Sleep problems

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When to see your doctor

If your sleep has been bad for a while you should see your doctor because long-term sleep problems can be caused by treatable medical and psychological conditions. If you have other symptoms, it is important to see your doctor instead of just using these pages.

Sleep problems are common in people who have diabetes. Heart problems can disturb sleep too, as can arthritis, asthma, epilepsy and digestive disorders. Misuse of drugs or alcohol, or too much caffeine and even persistent use of sleeping tablets can all result in long-term insomnia. In addition, 1 in 15 people may have sleep apnoea and perhaps 10% of people suffer from restless legs syndrome (3% severely). If you think any of these causes might apply to you, see your GP.

Psychological problems that disturb sleep include anxiety disorder, obsessions, phobias and compulsions. Depression also causes sleep problems: waking early and being unable to get back to sleep is the usual clue. So, if you are feeling low, having negative thoughts about yourself, or you find that your moods are more up and down than usual, or your appetite has changed, depression may be the cause of your sleep problem. See your doctor if you think this is the case. Anti-depressant medicines and psychotherapy could improve both your mood and your sleep.

Many medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, can affect sleep. So if you have recently started taking new medication, speak to your pharmacist about whether this might be the cause of your sleep problems.