long time or when you are consuming alcohol.

There is no scientific proof that supplements like Valerian and melatonin work well for insomnia. Do not try them till you consult your doctor.