We have all had nights when sleep will not come, but for some people not being able to sleep is a chronic condition–they suffer from insomnia. People with insomnia may have a hard time falling asleep even though they are tired, or they may wake up in the middle of the night and then lie awake for hours, unable to return to sleep. Sometimes insomniacs do sleep, but the sleep is unrefreshing and they wake up feeling as drowsy and fatigued as if they had experienced no sleep.
Insomnia is NOT about failing to get eight hours of sleep at night. Rather, it is the inability to get the amount of sleep you need to feel rested. We all need different amounts of sleep, so insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping–not by how many hours of sleep you get, or even by how quickly you fall asleep. If you only sleep five hours but feel great you don’t have insomnia.
Insomnia usually is not just a sleep disorder; typically, there are other causes at the root of the problem. Insomnia is often the symptom of other issues that are interfering with your ability to sleep. These issues may range from having too much caffeine during the day to medical conditions to psychological issues.
Symptoms of Insomnia
These are typical symptoms of insomnia:
* Difficulty falling asleep even if you are tired
* Waking up repeatedly during the night
* Difficulty falling back to sleep once you have woken up
* Not feeling rested after sleeping
* Needing to rely on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep
* Waking up too early
* Feeling drowsy, tired and irritable during the day
* Having trouble concentrating during the day
Many of us experience temporary insomnia–the kind that lasts just for a few days and then goes away. Usually this type is due to nerves over something at work, a relationship issue that is later resolved, jet lag, or some other brief hiccup in our routine. But when insomnia continues for weeks and months, then it is time to talk with your doctor.
Insomnia can be caused by psychological problems, medications, medical conditions, and sleep disorders.
- Psychological causes: Depression, anxiety, chronic stress, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Medications: Antidepressants, cold and flu medications with alcohol, pain relievers with caffeine, diuretics, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications
- Medical causes: Asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, cancer, chronic pain, and others.
- Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome
Cures for Simple Causes of Insomnia
- Look at your behavior–are you consuming too much caffeine (soda, coffee, energy drinks)? Try cutting back.
- If you are using alcohol or sleep aids to fall asleep, cut back. These actually disrupt sleep over the long term. Try warm milk to soothe you.
- Shut off your brain at least an hour before bed–no Internet, no TV, no computer, and no vigorous exercise within two hours of bedtime. Unwind with a relaxing book, meditation, etc.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet. Try white noise machines, sleep masks or earplugs if need be.
- Don’t smoke–especially at night–nicotine will keep you awake.
- Keep your bedroom only for sleep and sex–not work or other activities.
- Make sure you get good exposure to natural light during the day, but minimize your exposure to artificial light at night. Maintaining this balance will help your body’s natural wake/sleep cycle.
When the Cause Is Psychological
Ask yourself the following questions; if you answer “yes” to any of them, it may be helpful to see a psychiatrist for help with your insomnia issues.
- Am I under a lot of stress?
- Am I depressed? Do I feel devoid of emotion and hopeless?
- Do I have chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?
- Have I experienced panic attacks?
- Have I undergone a traumatic experience?
If the cause is chronic anxiety, depression, chronic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the like, then you should consult a psychiatrist. These conditions can be treated with consultations, medication, or other therapies.
A therapist can also instruct you in relaxation techniques that can help you cope better during the day and unwind at night. These may include:
- Deep breathing techniques
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Positive responses to self-defeating thoughts
When to Get Help
If you answered “yes,” to the questions listed under “When the Cause Is Psychological” then you should consult with a psychiatrist. Professional insomnia treatment is also advised if you experience the following:
- Your insomnia is causing problems at work, home or school.
- Your insomnia hasn’t responded to self-help tips like those listed under “Cures for Simple Causes of Insomnia”
- Your insomnia is getting worse, occurring almost every night
Nature intended our minds and bodies to rest. If you are chronically unable to get restful sleep, get help. A good night’s sleep can be an amazing restorative to your mental and physical health.