Unable to sleep? Causes and solutions of insomnia

As many as 35 in 100 adults experience insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder where you may find it difficult to go to sleep, have disturbed sleep, or wake up very early.
Sleep deprivation can cause tiredness, inability to focus at work, and excessive daytime sleepiness, increasing vehicle accidents and workplace accidents.
Most of us have had problems sleeping at some time or the other. Tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep is something we never want to go through.

How much sleep do I need?

You are the best judge of how much sleep is sufficient for you.

Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep.

Others are fine with 5-6 hours and that’s their normal sleep requirement.

As long as you get up feeling fresh and don’t have excessive daytime sleepiness, no worries.

When should I see a doctor?

Insomnia may be short-term, over a brief time frame or chronic, lasting more than 3 months.

2 main types are:

  • Sleep-onset – Difficulty falling asleep
  • Sleep-maintenance – Frequent awakening or disturbed sleep
If you haven’t been able to sleep for a few days and you are aware that there is some obvious short term stress like exams or some personal trauma, just wait it out. Usually, you will settle back into your normal sleep pattern in the course of a few days.

However, if you feel unable to function normally during the daytime, do see your doctor.

If there is a sleep disorder, your doctor will refer you to a sleep centre for further tests.

What is stopping me from sleeping?

Chronic insomnia is caused by:

  • Stress – Family, work, finances
  • Life events – Loss of loved ones, divorce, job loss
  • Habits – Travel or working night shifts causing sleep disruption.
Other reasons that interfere with sleep are:

  • Caffeine – Heavy consumption of caffeine is known to disrupt sleep and cause you to stay awake.
  • Mental health disorders – If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, you are more likely to have issues with sleep. 4 in 10 people with insomnia have an underlying mental health issue.
  • Physical illness and pain – Almost any illness that causes discomfort or pain interferes with sleep.
  • Medications – Many drugs interfere with sleep, notably blood pressure drugs, asthma medications, and antidepressants.
  • Pregnancy – The discomfort due to the pregnancy bump may prevent deep sleep. Also, if you need to get up to pass urine many times in the night, this interferes with sleep.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS) – 1 in 10 women are affected by this disorder. You want to move your legs as though you have no control over them. Some describe a creeping, crawling sensation in the feet and calves.
Smoking, kidney disease and iron-deficiency anaemia may cause restless leg syndrome. 1 in 5 pregnant women complain of RLS. Sleep is affected by RLS.

Some of these cases may be corrected. Cutting down caffeine intake, changing work schedules and changing medication may all help.

What is common to many cases of insomnia is that wakefulness causes pervasive and ruminating thoughts about matters that are important to you.

When you can’t sleep for a few days, you start worrying about not sleeping and the persistent rumination again prevents you from sleeping.

What helps you sleep better

A simple way to remember things that help you sleep better (Mental Health Foundation):

HEAL: The 4 pillars of good sleep

Health – Correcting any illness, be it physical or mental will improve sleep. Contact your GP to get help with treatment.

Environment – Light, noise and temperature affect sleep. Keep away all devices at least 2 hours before bedtime. The blue light from devices suppresses production of Melatonin in the body, a hormone that helps you sleep.

Read here to know more about it. Do read it to your kids as well.

Let them know that there is scientific evidence to what mum says!

Attitude – Worrying about anything impairs good sleep. Then when you can’t sleep you start worrying about that.

Speak to your GP if insomnia continues. CBT( Cognitive behavioural therapy) is shown to be effective in treating insomnia.

An expert would go through your thought process and help you recognise and delink associations which result in pervasive thoughts. It is better to get up and walk around or have a warm drink than to toss and turn if you can’t sleep.

Take the opportunity to pray two rakahs of Tahajjud.

Make dua and remember that sleep is a gift from Allah swt like everything else. We take it for granted. Take a moment to truly appreciate and thank Him.

Lifestyle – Reduce caffeine and any liquid intake in the evening. Caffeine makes you more alert and liquid will make you get up more often in the night to pass water, interfering with sleep. Exercise in the daytime, not late in the evening. Again, Adrenaline produced during exercise causes wakefulness.

Role of Medication

If there is significant interference with daily life and simple measures are ineffective, your GP will prescribe sleeping pills.

These pills are addictive. If you do take them try to limit them as much as you can.


There is a course on mindfulness, endorsed by the NHS, Oxford University and others. Adapt it to suit you and your beliefs. It may help you control your thoughts and relax, in sha Allah.

An inspiring story

There is somebody I know well who had insomnia for months on end. There was a lot of anxiety related to some personal circumstances.

All well-wishers advised her to see a counselor. The GP prescribed medications which had side effects and had to be stopped. Unfortunately, counseling did not go well and it seemed as though she had reached a dead end.

It was at this time that she decided to put her reliance completely on Allah swt. When unable to sleep, she would get up and pray tahajud in the middle of the night, cry and make dua to Allah and ask Allah swt to fix her personal issues and insomnia.

She seeked Allah’s help with patience and prayer.

It took time, but Allah swt cured this problem completely.

She is still consistent with all the duas and prayer and I pray that Allah swt never afflicts her again with this problem.

A situation that nobody wants to experience served as a means to draw her closer to Allah swt.

An example of how we dislike something that is good for us and Allah knows and we don’t know.

My last thoughts

As we go through the COVID era, one of the common symptoms of long COVID is insomnia. 26% of long COVID sufferers complain of insomnia.

This small compilation doesn’t belittle what you are going through.

I do know that there is no quick fix to it.

There is no one solution that fits all.

ALL of us have experienced insomnia at some point or the other, some more severely and for longer than others.

Do share below what worked for you.