Insomnia – Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and How to Treat It
This post was written by Margaret Ojeniyi and edited by Lani Sodunke.
If you’ve ever experienced the inability to fall asleep even when you are tired, you’ve probably had insomnia. Insomnia is a common medical disorder that prevents people from falling asleep or getting enough quality rest even when tired. Although quality sleep varies from person to person, adults are expected to get between six to eight hours of rest a day. There are three types of insomnia include:
Acute insomnia, also known as adjustment insomnia, usually lasts up to a month. Acute insomnia is usually caused by situational stress, for instance, exam stress or deadline stress. It resolves itself after the stress trigger is no longer there.
This is the most common type of insomnia, and it usually lasts for less than a week. It can occur due to depression, stress, or change in the environment. A simple change in your habits can often help if you have this type of insomnia.
It usually lasts more than a month. Chronic insomnia is often associated with chronic medical conditions.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
Insomnia can have the following signs and symptoms:
- Inability to fall asleep at night
- Waking up too early and staying awake all through the night.
- Lack of quality sleep, making you feel not well-rested.
- Feeling tired and sleepy in the daytime.
- Having mood swings that make you feel irritated, anxious, and depressed.
- Lack of focus and difficulty paying attention.
- Acid reflux
- Worrying about not falling asleep.
- Frequent headache.
Who are those at Risk of having Insomnia?
Anyone can have insomnia. It can affect both men and women of any age but the risk factor increases if you have the following:
- If you have been going through a lot of stress
- If you work late nights
- If you travel long distance with a time difference.
- If you are of African descent, you are at risk of developing sleep and breathing disorders.
- If you are an adult of over 60 years.
- If you are experiencing hormonal change due to premenstrual syndrome or menopause cycle. A hormonal change could cause hot flashes and night sweats, making it difficult to sleep.
- If you are living a sedentary lifestyle.
What causes Insomnia?
1. Poor sleeping habits
Poor sleeping habits like taking long naps especially late in the afternoon can make you have insomnia later at night. Also, having irregular sleep patterns, sleeping in an uncomfortable environment, and eating or watching TV while in bed can affect your sleep cycle.
Stressing over work, health, school, family or remembering traumatic events can keep your mind awake at night, making it impossible to sleep.
3. Overeating at night
Overeating late can cause you great discomfort when you lie down to sleep. You would likely experience heartburn or acid reflux (a backflow of food/ acid from the stomach to the oesophagus). This would keep you awake at night.
4. Long travel and Work schedule
Disrupting the body’s circadian rhythms (a clock that guides your sleep cycle and metabolism) can lead to insomnia. This is what happens when you travel a long distance or work late. You can get jet lag from travelling across different time zones.
Medications can also cause insomnia. Some over-the-counter medicines like painkillers and stimulants can interfere with your normal sleep cycle. The following are examples of drugs that cause insomnia:
- Respiratory medications
- Antihypertensive medication
- Antiepileptic medications
- Hormonal drugs
6. Mental health disorder
Anxiety disorder and depression are examples of mental health disorders linked to insomnia. Anxiety can make you have a racing mind, preventing you from a peaceful night’s rest. Also, depression can keep you awake or wake up earlier than needed.
7. Medical conditions
Some chronic medical conditions could make you have insomnia. For example, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, overactive thyroid, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These conditions can cause chronic pain, making it difficult to sleep at night.
8. Caffeine, Alcohol, or Substance abuse
Taking caffeine before sleep may impact your sleep. It is recommended to take caffeine at least 6 hours before going to bed. Also, recreational enhancing drugs like cocaine and ecstasy late in the evening can keep you from falling asleep at night.
Although alcohol can help you fall asleep, it is not ideal to take it if you want a deep quality sleep. It makes you keep waking up in the middle of the night. Other stimulants can also interfere with your sleep pattern.
9. Other sleep disorders
Other sleep disorders like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can also prevent you from sleeping. In people with sleep apnea, their breathing can stop or be very shallow. On the other hand, restless leg syndrome can make you feel a sudden urge to move your legs. The two conditions can interrupt your night’s sleep, making you tired during the daytime.
Insomnia becomes more frequent in older people. This is because the sleep pattern changes and becomes less restful as you age. You are likely to get woken up by little noise or environmental disturbance. Also, people become less physically active with age. Lack of physical activities can prevent you from having a good night’s rest.
Some medical conditions are common at old age, such as arthritis and these health conditions can disrupt your peaceful sleep.
How can insomnia be prevented?
A simple lifestyle change can prevent you from having insomnia. You can get more quality night sleep by following tips:
- Keep the same sleep schedule that you would keep to and be consistent with.
- Get involved in regular physical activities. This would encourage a good night’s sleep.
- Limit your napping.
- Avoid or limit alcohol intake.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking hard drugs like nicotine stimulates the body, making it hard to fall asleep.
- Avoid working in your bedroom. Ensure your bedroom is comfortable for sleep.
- Take a shower before going to bed. This would relax your body
- Avoid using your phone or any screen device right before going to bed.
- You can use blackout curtains to darken and make the room cozy.
- Do not go to bed hungry. You can have a healthy snack before sleeping.
- Do not overstuff yourself with food or beverages before going to bed.
- Stay away from caffeine, especially at night.
- You can relax by reading a book, listening to soothing music, or meditating.
- If you have any symptoms of mental health disorder, see a therapist.
- Use earplugs to prevent noise from disturbing your sleep.
- Try to get a therapeutic massage. It would reduce anxiety and body pain.
What are treatments for insomnia?
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) strategies for insomnia: CBT manages the negative thoughts that prevent you from sleeping, especially if you’re suffering from depression and anxiety. It is usually the first form of treatment for people who have insomnia.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia changes the negative belief that interferes with your ability to sleep. It helps you adopt good sleep habits and behaviours. The strategies include;
- Sleep restriction: Using this strategy, you would first restrict the amount of time you spend in bed. Then gradually, you would increase it. This would improve sleep quality.
- Stimulus control therapy: This strategy helps you resist factors that interfere with sleep.
- Relaxation Techniques: This involves practicing breathing exercises and muscle relaxation to reduce anxiety.
- Remaining passively awake: It is also known as paradoxical intention. The strategy helps to reduce worries about the inability to sleep.
Medications: There are medications prescribed by doctors that can help with insomnia. The prescribed medications are sleeping pills that can last for a few weeks or longer. These sleeping pills help with insomnia management; however, they should be used with caution. This is because they can become addicted. Example includes:
- zolpiem (edluar, Ambien)
- Eszopiclone ( Lunesta)
- Zaleplon (sonata)
Other treatments and over the counter supplements include:
- Yoga or tai chi
Anyone of different ages can have insomnia. However, people over the age of 60 are more at risk of having it. Insomnia can result from different underlying issues relating to mental disorders and environmental and lifestyle factors.
Adopting a good lifestyle change can improve your sleep quality. You can decide to do some relaxing activities before going to bed. Also, it would help if you avoid frequent napping, especially in the evening. The best thing to do is decide what would best improve your sleep quality.
If you constantly feel tired but not sleepy or experience any of the symptoms of insomnia listed above, you should talk to a doctor immediately. Your doctor can suggest therapy or prescribe medication for you. You can have an online session with a medical practitioner at CribMD.