Understanding insomnia

April 20, 2018

Understanding insomnia

Insomnia can be hard to live with. Sleep is one of the most important things you need to remain healthy and sane. We can live without food for days, live without friends too, but sleep is something everyone needs every single day.

But what to do when you have been finding it hard to sleep for days or weeks?

First, let’s understand a bit more about it.  

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, resulting in unrefreshing or non-restorative sleep. Because different people need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping—not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you doze off. Even if you’re spending eight hours a night in bed, if you feel drowsy and fatigued during the day, you may be experiencing insomnia. It is the most common specific sleep disorder, with Acute insomnia (short term issues) being reported by about 30% of adults and Chronic insomnia being reported by 10% of adults.

Although insomnia is the most common sleep complaint, it is not a single sleep disorder. It’s more accurate to think of insomnia as a symptom of another problem. The problem causing insomnia differs from person to person. It could be something as simple as drinking too much caffeine during the day or a more complex issue like an underlying medical condition or feeling overloaded with responsibilities.

The good news is that most cases of insomnia can be cured with changes you can make on your own, without relying on sleep specialists or turning to prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills.

Symptoms of insomnia:

  • Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired
  • Sleeping for only short periods, waking up frequently during the night
  • Trouble getting back to sleep when awakened, being awake for much of the night
  • Unrefreshing Sleep, feeling as if you haven't slept at all
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Feeling tired after waking up
  • Feeling groggy during the day
  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Making frequent mistakes
  • Lack of concentration or focus

What are the types of insomnia?

Insomnia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing).

Acute insomnia is common. Common causes include stress at work, family pressures, or a traumatic event. It usually lasts for days or weeks.

Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer. Most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary. This means they are the symptom or side effect of some other problem, such as certain medical conditions, medicines, and other sleep disorders.

Sometimes chronic insomnia is the primary problem. This means that it is not caused by something else. Its cause is not well understood, but long-lasting stress, emotional upset, travel and shift work can be factors. Primary insomnia usually lasts more than one month.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can happen due to many reasons. The most common reason is stress or illness. It affects women more often than men. You can get it at any age, but older adults are more likely to have it. You are also at higher risk of insomnia if you

  • Have a lot of stress
  • Are depressed or anxious or have other emotional distress
  • Have a lower income
  • Travel long distances with time changes
  • Have an inactive lifestyle
  • Have an Uncomfortable environment with noise, high or low temperature, light, old mattress.
  • Have Physical or emotional pain
  • Have a poor sleep routine – engaging in stimulating activities before bed
  • Take certain medications - medicines such as those for pain and weight-loss can interfere with sleep
  • Medical conditions – Diseases such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, thyroid, chronic pain can interfere with sleep
  • Coffee, smoking, or drinking – All three are stimulants which interfere with natural sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it stops you from entering deep sleep and often wakes you up in the middle of the night

For example, maybe you’re using sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep, which disrupts sleep even more over the long-term. Or maybe you drink excessive amounts of coffee during the day, making it harder to fall asleep later.

Other daytime habits that can negatively impact your ability to sleep at night include having an irregular sleep schedule, napping, eating sugary foods or heavy meals too close to bedtime, and not getting enough exercise or exercising too late in the day.

Not only can poor daytime habits contribute to insomnia, but a poor night's sleep can make these habits harder to correct, creating a vicious cycle of unrefreshing sleep.

Oftentimes, changing the habits that are reinforcing sleeplessness is enough to overcome insomnia altogether. It may take a few days for your body to get used to the change, but once you do, you will sleep better.

Some habits are so ingrained that you may overlook them as a possible contributor to your insomnia. Maybe your Starbucks habit affects your sleep more than you realize. Or maybe you’ve never made the connection between that late-night glass of wine and your sleep difficulties. Keeping a sleep diary is a helpful way to pinpoint habits and behaviors contributing to your insomnia.

What other problems can insomnia cause?

Insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness and a lack of energy. It also can make you feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. You may have trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering.

Of course, insomnia can make you feel tired and groggy all day. But what else?

  • It may hurt your productivity at work and slow down your career progress. When we don’t get a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to focus mentally, increasing stress and damaging performance.
  • It also increases the chances of having an accident. Insomnia weakens our reflexes. Your slow reaction may cause an accident and pose threat to your life.
  • Insomnia can worsen other diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Your body uses sleep for restoring brain cells and flushing out the toxins from your body.

Treatment options for insomnia

Treatment options include behavior and lifestyle changes, medicines, and complementary medicines.

You can check some tips to have a better night sleep on our blog: How to sleep better.

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