/ Health

What’s keeping you up at night?

The Great British Sleep Study revealed last year that two thirds of us will suffer from ongoing sleeplessness in our lives. Pain, stress, and even diet could affect our quality of sleep. So what’s keeping you up?

As a general rule, I’m lucky enough to call myself a good sleeper, nodding off easily and enjoying restful nights. But even so, I have the odd night – or stretch of nights – where I cannot sleep for love nor money.

I’ll lie awake tossing and turning, driving my partner to distraction, before switching on the TV and watching re-runs of Countdown. My gift for solving the conundrum with remarkable speed is thanks solely to these early morning viewings.

Why does sleep evade us?

In my case, there is no rhyme or reason for these restless nights, but thankfully they’re few and far between. However, in a study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, only 38% of respondents were classified as ‘good sleepers’. The remainder reported varying levels of ongoing sleep disruption.

There are a huge number of possible causes for sleep loss. These vary from simple lifestyle factors to more grave physical and mental health problems. Here in the Which? office, we blame our sleepless nights on snoring partners, young children, money worries, stress, aches and pains, illnesses, and some even thought that eating cheese before bed caused them to have bad dreams.

And sometimes, you simply catch yourself clock-watching, counting down the hours until you’re up again for work.

When counting sheep won’t work

Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to medically combat the lifestyle issues that keep you awake. For stress-related insomnia, the NHS website recommends identifying and treating the cause, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and counselling both suggested as treatments.

If your lack of sleep stems from a physical condition, there are a number of over-the-counter treatments available. Additionally, numerous sources online suggest that simple changes, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol and eating a higher protein diet may help.

But does any of it really work? Having spent the last couple of hours navigating the bewildering mass of information online, I’m none the wiser. At Which?, we’re going to investigate what’s keeping people awake at night, and what they can do to banish sleepless nights.

So what’s keeping you up at night? Do you have a fail-safe remedy which sends you to the land of slumber, or are you left watching Countdown too often, like me?


On the rare occasion that I cannot sleep I get up and make a cup of coffee. If I feel hungry, I’ll have a piece of cheese too. I always get to sleep promptly.

Rules are made to be broken. 🙂

Grizelda says:
9 August 2012

I thought it was just me who gets up for a coffee to help me sleep!

I also think that getting out of bed and doing something (making coffee, doing the ironing etc) makes you realise how tired you really are and how much nicer it would be to be laying down in bed…

25 August 2012

On the rare occasion that I cannot sleep I get up and make a cup of coffee. If I feel hungry, I’ll have a piece of cheese too. I always get to sleep promptly.

I make a cup of hot tea, and a piece of cheese, (Cheddar) so, nice to know I’m not on my own!

I mentioned this to the Doc, She said, ‘Does it work’?

I said ‘Every ntime’, the reply was ‘Carry on No:!’.

A lot of sleep problems I think are psychological, the more you stress and worry that you won’t sleep, the more likely you are not to do so.

For me, I don’t think that what I eat has a lot to do with it, as in cheese, coffee etc, but going to bed on a full stomach whatever I eat is a bad idea, so I always try to make sure Ive got an hour or two clear after eating before I hit the sack.

The best recipie for me is doing a good workout down the gym after work, that pretty much guarantees 7 hours solid sleep for me.

A good quality mattress and pillow, and keeping the bedroom fairly cool as well, also helps a lot.

I’ve always had problems sleeping and over the years I’ve been given lots of advice and remedies – with varying levels of success. ‘Just have a massive whiskey’ aside, the two bits that actually seem to work are:

Not watching TV just before going to bed. I now read before going to sleep instead and it does a much better job of ‘turning my brain off’.

The second bit of advice I was given was to keep a pen and paper by the bed at all times. The idea being that if anything was stressing me out, I could write it down. I originally dismissed this idea as I couldn’t see how it would help, but I now swear by it. Just writing down what I’m stressing about or making lists of things I need to do the next day (or just at some point) really helps me to stop worrying and I can usually sleep better afterwards

Though the whiskey is always tempting.

