Sleep is essential to both physical and mental health. Sleep allows the body and mind to rest and recover. How much sleep we need varies from person to person. If you have been working or exercising very hard, you are ill, or you are recovering from an illness or infection, you may find that the amount of sleep you need increases a lot.
Not getting enough sleep over a long period can cause emotional problems such as depression. It is thought that long-term sleep problems can mean that the immune system doesn’t work properly, meaning that a person may be more likely to get ill.
A lot of people with HIV have problems sleeping. This can be due to being uncomfortable, illness, worry, anxiety, depression, treatment side-effects, and drug or alcohol use. Not getting enough sleep can cause health problems, but there are a number of practical things you can do to sleep better and in some cases medicines may help.
For many people, worry or stress is the cause of their difficulty sleeping. Once a problem has solved, then sleep patterns become better. However, more serious problems like anxiety and depression can cause sleep problems which last for longer periods.
Symptoms of illnesses, such as night sweats, and pain, can also interfere with sleep. It’s a good idea to report problems like this to your doctor.
Although some people find that an alcoholic drink helps them to fall asleep, heavy drinking can cause sleeplessness, as can drinking coffee or tea close to bedtime. Recreational drug use, especially stimulant drugs like amphetamine (speed), methamphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine, can also cause sleep problems.
Some drugs used to treat HIV, and illnesses associated with it, cause insomnia (not being able to sleep) or other sleep problems. In particular, vivid dreams and insomnia are amongst the most common side-effects of efavirenz (Sustiva, also in the combination pill Atripla).
Practical factors such as your bed or pillows being uncomfortable, or the room you sleep in being too stuffy, warm or cold, could disrupt your sleep. Ideally, the room you sleep in should be cool and well-ventilated.
In many cases, a few lifestyle changes are enough to bring back good sleep. These might include avoiding tea and coffee and other stimulants for several hours before going to bed, or not napping during the day.
Having a regular bedtime may also help, as might not going to bed until you feel ready to sleep. If you cannot get to sleep after about 30 minutes, get up rather than tossing and turning and getting frustrated, which often makes the problem worse.
Do not be frightened to mention sleep problems to your doctor. If there is an underlying medical cause, such as depression, physical illness, or treatment side-effects, it is important that your doctor knows as soon as possible so they can do something about it.
Medication (sleeping tablets) is available to help you sleep if necessary. These can be used to help restore normal sleeping patterns. However, sleeping tablets often only help people fall asleep, but don’t keep people asleep, and they can make you feel drowsy the next day. Using some types of sleep medication over the long term can cause dependency, although newer medications are becoming available which may not have this problem.
You can find more information on sleep and sleep problems on the NHS Choices website.