Lots of people have difficulty getting or staying asleep. Having problems with sleep can happen to anyone, and has different effects. Not being able to sleep properly is sometimes called insomnia, and can become a problem as we need sleep to keep healthy.

When you fall asleep, you go through different stages – and there are two main ones:

  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

During this stage your brain is very active, and dreaming occurs. This stage comes and goes throughout the night, and your muscles are relaxed.

  • Non-REM sleep

Your body moves around more frequently during this stage, but your brain is much less active. Your body is repairing itself after the day, and hormones are slowly released into the bloodstream. You can move between REM and non-REM sleep about 5 times during the night.

The amount of sleep we need depends on lots of things, and is different for everyone.

Most adults need between 7-8 hours, but the amount of time you are sleeping can depend on what you do throughout the day, if you are stressed, or if you are on medication.

But I feel like I never sleep?

The short times when you are awake in bed can seem much longer than they really are. Sometimes you can think you are not getting as much sleep as you actually are.

What happens if I don’t sleep?

Not sleeping well occasionally may cause you to feel tired the next day, but won’t harm your overall health. However, if you are consistently not sleeping well, this can have negative effects:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Starting to feel low or depressed
  • Worrying about not being able to sleep during the day

Lack of sleep can make us feel physically unwell as well as stressed and anxious, and scientists also believe that it contributes to heart disease, premature ageing and road accident deaths.

There are lots of different sleeping problems:

  • Getting to sleep – finding it difficult to fall asleep. People can lie awake for hours before they eventually drift off to sleep.
  • Staying asleep – being able to fall asleep but wake up throughout the night. Some people also find it difficult to get back to sleep when the wake in the night.
  • Waking too early – waking up early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep again.

Sleeping problems can cause you to not get enough sleep or feel well-rested, and can result in insomnia (sleeping too little).

There are many reasons for not sleeping well:

  • Your bedroom is too noisy, too hot, too cold
  • You do not have a regular bedtime routine
  • You aren’t getting enough exercise
  • You eat too late or go to bed hungry
  • Alcohol and drinks containing caffeine prevent you from having a good night’s sleep
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Depression/Low mood
  • Physical problems

Worrying about not being able to sleep can stop you from getting to sleep or not sleeping well. Staring at the clock or lying awake can make you anxious which in turn will affect your sleeping.

Think about what could be causing you to not be getting enough sleep – is there something which is worrying you? Are you drinking caffeinated drinks before bed? If you can discover what the problem may be, it is easier to find ways to make it better.

Remember that not getting enough sleep will not harm you, and you will eventually fall asleep after a while. Worrying about sleep can make things worse and keep you awake for longer.

Take your mind of sleeping by reading, relaxing or thinking about planning something nice, like an outing or holiday.

Some tips that you may find helpful:


  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom is not too hot, too cold, or too noisy.
  • Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day.
  • Take some time to relax and unwind before bed. Some people find mediation or aromatherapy helpful.
  • Get some exercise. The optimal time to exercise is during the day, and exercising too late may disturb your sleep.
  • If you are worried about something try writing it down before bed, and tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow.


  • Don’t drink tea, coffee, or energy drinks close to bedtime.
  • Don’t go to bed until you are tired
  • Don’t stay in bed longer in the day to catch up on sleep.
  • Don’t drink a lot of alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but will lead to disturbed sleep throughout the night

If you are at risk / suicidal please immediately contact either the crisis liaison mental health team at the University Hospital Limerick (061 301111) or your local hospital, or your GP immediately. 

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