Dave says:
9 August 2012

I have trouble sleeping, but have found an eye mask cures all problems. As a male, i just need to find one that isn’t pink now…

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 August 2012

Practically nothing keeps me up at night other than stress caused by work, and that’s because of the (mis)managers we have, the job itself is good. If I wake up with my mind burling I put the light on and read my book until I drop off. It usually works.

Never have difficulty sleeping – Though now I usually wake up at four o’clock – to take the dogs out – we tend to walk about 6 miles – keeps them worn out and me fit. But I sleep with the radio on – or more properly with a DVD of radio programs I like (get more than 200 hours of radio programs on one DVD).

Not quite relevant, but I almost always go to sleep with a light on. I’ve done this since I was a student, when I used to read in bed and would usually go to sleep quickly. I believe that leaving a light on in the house is better than a security light outside, which most my neighbours have.

The only thing that regularly keeps me awake is using my laptop in bed at half past midnight. 🙂

Argus says:
13 August 2012

I never get enough sleep, but this is mostly due to pain that I get in various places.

I am currently taking 10mg amitriptyline and 2 x co-codamol tablets just before I go to bed. Seems to get me through the night, just. If the neighbours send their kids out to shout and scream at 8.30am on a sunday, I am awake instantly.

If I am still having trouble sleeping, some [please don’t promote illegal substances. Thanks, mods.] usually helps 🙂

I’m interested that no-one has mentioned taking the sort of sleeping medication you see in the pharmacists. It seems that it’s much more about distracting your brain and helping it to switch off in the first place…

Roger S says:
19 September 2012

I agree it’s all about switching off the brain. No exciting TV (or anything else) just before retiring. I have found a technique that works for me. It is pretty well impossible to think of nothing! Even counting sheep is not thinking of nothing. I simply concentrate on listening to my own breathing. It’s so boring it sends me back to sleep. If it ever stops well . . . .

I wonder how much poor sleep has to do with the lack of true dark. Most people live within range of a street light and this powerful ray penetrates many curtains. I have had trouble sleeping since I had to move into town, but now that the lamps in this quiet residential street go off from midnight to 5 a.m. I have noticed how much better I sleep. I no longer sleep in the afternoons (I am 75) but just nap for maybe 10 minutes.

Man is not a nocturnal animal and modern life has detached us from our natural rhythms and sleeping when it is dark.

Roger Eden says:
22 September 2012

I have been diagnosed with Idiopathic Hypersomnolence, which I suppose means that I don’t sleep properly (not enough REM) and the medical profession doesn’t understand the causes or cure, although recognizes the symptoms as a medical syndrome.
Modafinil used occasionally, keeps me alert during the day and prevents overwhelming desire to go to sleep in daytime – due to overtiredness (Only available through a licensed neurologist or the black market). Modafinil works wonders, a bonus are proven cognitive benefits (brain functions are enhanced), but I still don’t sleep properly. Zoplicone ensures an uninterrupted sleep, but doesn’t clear as well as claimed, the following morning.
SAD lights definitely help. Exercise a bit.
My circadian rhythms are not working well and anxiety and depression make it worse.
I think that I am stuck with inadequate sleeping and just about cope, with a mixture of occasional medication, and regular SAD light.

ghrame says:
18 October 2012

Ihave just read the blog about your trouble sleeping.your use of zoplicone to help you sleep.modifinil to be alert in the daytime.low mood depressed etc.i can identify with this story.in fact for 10 years at least.however through perseverance and luck 4 months ago my sleep was tested by a sleep clinic consultant .The results showed i have sleep apnea.i wke up on average 30 times per hour because i stop breathing . but and here is the thing.i didnt know this.so 10 years of fatigue, tablets, low immune system etc now that the real problem has been confirmed,i can get the correct treatment.maybe you may have apnea also.worth checking out.