What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is characterized by too little or poor-quality sleep. This could include:
- Having trouble falling asleep
- Waking up during the night and struggling to fall back asleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Waking up feeling tired and not well-rested, despite a full night’s sleep
Insomnia is something that troubles many people and has a number of different causes, the most common being stress, anxiety, or too much caffeine. What ever the cause, getting too little sleep can have a serious affect on your daily life.
It can lead to excessive sleepiness, fatigue, trouble concentrating or difficulty staying focused, feelings of depression, or irritability. It also increases the risks of having an accident or making a serious mistake. Because of this, it is important to ensure that you are getting enough sleep each night.
While most people need approximately 7-8 hours of sleep per night, this average differs between individuals. Some may only need 5 hours sleep, while others need at least 9 in order to feel well-rested and rejuvenated the following day.
Who Suffers From Insomnia?
Insomnia can affect anyone from children to the elderly, although prevalence tends to increase with age. People who are over 60 years old and women going through menopause are more prone to insomnia, probably due to decreased levels of melatonin in the brain.
What is Healthy Sleep?
In order to understand the causes of insomnia, we need to have a look at how the sleep cycle works.
The amino acid L-tryptophan (found naturally in certain foods) is converted into 5-HTP and is used in the manufacture of a neuro-transmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is transformed into a sleep hormone called melatonin by the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland only becomes active after dark. By regulating levels of melatonin, our bodies create the 'sleep-wake cycle' or circadian rhythm.
Of course, the process is more complex than this, and there are other things could contribute to sleep problems. However, sufficient production of serotonin and melatonin is crucial in promoting and maintaining healthy sleep.
If you have had on-going difficulties sleeping, it is advisable to seek a professional evaluation. Keep a sleep diary for a week or two and record waking and sleeping hours, quality of sleep, as well as the consequences of this lack of sleep (such as fatigue during the day or difficulty concentrating). This will provide your doctor with a clearer picture of your symptoms and assist in an accurate diagnosis.
After discussing your sleep journal, your doctor will take your medical history, sleep history, and perform a physical exam. You will probably be asked questions regarding your usual sleep habits, any medications you may be taking, and your daily caffeine intake. Other questions may include whether or not you snore at night, if you are in any physical pain, or if there are problems that may be upsetting or concerning you.
Once your health care practitioner has made a thorough assessment, he or she will be able to decipher if the insomnia has a particular physical underlying cause that can be treated appropriately. Remember to ask your doctor about all treatment options so that you can make an informed decision. Many medical doctors are quick to prescribe sleeping tablets despite their known side effects and highly-addictive qualities. In some cases, you may be referred to a psychologist or sleep center for further evaluation.
What Causes Insomnia?
There are many potential causes of insomnia, although it is usually a sign that something in our life is not right or something is out of balance. It is thought that more than 50% of all cases of insomnia are linked to psychological causes, including depression, anxiety, and stress.
Other Causes of Insomnia
Other causes include:
Help for Insomnia
In many cases insomnia goes away by itself, especially if it is related to jet lag or a stressful life event that is soon resolved. However, if insomnia is a consistent problem or begins to make you feel overly tired and unproductive during the day, it is advisable to seek some form of treatment.
Most treatment options aim at addressing the underlying cause of the insomnia or help by providing temporary symptom relief. Treatment options may include drug treatments, psychotherapy, visualization and relaxation techniques, as well as some herbal and homeopathic remedies.
Many doctors are realizing that prescribing sleeping tablets should be a last resort due to their highly-addictive qualities and negative side effects. What many people are not aware of is that while sleeping pills can help in some cases, they are not a cure for insomnia. Sleeping tablets only offer temporary relief and are should generally only be prescribed for a few days to allow the body to rest (e.g. after a very traumatic event).
Regular use often leads to rebound insomnia (where insomnia develops as a withdrawal from the sleeping pills) and addiction. Sleeping pills also come with other health and safety concerns, and may be unsafe to use if you have certain other medical problems. They may lead to drowsiness the following day and increase the chance of accidents and clumsiness after use. Be sure to explore all options and thoroughly research possible side-effects before agreeing to drug therapy.
In many cases, insomnia is related to a psychological state such as excessive stress, depression, anxiety, or burnout.
Some form of psychotherapy is often recommended if a medical cause is not discovered, and is usually most beneficial. Therapy can also help you recondition your sleeping habits and regain a healthy sleep-wake pattern that best suits you.
Visualization and Relaxation Techniques
Visualization can be a particularly helpful technique when you are struggling to fall asleep. Picturing a tranquil place in your mind can help quiet the mind and body. Other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation have also been used with great success.
Both herbal and homeopathic remedies are commonly used alternatives to sleeping tablets in reducing insomnia, and can be very effective in helping to assist an individual in the transition to peaceful slumber without strong sedatives or any concerning side effects.
Certain herbs such as Hypericum perforatum, Scuttelaria laterifolia, Passiflora incarnata can be used to maintain healthy sleep patterns and promote optimal balance of sleep-related hormones involved in the sleep cycle.
Homeopathic remedies such as Coffea C30 and Nux Vom. C30 are also used to reduce insomnia and maintain restful, satisfying, and healthy sleep. Other natural supplements that are widely used to address the underlying causes of chronic insomnia are calcium lactate, magnesium lactate and vitamin B6.