Insomnia Explained: Why It’s Keeping Us Awake at Night
I’m sure you already know what insomnia is, at least in a nutshell. It’s often referred to as sleeplessness, and it is one the most common sleep disorders. We all know the drill: it ruthlessly keeps a person awake well until the sunrise or has them wake up in the dead of the night without a chance of falling back asleep. This article gives a closer look at the main types, causes and aftermath of insomnia to give you the idea what you might be dealing with.
Two types of insomnia
To know which one we are talking about specifically, we need to understand whether the inability to sleep travels solo or it is a symptom of a medical condition. So far, we can distinguish its two main types:
When a person has trouble falling or staying asleep, but this problem is unrelated to any other health condition.
When a person has sleep problems because of a certain health condition or illness (like depression and other mental disorders, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain). It may also be a side-effect of medications or the use of other substances. In any case, it is always the result of something else, rather than it is an independent problem.
Why does insomnia occur?
Most people, women more often than men, have experienced such symptoms at least once in their lifetime. Often, the symptoms come and go, leaving no trace. But while a one-time sleepless night can indeed present a serious discomfort, there are those who suffer from chronic sleeplessness, which is much harder to recover from.
One or all of these factors can be blamed for your short-term or acute insomnia:
- Jet lag
- A stressful situation
- Having an important event the next day
- Long daytime naps
- Too much coffee or alcohol during the day
- Disturbances like noise, temperature (too high or too low), unpleasant smell etc.
There are different definitions of chronic insomnia, but more often than not it can be described as an abnormal quantity and quality of sleep. It usually means that sleeplessness becomes your late-night companion three times a week for three or more months in a row.
And, contrary to a popular belief, worry is not the main cause of insomnia, at least it’s not the only cause. It can be linked to several or one of the following factors:
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Never-ending stress
- Unhealthy sleep habits
- Irregular shifts and work schedules
- Changing life circumstances
- Chronic pain
- Depression and other neurological conditions
After having disrupted sleep, a person feels sluggish, out of focus and as if drained of all energy the next day. And more often than not irritation, aggression and mood swings string along. As the problems progress, people may find themselves amidst serious physical and mental problems.
So, instead of waiting around for a problem to get serious, it’s better to cut it off at source. If you have noticed recurrent signs of insomnia within a short interval (once a week or once every two weeks), don’t postpone a visit to a sleep specialist. The sooner, the better, because usually temporary sleeplessness can go away simply by practicing good sleep hygiene and by adopting healthy bedtime habits.
5 bedtime rituals for restful sleep
Making some simple changes to your bedtime routine can make a great difference in improving your good night’s sleep. These are the best pre-bed activities imaginable that may help you leave all the daily stresses out of the bedroom and get your sleep cycle back on track:
- Try to unwind with the help of yoga and meditation practices or with simple deep breathing techniques.
- Read to promote deep relaxation. A good book significantly reduces stress levels. When we read a story, we can be someplace else for a change leaving our own problems behind.
- Building a regular sleep pattern—go to bed and wake up around the same time each night and morning, even on weekends.
- Organize your bedroom space. Choose in favor of natural materials and plants.
- Air the room before you go to sleep. Your bedroom temperature should be at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
There are also activities that may stimulate your already overactive brain and are best avoid before bedtime:
- figuring out riddles
- playing chess or doing puzzles
- creative activities like drawing or playing a musical instrument
- eating sugary foods and drinks
- drinking coffee and smoking
Also it’s useful to deal with the things that may cause strong emotions two hours before you drift off to sleep.
Note, however, that if insomnia has already become a chronic condition, your doctor may prescribe sleep aid medications, anti-anxiety drugs or acupuncture, depending on the roots of the problem. And though this treatment may be time-consuming, it eventually will help you sleep again without any interruptions and improve the overall quality of life.