Insomnia – A brief guide

What is insomnia?

The diagnosis of insomnia refers to a condition with unsatisfactory sleep – this can mean problems with quantity or quality of sleep. It usually includes one of the following symptoms: ​

  1. Difficulty falling asleep
  2. Difficulty staying asleep
  3. Waking up early in the morning and being unable to return to sleep ​

Most of us will experience those symptoms from time to time, but they become particularly problematic when they are frequent (3 or more times per week), ongoing (for more than 3 months) or recurrent. ​

Why does insomnia develop?

There are many factors that can trigger a night or two of poor sleep. Stress, a change in routine, being unwell, an uncomfortable bed, a change in temperature or environment. These triggers do not necessarily lead to ongoing sleep difficulty. It is what happens next, and how we respond to those episodes of disrupted sleep, that can contribute to longer-term problems. How we respond can be divided up into our thoughts and our behaviours. Together these can tip the balance from a few nights of poor sleep into an ongoing problem. Every person we see at The Good Sleep Clinic is different (which is why we offer a bespoke treatment programme)  but below are some examples of thoughts and behaviours that can cause problems: ​


Early nights. Due to feeling tired after a poor night’s sleep it is natural to want to get into bed earlier. This can sometimes cause problems as our bodies may not have had enough time to build up their ‘sleep-drive’. This can lead to time spent in bed lying awake, trying to sleep – which is often a fruitless task, and can cause longer term problems with our sleep. ​

Tossing and turning. It is common to feel frustrated when lying awake during the night, and our minds can wander to worrying or negative thoughts, whilst struggling to return to sleep. The more we do this, the more our minds make an association between our bed, and the experience of sleeplessness. We often recommend getting up from bed and moving to a different room, rather than lying awake for too long during the night. ​

Trying to sleep. This may sound counter intuitive; The clients we see have been struggling with poor sleep, often for many years and the impact on their lives and health is very significant. Most of our clients have been trying their very best to sleep, often with significant effort and commitment. But sleep is not an active process, it is not something you can force yourself into, however hard you try. The truth is often that the harder we try, the more active our brains become, the more stimulated our bodies feel – neither of which will bring on natural sleep. At The Good Sleep Clinic we help our clients to let go of this effort.  ​

Thoughts: ​

Worrying about sleep. This is completely understandable and something that unites nearly all of our clients – the worry about not being able to sleep at night. Unfortunately, anxiety itself is an enemy of sleep. It can cause our bodies to enter a phase of “fight or flight” as if preparing for a battle. When we are in this state it is not easy to drift into a peaceful sleep. The Good Sleep Clinic treatment programme will help to reduce these anxious thoughts and help you move into a mindset more suited to healthy sleep.   ​

Blaming lack of sleep for things that go wrong. It is true that poor sleep can have negative impact on energy, concentration, health, relationships and many other aspects of life (which is why we are so keen to help clients improve their sleep!) However, people with insomnia sometimes link these negative parts of life completely to their lack of sleep, despite there being a number of other things that can contribute to these issues as well. This ‘thinking error’ can lead to a vicious cycle of thoughts and behaviours which can actually harm sleep. The Good Sleep Clinic programme will help to investigate some of these thoughts, if present, and help to adjust them if they are barriers to your recovery.