Insomnia – An Overview
Insomnia is a type of chronic sleep disorder that makes it difficult to either, fall asleep or stay asleep for sufficient period of time, or both. With this disorder the person will awake feeling tired and subdued despite falling asleep. This affects the person’s quality of life during the day and hinders their functioning.
Insomnia not only makes you feel constantly tired it can also alter your moods and behavior as well as affect all aspects of your everyday life such as work, family and social life.
It is common for a person to suffer from insomnia once in their lives but a chronic insomnia is a cause of concern. It may be the primary issue, or it could be a complication as a result of certain medications or disorders.
Symptoms of Insomnia
These are the commonly seen symptoms of insomnia:
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Lying awake at night
- Awaking much early
- Feeling tired even after a night’s rest
- Tiredness/sleepiness in the day
- Mood changes (irritability, anxiety or depression)
- Attention deficiency (inability to concentrate for long)
- Increasing clumsiness
- Problems in stomach and intestines
Causes of Insomnia
These are some known causes of insomnia:
Stress – There could be concerns about work, health, family, etc that can keep your mind unusually occupied at night resulting in difficulty to fall asleep. Specially stressful events also leads to insomnia.
Anxiety – Everyday troubles, as well as abnormal level of stress, such as caused due to post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) may also hinder the sleep cycle. Worrying about not being able to sleep is the biggest cause of anxiety in an insomniac.
Depression – Depression changes the sleeping cycle drastically by, either increasing it excessively, or reducing the period of time you sleep to very less amount. Other mental disorders may also result in insomnia.
Medical Disorders – If the person is suffering from chronic (long-term) pain, has breathing difficulties and needs to urinate frequently might also develop insomnia. Arthritis, cancer, lung disorders, heart failure, GERD, stroke etc can also induce insomnia.
Environmental Changes/Work Schedule Alteration – Excessive travelling, or working in an abnormal shift can also disrupt the body’s sleep cycle and makes it difficult to get sufficient sleep, or fall asleep even.
Other Causes – Irregular sleeping time, highly-stimulating activities before trying to sleep, certain prescription drugs (anti-depressants, blood pressure and heart medications, etc), caffeine, alcohol or nicotine before bed, excessive eating in the evening as well as aging have been identified as the other major factors that cause insomnia in a person.
Risk Factors contributing towards Insomnia
There are certain risk factors that have been identified as contributing towards the development of insomnia in a person:
- Being a woman – Women are more prone to insomnia than men. The hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle as well as in menopause can also play a major role.
- Advanced Age – You are more likely to acquire insomnia as with advancing age (above 60 years) the sleep patterns and health face certain changes.
- Mental Disorder – Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the mental health conditions that contribute towards insomnia.
- Stress – Certain mild stressful events, related to work, etc, can lead to temporary insomnia. In case the stressful event is prolonged and causes chronic stress than the person is likely to suffer from insomnia.
- Travelling – Excessive travelling may cause jet lag and result in insomnia.
Complications arising out of Insomnia
Sleep is an important activity for the body and sufficient and restful sleep is vital for normal functioning during the hours awake. Insomnia can result in affecting the physical and mental health of the person suffering from it. People afflicted with insomnia tend to have a lower quality of life as compared to others.
These are several complications that may arise due to insomnia:
- Performance affected at work/school
- Slowed reaction time
- Psychiatric problems
- Substance abuse
Insomnia diagnosis initially involves answering a questionnaire prepared by the doctor. Apart from this the doctor might also perform a complete physical examination to search for other underlying conditions that might be contributing towards insomnia (such as thyroid problems). A blood test may also be done to check for underlying causative medical conditions.
The main aim of the insomnia treatment is to identify the underlying causes of the condition (medical disorders, medications, etc) and correct them to allow the patient to get sufficient sleep. Medications are also prescribed at times to help relax and induce sleep as well.
These are the common insomnia treatment methods:
Behavior Therapies – These treatments are to help the patient learn new sleep behavior as well as different ways to get sound sleep and resume alertness during the day. This is the initial treatment method for insomnia and is more effective than sleep medications.
Behavior therapies may include:
- Sleep Habit Changes – Good sleeping habits are vital to get a sound sleep. These include having regular sleep schedule, avoiding over-stimulating activities before sleeping as well as having a comfortable sleeping environment.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This therapy aims to teach the patient to control (or remove) the negative thoughts and stress that keeps them from falling asleep in the first place.
- Relaxation Techniques – Advanced muscle relaxation, breathing exercises and bio-feedback are helpful in reducing the feeling of anxiety before sleeping.
- Stimulus Control – This requires limiting the time spent awake in bed.
- Sleep Restrictions – This therapy requires decreasing the time spent in bed, which results in partial sleep deprivation and makes the patient more the tired the next night.
Prescription Medicines – The doctor will prescribe certain medicines that may help induce sleep; however these are only temporary treatment method and is done not for more than a few weeks at the most.
Sleeping Aids – There are several non-prescription medication that contain anti-histamines which make you drowsy. However, due to the large number of possible side-effects these are generally not recommended by doctors.
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