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Insomnia: just the facts

Insomnia usually means at least one of these difficulties:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep –they may regularly lie awake at night or find it hard to get to sleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep – they may wake up several times through the night
  • Waking up too early in the morning – they may wake up early and not be able to get back sleep

There are two types of Insomnia:

  • Short-term Insomnia – when you have insomnia for less than 3 months
  • Long-term Insomnia – when you have insomnia for 3 months or longer

Insomnia and sleep deprivation are closely related but are not the same thing. Insomnia is when you are unable to sleep when you try. Sleep deprivation is what happens when you get less sleep than you need. Lack of sleep directly affects how we think and feel. Even after just one night without enough rest, we can feel drowsy. Our thinking and reaction times can be slower and we can  lack energy, and feel irritable. Long term sleep deprivation can increase the risk of physical and mental health problems.


There is no main cause of insomnia but some common triggers are:

  • Significant life change (house move, change of school, etc.)
  • Disrupted sleep routine such as working night shifts, frequent late night revision, getting into the habit of sleeping during the day can disrupt the body clock and make it difficult to get back to the usual sleep routine.
  • Sleep deprivation or getting less sleep than you need can disrupt the sleep cycle and make it more difficult to sleep
  • Mental health difficulties such as stress, anxiety or depression
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Uncomfortable beds
  • Alcohol, caffeine or nicotine (in cigarettes and e-cigarettes such as vapes)
  • Recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy
  • Medications
  • Using electronic devices before trying to go to sleep


Getting help with insomnia

It is important to get help with insomnia as it’s unlikely to get better on its own. A clinician, such as a GP, can diagnose you with Insomnia.

For people with short-term insomnia your GP may talk about things you can do to improve your sleep. Click here for more information on sleep.

For people with long-term insomnia or if you are experiencing mental health and sleep difficulties, your GP may refer you  appropriate services such as paediatrician or sleep clinic. You may be referred to mental health services if you have mental health difficulties that are effecting your sleep. Medication may sometimes be prescribed to help with sleep difficulties. Some sleep medication can have dangerous side effects and you can become dependent on them.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.

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Find out what services are available to you in your area. Remember your school nurse is always there to give you confidential help and support.

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