Introduction to Insomnia
Insomnia is defined as a sleep disorder that can make it difficult for a person to fall asleep or stay asleep. There are three common characteristics to insomnia:
- Difficulty initially falling asleep
- Cannot sleep for long periods of time
- Waking up and not being able to fall back asleep
Insomnia is an extremely common sleep disorder. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, approximately 1 in 3 adults have insomnia. There are also other studies suggesting 1 in 2 adults have a mild form of insomnia. It’s important that you are able to identify whether or not you have insomnia so you can help prevent and treat it.
How do you know if you have Insomnia?
There are several characteristics for people with insomnia. Some of the following symptoms / characteristics include:
- Mind races in the middle of the night
- Worrying too much / not able to relax
- Depression or sadness
- Taking more than 30 minutes to sleep
- Personal or work life is causing unbearable stress
- Chronic pain
What Type of Insomnia Do I Have?
There are several types of insomnia. The five most common types of insomnia are listed below:
- Acute Insomnia: Short-term insomnia typically lasting up to a few months. Acute insomnia is typically caused by environmental factors such as a traumatic life event, extreme stress in personal or work life, or a significant life change in a person’s life.
- Chronic Insomnia: Long-term insomnia that will last for months or longer. Chronic insomnia is defined as anyone who has difficulty sleeping 3 or more times a week for 3 months or longer. There are different factors that can lead to chronic insomnia.
- Comorbid Insomnia: This type of insomnia is a side effect of another health condition that makes it difficult to sleep at night. Any medical conditions that change your sleep pattern such as depression, anxiety, or pain are characterized as Comorbid Insomnia.
- Onset Insomnia: Difficultly falling asleep at the beginning of the night. Typically results in daytime fatigue, sleepiness, loss of concentration, and mood swings.
- Maintenance Insomnia: The inability to stay asleep once you have fallen asleep. These types of people have difficultly falling back asleep once they have woken up in the middle of the night.
It is common to fall into multiple categories of insomnia. For instance, some people may have Chronic Onset Insomnia which means that they have an ongoing problem of falling asleep at the beginning of the night.
What Causes Insomnia?
There are several different mental and psychological factors that can contribute to insomnia. Some of these examples are:
- Stress: Traumatic life events such as a car accident, death in the family, divorce, or concerns are life, money, or work can contribute to your insomnia.
- Poor sleeping habits: Irregular and unscheduled naps, caffeine or stimulants before bed, or an abnormal sleep environment can disrupt sleep patterns. In addition, using your bed for homework, eating, or computer time contributes to the association that the bed is used for other activities other than sleeping.
- Time-zone change or work schedule: Circadian rhythms are your body’s internal clock which guides your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism, and body temperature. Travelling across multiple time zones, or changing work shifts to a graveyard shift can lead to insomnia because your body is not used to the change.
- Mental health issues: Anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), will cause your body not to want to sleep. Waking up extremely early in the morning can also be a sign of depression. Insomnia is very common as a result of existing mental health disorders. Working on your mental health will enable you to sleep better at night.
- Prescription Drugs and Medication: Many different types of drugs can significantly disrupt a sleep schedule. These include drugs for antidepressants, asthma, blood pressure, or
amphetamines. In addition, many over the counter drugs such as pain relievers, allergy, and cold medications can contain caffeine or other stimulants which will keep you awake.
- Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea causes you to wake up during the night due to not breathing. Restless leg syndrome causes you to move your legs during the night time and consistently wake up. Make sure you aren’t experiencing insomnia due to other sleep related disorders that are causing the problem.
Who gets insomnia?
Almost everyone experiences some loss of sleep throughout the year. However, there are several factors that greatly increase your chances of insomnia:
- Female: At least one in four woman experience some type of insomnia. This can be due to hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle, menopause, or pregnancy. Woman are also twice as likely as men to develop depression which can contribute to insomnia.
- Old Age: As the body ages, it becomes more sensitive to environmental changes such as noise and movement. Your internal clock also advances, causing you to get tired earlier and wake up earlier. Adults over 60 years of age also take significant more medication than younger people causing a disruption in the sleep schedule.
How do I prevent insomnia?
In general, developing good sleep habits will help prevent insomnia. In addition, here are a few tips that can help you prevent insomnia:
- Stay active during non-sleep hours. Physical activity that during the daytime promotes a good nights rest. Do not exercise within 3 hours of sleeping.
- Avoid daytime naps. If you must insist on napping, make sure that limit the nap to no more than 30 minutes. Set an alarm!
- Keep you wake-up time and sleep time as consistent as possible. Staying up late one night can offset your entire sleep schedule.
- Only use your bed for sleeping. Do not use your bed for homework, television, etc. In addition, make sure that your room is comfortable – dark, good temperature, and low noise.
- Check your medications to see if they are contributing to your insomnia. In addition, avoid supplements like caffeine and alcohol as they are stimulants and will keep you awake.
Medications for Insomia
Prescription medications for insomnia:
In general, it a good idea not to rely on prescription sleeping pills for your everyday sleep. Sleeping pills can have side effects and cause mood swings, sleeping during the day, and may become addictive. Examples of prescription medications for insomnia include:
- Ambien (Zolpidem)
- Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
- Sonata (Zaleplon)
- Rozerem (Ramelteon)
Over the Counter Medication for insomnia
Many people never want to visit their doctor to get their insomnia checked due to cost reasons, time, or lack of insurance. There are some over the counter remedies that may help you sleep better at night.
- Melatonin. This hormone is naturally produced in the body and used to help you sleep better at night. When the sun sets, your body’s melatonin levels will rise causing you to sleep. Taking melatonin as a sleep supplement will increase your sleep.
- Valerian. This herb creates a sedative effect on the brain and nervous system to help you sleep at night. It’s also used as a dietary supplement. Consume as a tea or root before bedtime.
Insomnia is an extremely common sleep disorder. Almost everyone will experience some sort of acute insomnia throughout their lifetime. It’s important to understand the symptoms and types of insomnia so you can either try and treat it yourself or consult a doctor. Simple changes to your daily and dietary habits can also help.