Guy awake in bed with clock reading

—Jolene W., Mount Royal University, Alberta

A short question, yet a complicated problem. Luckily, there’s a ton of research on this topic.

First, let’s define insomnia. In a given month, if you consistently have more than three bad nights of sleep every week, you may have chronic insomnia, according to the National Institutes of Health in the US. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep
  • Trouble sleeping despite having enough time and adequate circumstances for sleep
  • Related daytime complaints, such as feeling very tired and rundown

Insomnia can be caused by a long list of issues, including medical conditions, both physical and emotional; substance use, such as alcohol; or a sleep disorder of some sort. To begin managing insomnia, you should first treat the medical condition, avoid substances, and get evaluated for a sleep disorder.

Let’s talk about sleep hygiene

To set yourself up for the best possible sleep, try:

  • Adopting a regular sleep schedule (e.g., go to bed and get up around the same time every day)
  • Using your bed for sleep and intimacy only
  • Exercising regularly (just not right before bed)
  • Stopping screen use 30 minutes to an hour before bed
  • Avoiding stimulants (e.g., caffeine) and alcohol

My personal favourite non-scientific tip: Read a biography because most are sufficiently boring and put people to sleep.*

*They always put me to sleep, so it’s worth a shot.

If you’ve tried these tips and still aren’t getting the sleep you need, the next step is to see your health care provider for a referral for cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, which has been shown to be effective.

As a last resort, you could also ask your provider for a sleeping aid recommendation. We don’t typically like to prescribe these because many can cause dependence, so just be aware and try your non-medication options first.

Now, goodnight. Turn off your computer or phone or whatever you’re reading this on, and open up a boring paperback.