What is insomnia?
If you struggle with sleep, you’re not alone…
Ever spent the night watching the clock trudge too slowly too morning? Worry you might have insomnia? We all wake up periodically throughout the night or wake up too early once in a while – and that’s normal. Trouble falling asleep or waking up every night is not normal and may be a sign it’s time to get a doctor’s opinion.
Doctors describe insomnia as the inability to sleep without interruption. Acute or short term insomnia can be as short as one night of sleeplessness. It might be caused by a stressful situation like a job loss, death or hormone fluctuations. Chronic insomnia can last for years and can put you at risk for serious health issues. If your inability to sleep lasts longer than 3 weeks, it’s time to involve a certified sleep doctor.
Sometimes insomnia can be corrected with simple lifestyle changes. Dr. La Puma recently joined us for a discussion on men’s health and sleep. If you missed his posts, check them out now:
Causes of insomnia
If insomnia is a new problem in your life, it might be caused by one of these reasons:
- Stress or anxiety (loss of a job, death or conflict at home or work)
- Change in your sleep environment (staying at a hotel or a friend’s home)
- Physical discomfort (an uncomfortable mattress, too hot, too cold, too bright, too noisy)
- Snoring sleep partner
- Electronics or TV in your bedroom
- Heavy or high protein meals before bed
- Prescription medication
- Alcohol within two hours of bedtime
- Too much fluid before bedtime
- Exercising right before bed or not exercising enough during the day
- Travel across time zones or to a much higher altitude
Chronic insomnia is a more serious medical issue that may involve psychiatric issues, which is why seeing a sleep doctor is so important. Some possible causes include:
- Depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Medical issues, such as asthma, arthritis, acid reflux, heart and kidney disease or cancer
- Chronic hormone imbalance, including menopause or hyperthyroidism
- Restless legs syndrome, which causes irregular and uncomfortable twitching in the legs
- Obstructive sleep apnea, which causes breathing to stop for 10-30 seconds during sleep
Symptoms of insomnia
We’ve all had nights that involve hours of clock watching while everyone else sleeps peacefully. It can be a lonely feeling – especially if it drags on night after night. Symptoms of insomnia can include:
- Waking up still tired
- Irritability during the day
- Trouble falling and staying asleep throughout the night
- Difficulty concentrating on daily tasks or conversations with others
If you suspect a long-term problem, start a sleep diary so you can provide more than an anecdotal accounting of your sleep challenges to your sleep doctor. Record sleep and wake-up times and how you feel at different times during the day to help your doctor with an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes a visit to an overnight sleep clinic (to monitor your breathing patterns and oxygen levels) is needed.
Can insomnia be prevented?
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, start by looking at your daily and bedtime habits. The answer may be as simple as banning electronics from the bedroom. Check out these posts for easy tweaks you can make today:
- Are prescription sleeping pills safe?
- Sleep and your heart health
- Reduce stress, sleep better
- How much sleep do you really need?
- 7 ways to a better night’s sleep
- Coffee, sleep & health
Treatment of insomnia
If natural remedies and changes to your sleep routine are ineffective in solving your insomnia issues, doctors may suggest additional treatments:
- Relaxation therapy: Techniques to help you relax your mind and muscles
- Sleep restrictions: Odd as it sounds, reducing your sleep to only a few hours per night can help reset your inner clock. Sleep time is increased under your doctor’s guidance.
- Behavior therapy: Sometimes our brains need to be retaught how to sleep and when to sleep.
If insomnia is a symptom of another medical issue, a doctor my prescribe sleeping pills in the short term so s/he can explore the underlying issues. If you suspect you have a problem, seek help sooner rather than later. Sleep deprivation is a serious health issue and the sooner you get help, the faster you can protect both your long and short term health.