Sleep problems – insomnia

Insomnia is when you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, or getting back to sleep if you wake in the night. Most people at some stage in their lives have difficulty sleeping. Usually this is only temporary.

Lack of sleep affects your mood, memory, energy levels and most importantly for farmers—it affects your ability to make decisions, concentrate and perform farming tasks safely. You are at increased risk of having an accident on the farm or on rural roads if you are not sleeping well.

Most adults sleep for around six to eight hours every night and, if they wake up during the night, it generally takes around 15 minutes to fall asleep again.  If you are lying awake in the middle of the night, your mind racing while you’re staring at the ceiling, you are experiencing insomnia. Most people experience symptoms of insomnia at some time during their life. Older people with poor health, women and shiftworkers are more likely to experience insomnia.

Insomnia can be caused by:

  • Pain – e.g. sore back, toothache
  • Ongoing respiratory (breathing) problems
  • Underlying medical conditions – e.g. sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome
  • Drinks with caffeine, like coffee, tea or cola, especially if you have them in the evening.
  • Medications
  • Stress, worry or family problems
  • Grief

It can be a vicious cycle, the more you worry about not sleeping the harder it is to sleep well. It’s often better to get up and have a warm drink (milk or a non-caffeinated tea can work well) and do something else relaxing (for example—read a book) until you feel sleepy again, rather than lying in bed worrying about it.

Tips to help you sleep

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening (tea, coffee, cola, ‘energy’ drinks, etc.)
  • Do something you find relaxing before you go to bed (don’t go to bed straight after doing the farm accounts for hours!)
  • Get up at the same time every morning regardless of how long you have slept
  • Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle
  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime
  • Eat foods rich in magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, which are all thought to support sleep
  • Don’t nap during the day
  • Get some exercise during the day, but not just before bedtime
  • Avoid screen time just before bed (TV, phone, tablet, etc.)
  • Learn some meditation techniques to help you relax at bedtime
  • Write down whatever is worrying you before you go to bed to help you to put things aside until morning
  • Try to leave your problems at the bedroom door.

If you have been suffering from insomnia for an extended period of time, see your doctor or a health professional for advice. There are also evidence-based online programs designed to improve sleep.

Sleep problems – insomnia

Insomnia means difficulty with either falling or staying asleep. Usually, people keep themselves awake by worrying about going to sleep. Insomnia can be treated at home, but chronic or long-term sleep problems may need professional treatment.

Better Health Channel

References used for this topic page

More information:

Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health
Sleep Disorders

Sleep Health Foundation
Ten common sleep disorders

Department of Health (WA)

The Conversation

Government of South Australia
Insomnia Management Kit

Clinical care:

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
Insomnia: diagnosis and management [PDF 150kb]

Research & reviews:

JAMA Internal Medicine
Sleep duration and body mass index in a rural population [PDF 81kb]

Paediatrics and Child Health
Impact of sleep on injury risk among rural children

Canadian Respiratory Journal
Loud snoring is a risk factor for occupational injury in farmers

Canadian Respiratory Journal
Impact of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness on The Safety and Health of Farmers in Saskatchewan

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine
Sleep quantity and quality as a predictor for injuries in a rural population

Fast facts:

Sleep problems – insomnia

  • Insomnia is when you find it hard to get to sleep, or can’t get back to sleep if you wake during the night.
  • Farmers need to take particular care—without sleep, concentration suffers and accidents are more likely to occur.
  • Try to get into a routine that helps you sleep at night and seek help if insomnia lasts more than a few days.

Last updated: 27th April, 2020