Having trouble falling or staying asleep? While this may happen from time to time, it should not be the norm.
If you find yourself unable to get the z’s you need, it could be that you are suffering from insomnia.
There are many negative consequences to sleep deprivation – and maintaining good sleep hygiene is a corner stone to living a healthy life.
The term insomnia is used in a variety of ways in the medical field and mainstream media. Very often, insomnia is understood as the presence of an individual's report of difficulty with sleep.
However, that is not entirely true!
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Insomnia has a strong negative effect on the quality of your sleep. While you may even get the 8 hours in, people who suffer from insomnia simply won’t feel rested the next morning.
People who suffer from insomnia are usually dissatisfied with their sleep and find it harder to function during the day. While the issue occurs at night, the results still flow you’re your entire day.
Insomnia has an impact on your energy levels, concentration and mood. In addition, it also takes a heavy toll on your overall health, performance at work/school and quality of life.
Sleep fact: what is an insomniac?
An insomniac is simply a person who suffers from insomnia. However, it is usually used for people who suffer from the chronic type of insomnia.
It is also often used as a term to refer to people who stay awake all night, also known as night owls!
How many people suffer from insomnia?
As mentioned earlier, the issue is that there are many different definitions of insomnia based on different criteria.
However, a general consensus has been reached, stating that about 30% of adults report one or more symptoms of insomnia.
That includes difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early, and non-restorative or poor quality sleep. The participants of this study were adults from around the world with varying ages.
Types of insomnia
The question here is whether you solely suffer from insomnia or whether it has been caused by another health condition.
Primary insomnia is not directly associated with any other existing health condition or problem.
Secondary insomnia on the other hand is the opposite. An example of secondary insomnia would be that many people who suffer from asthma, depression, heartburn, arthritis or cancer often report that they also have troubles with their sleep.
Acute insomnia can last from one night up to a few weeks, which is considered a short period of time. It often happens due to drastic changes or important events in life, such as a breakup or an important business presentation the next day.
Acute insomnia is very common and many people have experience with this type of sleep disruption. The good news is that it often goes away without any treatment.
Chronic insomnia is when a person experiences insomnia for more than 3 nights a week over the course of a month. Chronic insomnia is often a symptom or side effect of another health condition or problem, and is then classified as secondary insomnia.
Causes of insomnia
As mentioned above, we have to differentiate between acute and chronic insomnia. While acute insomnia is connected to uncomfortable life circumstances, chronic insomnia is mainly linked to preexisting health conditions.
Causes of acute insomnia
Stress is a very common factor that can keep you up at night. We all experience stress differently and have varying tolerance levels. It can essentially be anything from a small work presentation to a divorce or even a death of a loved one.
- Emotional or physical discomfort
Similar to above, an emotionally or physically uncomfortable recent experience may lead to acute insomnia. For example, a heavy fight with a partner is a common emotional cause. Physical discomfort on the other hand can for example be caused by sleeping on an incorrect or old mattress.
- Illness and medication
Having a cold, a dust mite allergy or asthma can cause insomnia. Coughing and wheezing during the night will often interrupt your good night’s sleep that you very much need – especially while being sick! Also certain medications can also be the cause of low sleep quality.
- Environmental factors
The environment in which you sleep might be too noisy, cluttered or not dark enough. This can slow down the process of falling asleep, which in turn can cause insomnia. Also, making sure to have the right room temperature is important.
- Interference in regular sleep schedule
A drastic change in your sleep schedule has a heavy impact on the quality of your sleep. It takes a while for your internal body clock to adapt to the new circumstances.
A great example is jet lag after coming back from a business trip or holidays. Some shift workers may also experience this when they switch between day and night shifts.
Causes of chronic insomnia
- Mental problems and emotional distress
The two most common causes of chronic insomnia are anxiety and depression. People who are depressed often sleep too much or have troubles falling asleep. Daily anxiety issues or anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, is also often a cause of insomnia.
The issue here is that the mind simply won’t allow itself to reach a calm and peaceful state. That also means that it won’t allow itself to rest and rejuvenate – and that is something we all desperately need every single day.
- Pain or discomfort
Chronic pain is a very common cause for chronic insomnia. People who had a serious operation or suffered from an accident often report that they are unable to sleep and rest. The pain simply won’t allow it.
Another very common cause is lower back pain. This may be caused by a preexisting condition or you simply might be sleeping on the wrong mattress for your individual sleep needs.
Symptoms of insomnia
- Sleepiness during the day
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Concentration/Memory problems
Sleep fact: What is the opposite of insomnia?
The lesser known disorder and the opposite of insomnia is called hypersomnia.
People with a hypersomnia disorder typically sleep more than 9 hours in a 24-hour period. Also, the cause of their sleepiness can’t be attributed to disturbed night-time sleep.
The main symptom of hypersomnia is being sleepy throughout the entire day. While most people experience this from time to time, hypersomniacs do so every day. In fact, nearly half of all adults will have symptoms of a hypersomnia disorder at some point.
The best and only really effective prevention method is maintaining good sleep habits and sleep hygiene.
Below are a few things you can do to promote sound sleep!
- Keep a consistent sleep-wake-schedule
- Exercise regularly
- Make sure none of your medications contribute to insomnia
- Nap smart
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
- Don’t eat large meals or drink too much before bedtime
- Create a relaxing bedroom environment
- Find a bedtime ritual that works for you, such as a bath, meditation, music, etc.
Changing your sleep habit and addressing the underlying cause of insomnia can be difficult.
However, it is very important to do so, especially if you are suffering from chronic insomnia.
Please also consider consulting your doctor if the condition persists!
Cognitive and behaviour therapy
Your doctor can refer you to a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that’s specifically designed for people with insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I targets the unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that can cause insomnia.
This treatment promotes healthy sleep habits and uses various methods to relieve sleep anxiety.
Many people find it very effective and report long-lasting results.
CBT-I may include:
1. Relaxation techniques
Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and breathing exercises can help you to calm the body, reduce anxiety and induce sleep.
Mindfulness techniques, guided imagery and meditation techniques are also great to relax.
These techniques can help you both to fall asleep and return to sleep during the night.
2. Stimulus control therapy
Stimulus control therapy contributes to breaking the association between the bedroom and wakefulness.
The idea is that you will solely associate the bedroom with sleep and sex – nothing else.
3. Sleep restriction
Sleep restriction means that you limit the time spent in bed and the bedroom. This includes a strict bedtime and wake schedule.
This technique may cause you to experience sleep deprivation since you’re not allowed to sleep outside the scheduled times. However, the time limit will gradually increase once your sleep quality has improved.
4. Paradoxical intention
This treatment is designed to reduce anxiety and worries about being able to fall asleep.
To achieve that, people have to go to bed and try to stay awake over a longer period of time.
The idea is to shift the mind from worrying about being able to fall asleep to staying awake.
What is the best sleeping pill for insomnia?
Generally speaking, there is no single best sleeping pill for insomnia.
That is because using sleep aids will solely combat the symptoms rather than the cause.
However, people that suffer from severe cases may look to find some short-term relief. This will depend on your specific case and cause.
To find the best sleeping pill for your insomnia, we highly recommend to visit a medical professional in your area.
Also, if you do decide to use sleep aids, please remember to use the smallest effective dose possible for the shortest time.
These are highly potent sleep aids and should be treated with care.