Insomnia is a sleeping disorder which affects millions of people all over the world on a regular basis. In simpler terms, people with insomnia experience difficulty in falling or staying asleep. Having insomnia will make one have daytime sleepiness. You will feel lethargic, and experience mood swings, irritability and anxiety. This sleep disorder has also been said to be connected with an elevated risk of developing chronic diseases. So, needless to say, it is something we all need to know more about.
What is Insomnia:
Insomnia is a condition that results in a person having problems falling asleep or even staying asleep. Adults generally need around 7-8 hours of sleep every night. But insomnia does not let you sleep well enough, thus hampering your health, energy levels and work performance. Though most of you are under the impression that insomnia is a sole sleeping disorder of a certain type, let us tell you it is not. Generally, it can be differentiated into the following three types:
- Transient Insomnia: This type of insomnia is the one which can cause symptoms lasting up to three nights in a row in patients.
- Acute Insomnia: This is also known as short-term insomnia and the symptoms tend to stay for several weeks.
- Chronic Insomnia: This is the most serious type of insomnia and lasts for several months, maybe years. The majority of this type however occurs in patients as a side effect of another major health problem.
Symptoms of Insomnia:
Though insomnia itself could be a potential symptom for an underlying medical problem, there are quite a few symptoms which could point towards an insomniac tendency. They are:
- Waking up too early, even when you did not intend to do so.
- Not feeling well-rested in spite of having a long night’s sleep.
- Waking up frequently over the course of night.
- Having trouble falling asleep at night.
- Having trouble paying attention, as well as having difficulty concentrating or focusing on work.
- A constant tiredness or sleepiness, even during the day.
- Enhanced mistakes or errors in day to day activities.
- Having anxiety issues, depression and an irritable mood.
- Tension headaches which are best described like the feeling of a tight band around the head.
- Gastro-intestinal issues cropping up.
Causes of Insomnia:
Insomnia can be caused by both physical and psychological reasons. Sometimes, an underlying bigger medical issue could cause chronic insomnia. While a transient one might be caused due to a recent traumatic event or stress. The following are the most common causes of Insomnia as seen in individuals:
- Poor sleep habits: Irregular sleep habits involve poor bedtime schedules, sleep environments filled with discomfort, use of bed for work and eating, warming up activities before bed. Spending hours in front of your computers and smartphone screens are also said to interfere with your normal sleep cycle.
- Late evening meals: Having a light snack before going off to sleep is fine. But eating too much will make you feel physically uncomfortable when you try to go to sleep. You could also get heartburn or a backflow of food and acids which will most likely keep you wide awake.
- Medications: Medicines are supposed to make things easier for you. But many prescribed drugs like pain killers, anti-depressants, allergy and cold medicines, as well as weight loss medications, interfere with your sleep cycle in a not-so-positive way.
- Medical conditions: Serious medical problems such as congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic pain, hyperthyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, or arthritis can bring about insomnia.
- Mental health issues: People having anxiety disorders, for example, post-trauma stress, bipolar disorders, depression etc. are well capable of suffering from insomnia. Insomnia is a common companion of most mental health disorders.
- Travel schedule: A hectic time/work schedule could disrupt your body’s internal clock like the sleep-wake cycle, which definitely leads to insomnia. These causes include jet lags due to different time zones, working late/early work shifts etc.
- Sleep-related diseases: Sleep Apnea is a disorder which makes you stop breathing every now and then all through the night, thus disrupting your sleep. Restless legs syndrome is said to cause unpleasant feeling in the legs which makes the individual to keep moving them, hence not allowing him/her to sleep.
- Caffeine, nicotine etc.: Coffee, tea, nicotine, cola and other caffeinated drinks work as stimulants if you drink them late in the evenings before bed. It could keep you from falling asleep and often leads to frequent awakenings during the course of the night.
Risk factors of Insomnia:
Insomnia can affect people of any age. Nearly everybody has an occasional sleepless night every now and then. But, you are generally at a greater risk of insomnia if:
- You are a female: This is because of the reason that menstrual cycles and menopause leads to major hormonal shifts in the body. During such changes, night sweats and hot flashes are common culprits that interrupt one’s sleep.
- You are over 60: As one ages, there are certain unavoidable changes in the health and sleep patterns. This consequently leads to insomnia.
- You have Stress/irregular schedule: Being under a lot of stress or changing shifts at work could lead to sleepless nights.
Treatment for Insomnia:
You can try to restore regular sleeping patterns by regulating issues such as stress and medical conditions. But if that doesn’t work, your doctor might address the disorder with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy or medications.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy – This therapy helps in controlling negative thought processes that might keep a person awake. CBT-I helps in developing positive sleep habits. Doctors can practice procedures to better your lifestyle and sleep habits. This treatment includes various strategies like Stimulus Control Therapy, Sleep Restriction, Light Therapy and Relaxation Techniques.
- Medications – There are quite a few over-the-counter medicines containing antihistamines that can help facilitate sleep. But it is not advisable to take these without consulting a doctor first. Sleeping medication prescribed by medical professionals will not only help you fall asleep, but stay asleep too. Prescription pills like Eszopiclone, Zaleplon, Ramelteon or Zolpidem can be effective. But all sleeping medicines have different side effects, so be careful about duration of usage.
Prevention of Insomnia:
This medical condition can be prevented by having a healthy lifestyle with good sleeping habits.
- Consistent sleeping time and wake-up time
- Avoid medications with insomnia as a side effect
- Physical activity during the day facilitates good sleep at night
- Avoid big meals before sleeping
- Limiting use of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine
- Reducing daytime naps
- Doing something relaxing – like a warm bath or meditation – before bedtime
If and when suffering from sleeping disorders, it is best to contact a doctor as soon as possible. Because a good night’s sleep is extremely important for a healthy life. So make sure to stay stress-free and enjoy a sound sleep each night, every night.