What is Insomnia & how you can overcome it to achieve restful sleep again.
Failure to get enough sleep has become a major problem for more than 30 percent of American urban dwellers. If you’re constantly losing sleep, your brain doesn’t perform essential restorative tasks, and you might start to lose your memory due to cognitive impairment. Since insomnia is one of the common sleep disorders that affect people both mentally and physically, it's likely to experience low performance at work or school.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Such sleeplessness causes you to feel tired when you wake up as your body does not experience the normal sleep stages. In an ideal night’s sleep, your body needs enough time to go through five 90-minute sleep cycles that include wake, light sleep, REM, deep sleep, and repeat.
Each stage plays an essential role and that’s why you need uninterrupted sleep every night. Inability to get back to sleep once you wake up at night causes daytime fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Getting enough sleep is critical for optimal health, especially if you want to improve your concentration and energy levels.
For optimum health, adults aged 65 and older require 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep can impair your metabolic functions and increase your vulnerability to serious medical conditions such as obesity and heart disease.
Sleep deprivation impairs your body’s ability to repair the damaged cells. So, if you’re not sleeping well, the consequences of sleep deprivation will begin to show. These might include hallucinations, depression, and low immunity.
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What Causes Insomnia?
Stress is one of the major causes of insomnia. If you’re fretting about your work, health, school, family, or finances, you’re likely to stay awake for a significant part of the night as it’s almost impossible to relax. Stressful life events that cause trauma, such as a job loss, or death of a loved one may also cause insomnia.
A disruption of your circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock) that follow the daily pattern of day and night can cause misalignment and lead to insomnia. A change in your shift or jet lag can disrupt your sleep schedules. If your new job requires you to work during the night and sleep during the day, it’s possible to disrupt your circadian rhythm.
If you have a condition that causes pain, your inability to lie comfortably in bed can disrupt sleep. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes and neurological problems are underlying causes of insomnia.
Sleep deprivation causes insulin resistance and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and stroke. While treating these diseases, most of the prescription drugs come with side effects that include inability to sleep at night, and poor concentration during the day.
Types of Insomnia?
If you’re not getting enough sleep, it's vital to determine if the problem stems from a stressful event or an underlying medical condition. In both instances, you need to take the proper steps to address the issue before it worsens.
Understanding how the following types of insomnia manifest in your body is the first step toward finding the ideal solution.
1. Acute Insomnia
Acute insomnia is a short term condition that arises from a sudden change in your sleeping patterns or a stressful event. If your body is unable to adjust accordingly, you’ll wake up during the night and struggle to complete tasks since you’re not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep. Your inability to pay attention leads to increased errors, higher risk of auto accidents, and memory loss.
Acute insomnia lasts between a few days to a few weeks. It can also result from certain medications, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, or illness. Acute insomnia can make life unbearable. Fortunately, the condition will subside soon once your body resets its natural circadian rhythms.
2. Chronic Insomnia
Chronic insomnia is a long-term sleeping disorder. Insomnia is considered chronic if one has trouble staying asleep for at least three nights per week. If the problem persists for three months or longer, the accumulating sleep debt can start to pose an array of health risks, or even affect your mental health.
The disorder is a result of stress, underlying health conditions, or consuming caffeine-rich stimulants late into the night. Grogginess and daytime sleepiness are some of the most common symptoms of chronic insomnia.
The best way to prevent chronic insomnia is to refrain from alcohol, antidepressants, stimulants, laxatives, and allergy medications that contain pseudoephedrine. Cancer patients that undergo chemotherapy treatments are also prone to the disorder.
3. Onset Insomnia
Onset insomnia is the difficulty to initiate sleep due to low melatonin levels in the body. The disorder affects most people with psychological or psychiatric issues such as anxiety or depression. The most common symptoms include feelings of persistent fatigue, mood swings, loss of libido, irritability, and poor coordination.
A sudden lifestyle change can cause hyperarousal and trigger onset insomnia. Night-time melatonin secretion is critical to falling asleep fast and enjoying several hours of uninterrupted sleep.
But using electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops just before bedtime can inhibit melatonin production, sleep patterns, and circadian rhythms. If left untreated, the disorder can escalate to hypersomnia where one is unable to stay awake during the day. People with hypersomnia can fall asleep at any time, even while working or driving.
4. Maintenance Insomnia
If you have sleep maintenance insomnia, you’ll have trouble staying asleep. Waking up too often during the night and struggling to get back to sleep is a remedy for disaster as you’ll not enjoy the uninterrupted sleep you need.
You’ll also sleep for less hours every night, meaning that you’ll feel extremely fatigued during the day. Fortunately, there are lots of remedies that you can use to restore your natural sleeping patterns. Sleep therapy involves harnessing sleep hygiene to develop habits that promote healthy sleep practices.
Getting regular aerobic exercise such as jogging, walking, or swimming can help you to fall asleep quickly and awaken less often. If you wake up at night, avoid worrying about present or future challenges as you’ll toss and turn for hours before you doze off. Exercising proper sleep hygiene ensures that you’re fully re-energized by the time the alarm gets you up.
5. Behavioral Insomnia in Childhood
Children also experience sleeping problems that involve bedtime resistance, sleep onset delays, and waking frequently at night. These problems require parental intervention, so if your child is not sleeping well, you’ll also stay awake at night. For many children, these problems stem from their daytime sleeping habits or how they spend their time just before going to bed.
Eating sugary snacks or watching TV before bedtime could keep them agitated and disrupt their sleep patterns.
Children with autism also tend to have insomnia as they take longer to fall asleep and often wake up at night. Also, sleep apnea is a life-threatening disorder as it causes children to stop breathing several times at night. If your child is exhibiting some insomnia signs, don’t let the problem escalate as it could become difficult and more expensive to treat.
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How to Fix Insomnia
A single night without sleep will make you feel grumpy, but it won’t affect your health. However, if you have insomnia, you’ll be unable to concentrate, and that’s why it’s essential to find the right remedy. Insomnia can be debilitating as it makes it almost impossible to function effectively during the day.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to change your sleeping behavior, get to sleep easily, and sleep soundly throughout the night. Consider the following tips if you’re hoping to beat insomnia:
1. Reduce Stress
Since stress causes both emotional and physical tension in your body, it can make it quite difficult to sleep. Even if you don’t realize, your body releases cortisol that affects your muscles. There are lots of relaxation therapies and stress reduction techniques that can help you relax before going to bed.
Progressive muscle relaxation, listening to specific audio tapes, meditation, and deep breathing techniques can lower your stress levels significantly. Anxiety, worry, and fear can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Sleep deprivation also worsens anxiety, making it difficult to control the negative consequences of both insomnia and anxiety disorders.
Your sleep therapist can use biofeedback to better understand how stress and other emotions affect your body. It’s possible to measure your bodily reactions to various situations and project them via a screen for your therapist to see. You’ll get valuable insight on how to handle different stressful situations, stay calm through mind-body techniques, and gain control over your heart rate and blood pressure.
2. Avoid Stimulants
Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes alertness. If you’re looking to sleep better, refrain from consuming caffeine as it acts like an adenosine receptor. Adenosine is the hormone that promotes sleepiness. Since caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor, it will keep you alert and prevent you from feeling sleepy for several hours.
While coffee has some performance benefits, overuse can worsen a pre-existing sleep disorder. In most cases, caffeine consumption will not only make it difficult to initiate sleep, but it may also lead to frequent awakenings.
While alcohol has a sedative effect for the first few hours after consumption, it can lead to non-restful nights due to frequent arousals. Some medications such as inhalers and decongestants can also act as stimulants, so ask your doctor for advice on the best time to take them.
3. Sleep Hygiene
If you don’t want to take prescription medicines or sleeping pills to cure your persistent problems, it's best to resort to healthful practices. People that suffer from insomnia, have many ways to address the problem and improve their sleep habits. Try waking up at the same time every day, even during the weekends.
It’s tempting to sleep late and oversleep during the weekends. But if you suffer from insomnia, training your body to sleep and wake at consistent times will work to your advantage.
While napping during the day seems like the perfect way to catch up on missed sleep, it can be counterproductive. Napping can reduce the quality of sleep you get at night.
Avoid making phone calls, studying, or balancing your checkbooks while on the bed. Also, avoid watching television or listening to the radio as these activities can increase your alertness and make it difficult to sleep.
Yoga helps to reduce anxiety and worry. Anxiety is one of the most common causes of insomnia. Since yoga helps to ward off anxiety it can help you to get more hours of sleep every night. Simple practices such as holding your breath, counting your breath, or inversion by holding your legs up on the wall causes you to doze off in minutes.
Regular exercises can significantly improve your sleep duration. However, exercising right before bedtime has a stimulating effect. Modern life doesn’t always provide opportunities to go to the gym, so practicing yoga for a few minutes before you sleep is advisable.
Restorative yoga involves stretching your taut muscles and taking slow, deep breaths. Such practices help to reduce your waking hours so you can enjoy the uninterrupted sleep you desire. Incorporating yoga into your sleep schedule is a great way to find the ultimate remedy against insomnia.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
If you suffer from insomnia, it’s natural to worry about your sleep problems. Unlike sleeping pills, cognitive behavioral therapy addresses the underlying problems that caused insomnia in the first place.
CBT is a structured program that helps you to identify and ward off the thoughts and behaviors that could worsen your sleep problems. Your sleep therapist might have to monitor your sleep patterns for several weeks before determining the right remedy for you.
Some of the remedies include improving your sleep environment, relaxation training, and only going to the bedroom when you feel sleepy.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re suffering from chronic insomnia, you’re at risk of developing a long list of health complications. In addition to behavioral therapy, your doctor can undertake a diagnosis to determine the cause of your sleeping problem and the best way to address it. If your doctor thinks that you have a critical sleeping disorder, you might require more comprehensive tests and treatments.
Other Sleep Disorders: