Do you struggle to get some sleep every night? Or do you toss and turn all night watching the clock go by? If so, you may be suffering from a common sleep disorder, ‘insomnia’, and you’re not alone. Suffering from insomnia can be frustrating and exhausting, so let’s learn more about it and look at the steps you can take to cure it.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition that causes people to find it difficult to fall asleep, or not being able to sleep long enough and feel refreshed the following morning. People suffering from the condition will find themselves having trouble falling asleep despite being tired, wake up frequently in the middle of the night, or have trouble getting back to sleep when they have awoken. Millions of people are affected by insomnia, but only around 5% require treatment for this condition.
If you have experienced sleeping difficulties for a month or more or it is affecting your daily life, this is called persistent or chronic insomnia and it is a warning sign that you should visit your doctor.
What Causes Insomnia?
Daily lifestyle can affect sleep and plays a role in aggravating insomnia. For example, if you’re an afternoon coffee or tea lover, or feeling stressed out after a meeting with your colleagues, then you may suffer from insomnia from time to time. Other contributors, such as unhealthy sleeping habits (e.g, jet lag and shift work) and consumption of alcohol should also be considered.
If you’re experiencing chronic insomnia then your doctor may perform the following tests for additional underlying causes, such as anxiety.
- Physical exam: Occasionally, a blood test may be done to check for thyroid problems or other conditions that may be associated with poor sleep. Your doctor will also look at your general lifestyle habits, including diet and exercise patterns.
- Sleep habits review: Poor sleeping habits are one of the main causes for insomnia. Your Doctor may ask you to complete a questionnaire to determine your sleep-wake pattern and ask you to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Tracking what time you went to bed and woke up, how long it took you to fall asleep, and the number of times you wake up during the night. They will then see how you can adjust your routine to improve sleep.
- Sleep study: If the cause of your broken sleeping pattern is not clear, or you have signs of another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, it is best to spend a night at a sleep centre to be tested and monitored by a specialist. The tests can include your body activities while you sleep, including brain waves, breathing, heartbeat, eye and body movements.
How can Insomnia affect your health?
Besides the common side effects like mood swings and fatigue, severe lack of sleep can cause other complications such as:
- Aging skin: When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
- Increased risk of medical conditions such as weakened immune system, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
- Increased risk for mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and confusion.
Treatments for Insomnia
If you are suffering from occasional sleep deprivation, try to make some small lifestyle changes such as:
- Having regular times to sleep and wake up
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercise a few hours before going to bed
- Not watching TV or using phones before going to bed
- Writing a list of your worries, and any ideas about how to solve them, before going to bed to help you forget until the morning.
- For more ideas on how to get a good nights sleep click here.
However, if you’re experiencing severe or chronic insomnia, you might consider these options to help you. To effectively treat the condition you should visit your doctor to diagnose what triggers your symptoms, and treat them accordingly.
- Therapy: In a few cases, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is used to treat insomnia. This form of psychotherapy looks to treat the problem by avoiding negative thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behavior which may be causing your sleep deprivation. It is often the first recommended treatment from chronic insomnia and can lead to a long-term improvement.
- Prescription sleeping pills for insomnia: Prescription sleeping tablets are usually only considered as a last resort and should only be used for a few days or weeks at a time.