Nothing is worse than not being able to sleep. After all, sleep is an essential part of our wellbeing in all facets of our life—it gives us the energy we need to work, spend time with family and friends and attend to our hobbies (and all-around just enjoy life!).
According to the Sleep Foundation, insomnia is “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep” even when you have the chance to do so. People suffering from insomnia often experience more than one of the following symptoms: low energy or fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased productivity or performance at work.
While individuals vary in the amount of sleep they need to feel energized, most adults need seven to eight hours nightly.
Insomnia can vary in duration. Acute insomnia is brief and is often affected by life circumstances. For example, you may struggle to fall asleep the day before an exam, after having a fight or receiving bad news. However, the period generally resolves itself without any formal treatment. For those who suffer from disrupted sleep for at least three nights weekly for at least three months, they may have chronic insomnia.
Symptoms of insomnia may include:
- Sleep disruptions (waking up during the night, waking up too early)
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Irritability, depression or anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing or remembering
- Increased errors or accidents
- Ongoing concerns about sleep
While insomnia may be the main problem, it is often associated with other issues or conditions.
Insomnia is usually the result of stress or life habits that negatively affect sleep. By figuring out the underlying cause and addressing it, you may be able to resolve insomnia.
Common causes for insomnia include:
Stress: Your mind may be overactive at night with concerns about school, health, finances, work or family. This can make going to bed difficult. Stressful or traumatic life events such as the illness or death of a loved one, unemployment, or divorce may also be the root cause of insomnia.
Work and/or Travel: If you are someone who travels a lot of whose work schedule keeps them up for extended hours, this may be disrupting your internal clock. Our circadian rhythm helps our bodies regulate our daily functions: it affects our metabolism, body temperature, and tells our bodies when to wake up and when to prepare for sleep. Disrupting this rhythm can affect your body’s circadian rhythm, leading to insomnia.
Negative Health Habits: Eating too much before bed may be causing you trouble falling asleep. While a light snack before bed is okay, too much food can make it physically uncomfortable to lie down. What’s more, as your body begins to digest the food, you may experience heartburn, keeping you awake.
Medical conditions or the use of certain drugs may linked to insomnia:
Medications: Some prescription drugs have side effects that include disrupted sleep. This includes certain antidepressants and medications for asthma or blood pressure. Some over-the-counter medications for pain, allergies or colds contain stimulants such as caffeine that can negatively affect sleep.
Medical conditions: Some medical conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are linked with insomnia.
Mental health disorders: Insomnia often occurs alongside mental health disorders such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the symptoms of insomnia are linked to mental health disorders. For example, awakening too early can be a sign of depression.
Sleep disorders: Restless leg syndrome causes unpleasant sensations in the legs and an almost-irresistible desire to move them. Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing for moments throughout the night, interrupting consistent sleep.
As we age, insomnia becomes more common.
This is sometimes a result of:
Changes in health: With age, chronic pain can increase due to conditions such as arthritis or back problems. Conditions that increase the need to urinate throughout the night can easily disrupt sleep as well.
Changes in activity: As you get older you may find yourself being less physically or socially active. Interestingly, the less active you are, the more likely you may be to take a daily nap which can interfere with a full night’s sleep.
New sleep patterns: Age may make you more sensitive to noise or other changes in your sleep environment. Your internal clock may shift as well: while you still need the same amount of sleep as younger people, you get tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier.
Of course, insomnia can be a cause for concern among children and teenagers as well. However, some of this may be due to their circadian rhythm: their bodies may be telling them to go to bed later and sleep in.
Your risk for insomnia increases if:
You are a woman: Hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy, the menstrual cycle and menopause can affect sleep. Night sweats and hot flashes, common symptoms of menopause, can also make getting rest difficult.
You are over 60 years of age
You experience a lot of stress
Your schedule is irregular
You have a mental health or physical health disorder
Remember that if insomnia affects your ability to function during the day, see your doctor to identify the cause and how it can be treated.
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