A Sleeping Guide on How to Help Insomnia
Dr. Angel Rivera
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can cause difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or poor quality of sleep which is experienced by millions of Americans annually.
It can be a result of many different factors, including stress and health conditions and can also be a side effect of other medications or treatments.
There are a number of complications caused by insomnia if left untreated, including fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and an increased risk for accidents.
Fortunately, there are many treatment options available if you suffer from insomnia and in this article, we will discuss the best ways to treat insomnia and provide tips on how to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both, and it can cause you to wake up earlier than you would like.
The consequences of insomnia may include feeling tired during the day and having trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks.
Insomnia can be short-term insomnia (acute insomnia) that lasts for a few days to a few weeks or long-term insomnia (chronic insomnia) which is described as having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep three nights out of the week for over a month.
If you are a healthy adult, seven to eight hours of sleep is normal while insomniacs can experience far fewer hours.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
There are a variety of symptoms associated with insomnia.
The most common symptom is feeling tired during the day. Other symptoms can include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up frequently throughout the night and having disturbed sleep
- Waking up early in the morning
- Feeling unrefreshed after a night of sleep
- Feeling worried or anxious about sleep
- Finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks or having memory issues
- Increased chance of accidents or mistakes
- Lying awake at night trying to fall back asleep
- Difficulty napping despite feeling tired
If you have these symptoms and suffer from poor sleep quality, it’s important to speak with your doctor as they can help you determine if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder with a test that can be done at a sleep center with sleep specialists or using an at-home test kit.
What causes insomnia?
There are many different factors that can cause insomnia and the most common factors include:
When you are stressed about something, it can be difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Stress can come from a variety of sources including work, school, family, or finances.
Mental health problems
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all mental health disorders that can make it difficult for you to sleep at night.
If you have anxiety, your mind may race at night which can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you continually wake up too early this may also be a sign of depression.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause nightmares which make it difficult to stay asleep.
Changes in work schedule
If you have a job that requires you to work late hours or if your work schedule changes frequently, it can disrupt your sleep.
Jet lag is when your body’s internal clock is out of sync with the time zone you are in which can make it difficult to sleep.
Caffeine and nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
Some medications can cause insomnia as a side effect. These medications include:
- Some antidepressants
- Stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Asthma medications
- Over-the-counter cough, weight loss, or fever-reducing/pain medications may contain caffeine or other stimulants
- Blood pressure medications
If any of your medications are causing you to lose sleep you can always consult with your doctor who may be able to suggest an alternative medication.
There are a variety of medical conditions that can cause insomnia. These include:
- Thyroid problems
- Chronic pain such as arthritis or fibromyalgia which is widespread muscle pain
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Restless legs syndrome
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Parkinson's disease
- Alzheimer's disease
The older you get it may also become increasingly hard to sleep as the elderly tend to shift their sleep schedule where they get tired earlier and wake up earlier.
Also, being older means you are more likely to be less active and also take medication that may interrupt your sleep pattern.
What are the complications of insomnia?
Insomnia can lead to a number of complications including heart disease, high blood pressure, difficulty concentrating while at work or school, an increased risk of accidents or errors due to a lack of concentration, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
You may also become more irritable and fatigued, and also develop memory problems.
What are the risk factors for insomnia?
If you are a woman you are more likely to suffer from insomnia due to hormonal shifts during menopause, menstruation, and pregnancy.
You may also experience insomnia if you are under a lot of stress, have anxiety or depression, frequently travel, work night shifts or have different hours for your shifts, or abuse substances.
As noted above, being older than 60 also puts you at risk for insomnia due to changes in lifestyle and medications.
How is insomnia diagnosed?
If you think you may be suffering from insomnia, it is best to consult with your doctor.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history, sleep patterns, how they have changed over time, and how these changes are affecting your everyday life.
Be sure to keep a sleep diary tracking how much sleep you are getting every night as well as when you go to bed and wake up in order to best help your doctor diagnose your insomnia.
A physical exam will also be conducted to make sure there are no obvious medical problems causing your insomnia and blood tests may be conducted to check for some medical conditions such as thyroid conditions or a lack of iron.
Finally, a sleep study called a polysomnogram may be conducted which monitors how you sleep in order to look for patterns or sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that may be disrupting your sleep causing a diagnosis of insomnia.
These sleep studies are not always necessary and can be conducted with a specialist at a sleep lab although at-home tests are also available now.
What are the treatment options for insomnia?
These changes include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and nicotine before bed, exercising regularly, avoiding large meals before bed, and winding down for 30 minutes before sleep with relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises to slow your heart rate, and reading or taking a bath.
If these changes do not help, your doctor may also recommend sleep medications which are called hypnotics.
Your doctor will likely start you on the lowest dose of these medications and increase the dosage if needed to find an effective dose.
These medications are normally only to be used for a short period of time as they can be addictive and also lose their effectiveness over time.
Over-the-counter medications or alternative supplements such as melatonin may help with sleep difficulties but it is best to consult your doctor first before using them as an effective treatment.
Finally, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is one of the most common treatments for insomnia.
It is a type of therapy that helps you change the way you think about sleep and how to better deal with stressors that may be causing your insomnia.
Besides the relaxation techniques already mentioned, other examples of cognitive behavioral techniques include:
- Stimulus control therapy focuses on the bed as a place for sleep or sex but not for stimuli, such as your phone or TV
- Sleep restriction which restricts the number of hours you can lay in bed not sleeping
- Practicing being passively awake tricks your brain into thinking about your bed as a place to stay awake instead of sleep
- Using light therapy to shift when you feel tired and wake up.
What are the best ways to prevent insomnia?
There are several different habits and tips you can do to help you prevent insomnia.
The best ways to prevent insomnia include:
- Avoiding caffeine and stimulants and only consuming them many hours before bedtime
- Having a regular sleep routine and having a regular bedtime at night and wake up even on weekends
- Avoiding big meals and alcohol before bed
- Doing physical activity or regular exercise
- Quitting smoking
- Turning off or putting away all TVs, phones, tablets, laptops, etc. a half-hour before going to bed
- Avoiding naps or limit naps to when you most need them
- Making your bedroom conducive to sleep (comfortable mattress, comfortable temperature, eye mask, curtains, etc.) and only use your bed for sleep or sex and limiting any other time in bed
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine whether that be a warm bath, reading a book, listening to music, or meditating
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can be caused by several different things that range from medical conditions to stress.
If you are an insomniac you will have difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, or waking up too early which can lead to complications such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating due to being so tired.
The most popular treatment options for insomnia consist of changes in lifestyle and sleep habits, medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy for better sleep quality.
The best ways to prevent insomnia are listed above. If you think you may have insomnia, it is best to talk to your doctor or health care provider for diagnosis and the best treatment options for you.
References, Studies and Sources: