Insomnia is popularly described as an inability to fall asleep when you want to. However, insomnia can take a variety of forms, and there are even more treatments available. However, in every case, the lack of sleep contributes to poor quality of life and worsening symptoms. What is insomnia? How can you try to cope with it yourself? And when do you need medical professionals’ assistance?
What Is Insomnia, Really?
Insomnia can mean that you have trouble falling asleep. That’s in line with popular belief. It can also take the form of being unable to stay asleep, though the person is tired and even in an ideal set of conditions to sleep. Insomnia thus doesn’t just refer to someone tossing and turning as they try to go to sleep but those who toss and turn after waking up from four hours of sleep, desperate to get back to sleep.
Insomnia can be situational. Acute insomnia is triggered by an acute situation. Acute insomnia is what you’re suffering when you can’t sleep because you’re afraid of a test or presentation tomorrow. Acute insomnia is when stress hormones keep you awake, though you normally sleep well at night. And it can be caused by anticipation, such as when children can’t sleep at night because they’re eager to open their presents on Christmas morning. This type of insomnia resolves as soon as the anxiety or excitement passes. Insomnia can be caused by our decisions during the day. Drinking too much caffeine too late in the day can make it impossible to sleep at night. And drinking too much water just before going to bed is not a good idea either. Chronic insomnia is more severe because it occurs regularly over a long period of time. The medical definition is sleep disruption that occurs three or more nights a week for at least three months. Yet chronic insomnia can be caused or worsened by environmental conditions. Long-term stress can trigger what looks like acute insomnia night after night. Having too many lights in your bedroom, watching screens while you’re in bed or having too many visual and auditory stimuli in the bedroom can make it difficult to sleep. Chronic insomnia can be caused by working an erratic schedule, as well.
Insomnia may be due to various medical disorders, as well. It may be caused by psychiatric medication or a clinical disorder. Ironically, anxiety about your inability to sleep can make things worse.
The Impact of Insomnia
Insomnia has a number of effects on the body. It contributes to muddled thinking and fatigue. A lack of sleep, for example, clouds judgment as much as if you were drunk. Insomnia can make people irritable, and it can contribute to depression.
Our bodies often try to compensate for the fatigue with cravings for sugar, fat, and carbohydrates, though the person is tired. This contributes to weight gain among those who are unable to get adequate sleep. It can contribute to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Solutions for Insomnia
One tactic you can try immediately is to implement good sleep hygiene. Set a bedtime, and turn off all screens an hour or two before your bedtime. Don’t watch TV in the bedroom or check your text messages while in bed. Turn off all the lights. The bright lights are your enemy since they trick the brain into thinking it should be awake. Avoid bright lights and loud noises two hours or more before bed, including what you consider to be entertainment. Binge watching your favorite exciting TV show until you’re ready to retire makes it impossible to sleep. Create a good sleep environment, putting up curtains that block outside light. You may need earplugs to prevent passing cars and other outside noises from waking you up at night. Sound machines can help block out the loud sudden noises that startle us to wakefulness.
Follow a regular wake-sleep routine. Have a set time to get up each morning. If you wake up earlier than planned, stay in bed to at least give yourself the chance to get back to sleep. Then get up in the morning. Sleeping in on weekends can make it hard to fall asleep on time the next night. Cut out the caffeine afternoon, so that it won’t interfere with your sleep. Don’t drink alcohol in the hopes it will help you sleep. Try to avoid sugary drinks – if you are thirsty, preferable is drinking a little bit of water.
Another strategy is adjusting your exercise routine. Don’t go for a hard run right before you go to bed. And if you aren’t getting any exercise, consider getting more activity in during the day so that you are better able to sleep at night.
If all of this isn’t sufficient, then you may need more advanced insomnia treatment.
It is tempting to ask for sleep meds to sleep. These pills may work for one night, but they don’t treat the root cause of your acute insomnia. Your insomnia may be due to things that pills can’t treat. For example, if you have sleep apnea, your early morning awakenings may be due to gasping for breath. This condition can make it impossible to feel rested though you slept for seven to nine hours, as well.
If you’re taking psychiatric medication like ADHD meds that make it hard to sleep, you may be able to change medications or shift your medication schedule so that it doesn’t interfere with your sleep. In other cases, joint pain and back problems can contribute to insomnia until properly treated.
If you’re struggling with insomnia, don’t take it lightly. The inability to sleep affects everything from your mood to your productivity to your ability to drive effectively. Begin with seeking natural treatments to your insomnia, such as improving sleep hygiene. If that fails to help, consider vitamins or supplements, such as melatonin or valerian root. If all else fails, visit your doctor. They may be able to help you determine the root cause of your insomnia, as well as treat it in a medically safe method.
Everyone has struggled to fall asleep at one time or another. Whatever the case, your sleep matters. Don’t neglect it.