Insomnia – What is This Sleep Phenomenon, What Causes it, and How to Help?

We all have a bad night’s sleep once in a while. Tossing and turning, we can’t get to sleep no matter how many sheep we count. And even after sleep comes, it doesn’t stay long, with frequent awakenings throughout the night. While one or two nights of bad sleep can lead to some groggy days, frequent sleep loss can lead to a serious problem: insomnia.

If you’ve ever suffered from the debilitating effects of insomnia, you’re not alone. About 30 percent of American adults experience symptoms of this sleep disorder. In addition, about 10 percent of them feel some sort of daytime consequences, and the same amount suffer from chronic insomnia.

Those suffering from insomnia likely have plenty of questions, like “what is insomnia,” “what causes it,” or what can I do to help it?” In this post, we’ll jump headfirst into those questions in a deep dive on insomnia.

What is Insomnia?

In simplest terms, insomnia is a condition associated with lack of proper sleep. According to the CDC, the average adult needs 7 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period. Getting less than the minimum amount of required sleep is one way to define insomnia.

Often, doctors will consider a condition insomnia if a patient has trouble falling or staying asleep. This is also the way researchers define insomnia during sleep studies.

Some researchers go even further. They’ve developed four different criteria that a condition must satisfy before defining it as insomnia:

  1. Does the patient have difficulty falling asleep?
  2. Does this difficulty exist even though a patient has the time and opportunity for a proper sleep schedule?
  3. Does the patient’s daytime wakefulness suffer from their sleep disruptions?
  4. Does the condition occur at least 3 times per week for at least the last month?

This is a much more stringent definition of insomnia than the generally understood definition. However, it does help put the condition in perspective: not only must a patient have trouble sleeping, but the effects must be chronic.

Insomnia Symptoms

Now we’ve determined a definition for insomnia. But what kind of symptoms does an insomnia patient actually feel?

Doctors generally diagnose a patient with insomnia if they exhibit at least one of several symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Feeling tired after a night’s sleep
  • Lack of focus during daytime activities
  • Accidents due to lack of sleep
  • Depression, anxiety, and short temper

These symptoms can have serious consequences. One extreme example is drowsy driving, which has killed more than 1,500 people and injured 40,000 in the US alone. One more common side effect of insomnia is decreased productivity at work. In fact, some studies show that insomnia may double a worker’s productivity loss. On top of that, sleep loss can cause employees to become hostile towards coworkers thanks to their increased irritability levels.

What Causes Insomnia?

While insomnia can strike suddenly by itself, it’s often exacerbated by certain behaviors. In other words, doing certain things can trigger insomnia.

One of the most common reasons for a bout of insomnia is stress. Maybe you have a big test coming up, or a meeting with an important client. Either way, worrying about the event can keep you up at night. This triggers the main symptom of insomnia: difficulty falling asleep.

Certain health problems share a link with insomnia. Mental health conditions like PTSD, depression and other anxiety disorders can cause patients to stay up at night or wake up too early in the morning. Physical health issues, like asthma, heart disease, sleep apnea, diabetes, cancer, and more can also include insomnia in their arrays of symptoms.

One oft-overlooked insomnia trigger is more common than many may suspect. Everyday stimulants like coffee, energy drinks, and sodas all share a common ingredient: caffeine. Millions of people worldwide use caffeine for its uplifting zing, but there’s a trade-off. Caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, which is by definition insomnia. Likewise, alcohol and nicotine can also contribute to insomnia.

Finally, there are a variety of miscellaneous reasons responsible for your poor sleep schedule. For example, you may have an irregular circadian rhythm, going to bed at a different time every evening. You may also be taking too many naps during the daytime. Likewise, watching TV or using a smartphone too late in the evening has been shown to exacerbate insomnia. Eating too late at night can also trigger insomnia, lending credence to the adage that too much ice cream before bed is a bad idea.

How Can I Help my Insomnia?

Those seeking relief from insomnia have several options available. First, many patients resort to various pharmaceuticals to treat their sleep disorders. Still others may resort to melatonin supplements or antihistamines. In addition, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an option. Insomnia patients may also change their behaviors to eliminate triggers like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

One strategy that may be effective for those suffering from insomnia is a sleep journal. Use this document to keep track of your sleep habits. Record data like when you go to sleep, when you wake up, and if you woke up in the middle of the night.

While you do, keep track of other variables that may be affecting your sleep, like screen time and what activities you performed before bed. This can help you identify what may be causing the changes in your sleep patterns and allow you to change your behavior to eliminate the root causes of your insomnia.

Insomnia can seem like an uphill battle without any end in sight. But there are options for those who suffer from this all-too-common sleep disorder. With the right strategy and a helping hand from the Sleep Spot, you can take charge of your future where it all begins: with a better night’s sleep.

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