Can’t sleep, even when you want to? Then yes.
Insomnia isn’t a single disorder, but more of a description of symptoms. Sometimes insomnia is part of another condition, or has a common cause with another condition.
Sometimes insomnia is a stand-alone affliction. Either way, the diagnosis is straightforward. If you aren’t sleeping and feeling ill effects, then that’s insomnia. If you’re not sure if you have a serious sleep disorder, you can try the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to find out.
The consequences of the lack of sleep vary and escalate, depending on duration.
They include irritability, fatigue, exhaustion, mental fatigue, and not being able to perform during the day. Long-term, effects could include hallucination, double-vision, or even death.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia can take many different forms – it can mean difficulty falling asleep, problems staying asleep, or sleep that does not refresh. It can last a few days, short-term for a few weeks or long-term for months.
Transient is the shortest affliction of insomnia, lasting any period for less than one week. It’s the least serious, and is typically caused by lifestyle or health factors, such as stress, depression, etc.
People suffering from acute insomnia are unable to sleep for more than a week, but less than a month. Acute insomnia occurs even despite the lack of clear cause, such as illness or disturbances during sleep. It’s also called stress related insomnia or short-term insomnia.
Chronic insomnia is long-term, lasting for more than a month.
Sleep-onset insomnia describes the condition of not being able to fall asleep at night. When people think about insomnia, this is the type they most often picture. But there are other types as well.
Middle of the Night insomnia refers to the disorder of waking during the sleep period and not being able to return to sleep.
Terminal insomnia refers to the disorder of waking up too early during sleep.
Some potential causes of insomnia include:
- Drug and stimulant usage, including coffee
- Some medications
- Other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome
- Hormonal shifts
- Stress and anxiety
- Digestive problems
- Mental disorders
People of all ages can suffer from insomnia, but it is more common with some people, and some circumstances. You may be at higher risk of insomnia if you:
- Are over 60 years old
- Have a history of mental disorders
- Are under stress
- Work graveyard shifts
- Travel through different time zones
Because the definition of what constitutes insomnia varies so much, understanding its prevalence is difficult. To be sure, most people don’t get enough sleep, but this is typically due to choice, rather than insomnia.
Older adults are more likely to suffer insomnia, but they are also more likely to have a variety of health problems, which in turn lead to insomnia.
One study determined that, in the United States, almost 60% of adults experience insomnia at least a few times per week.
For chronic insomnia of a month or more, numbers have been estimated that upwards of 6% of the United States are afflicted.
What to do:
The first recommended step is to keep a sleep journal, which can give you a better understanding of your real sleep habits, and allow your doctor to better understand your symptoms. Often people have a difficult time have an objective understanding of their real hours spend sleeping, or not. An hour tossing may seem like many. Or, what seems like a small problem may be costing you hours of sleep. Without keeping track, it’s too hard to tell.
Your sleep journal should be maintained for at least two weeks, and can include details about:
- When you go to bed
- When you fall asleep
- How often you awaken during the night
- Number of times you nap during the day
- Daily meals, alcoholic drinks, stress, or exercise
Once again, the problem of insomnia’s many causes and expressions makes treatment difficult. If insomnia occurs because of or alongside another condition, (with the ominous name of comorbid), then treating that condition can alleviate the symptoms.
Otherwise, individuals can look to a cornucopia of drugs and tranquilizers.
Some non-prescribed solutions include:
- Improved sleep schedule
- Better understanding of sleep
- Improved sleep hygiene
- Meditation or other forms of relaxation therapy
- Removing life stress
- Melatonin supplements
- Exercise during the day, but not within four hours of sleep
- Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants
- Herbs, including valerian, chamomile, cannabis, and lavender
One of the more successful, and non-pharmacological solutions is Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT works to change the insomniac’s perspective and mindset towards sleep, and their disorder. CBT has five major elements:
Works to associate the bed with sleep and nothing else. This is particularly useful if someone uses their bed for watching TV, working, and other non-sleep activities.
Sleep restriction therapy:
Only stay in bed for as long as you are sleep. Do not spend ours tossing and turning. This creates mild sleep deprivation, but as sleep time is used for quality sleep, it gradually improves.
Reducing stress or worries that interrupt sleep
Don’t go to sleep. Try to stay awake and avoid the urge to go to sleep. This is intended to remove the stress around falling asleep, as it becomes no longer something to be forced.
Sensors are attached to measure your tension, heart rate, and other body responses. A connected machine displays pictures or plays sounds to help manage breathing and improve relaxation.
Image credit: Madness part II by Recovering Sick Soul, on Flickr