Information on Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep problem for many adults and children, characterized by an inability or difficulty in falling asleep (onset), staying asleep (maintenance), and/or waking up too early in the morning. Insomnia is a condition that affects the lives of millions, with roughly 30% of the general population complaining of sleep disruptions and approximately 10% of associated symptoms of daytime functional impairment.1

There are a variety of causes for insomnia. Some of the causes include, but are not limited to, psychiatric, medical conditions or other clinical disorders, changes in the environment, shift work, unhealthy lifestyle or sleep habits, specific substances (or abuse of them such as alcohol, caffeine and drugs), eating patterns, and/or certain biological/neurological factors. When your sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, insomnia can become a problem.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a general term referring to the inability to sleep or remain asleep throughout the night, without external impediments when sleep should normally occur. It is usually accompanied by associated symptoms during the next day such as: difficulty concentrating, low levels of productivity, fatigue, irritability or mood swings, to name just a few.

Insomnia can be classified based on duration (short- or long-term), severity, and frequency of the problem. There are two general types of insomnia: (1) Acute Insomnia; and (2) Chronic Insomnia. Acute or Transient Insomnia tends to be brief and often happens because of life circumstances (for example, when you can't fall asleep the night before an exam, after having an argument or after receiving stressful or bad news). Chronic Insomnia is disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months.2

Even though, insomnia is more common in women and older adults, both men and women of all ages are susceptible. Insomnia may be a symptom of an underlying sleep disorder that must be addressed. If you consistently have trouble sleeping, it is probably a good idea for you to review your health history with your doctor and discuss whether there are medical issues or psychiatric disorder that could be contributing to your sleep problems.


Insomnia Symptoms

Most adults have had some trouble sleeping at one point or another. However, if such sleep disruptions become a regular occurrence or last longer than three months, steps to remedy this situation must be taken. Symptoms vary from person to person based on individual lifestyle choices and habits. The most commonly experienced symptoms are difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep (waking up during the night and having trouble returning to sleep), waking up too early in the morning, enduring unrefreshing sleep (non-restorative sleep), fatigue or low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood swings (irritability), behavior problems (such as feeling impulsive or aggressive), and difficulty in sustaining personal relationships.3

There are many steps that can be taken to combat insomnia and restore healthy sleeping patterns/cycle. Usually insomnia has different causes and there may be more than one reason insomnia is plaguing you and robbing you from a good and restful night sleep.

Being aware of the degree your insomnia is affecting the quality of your daily life and productivity is an important key to finding a solution for it. The kind of insomnia you suffer from will then determine the effectiveness of various available treatments. There are many strategies that can be used to help relieve insomnia, including cognitive and mind-body techniques that help people with insomnia settle into sleep, and overall healthy sleep practices that can improve restfulness.


What are the Causes and Characteristics of Insomnia?

Insomnia is characterized by an inability or difficulty in falling asleep (onset), staying asleep (maintenance), and/or waking up too early in the morning. There are many causes of insomnia. Insomnia can be caused by a medical disorder or psychiatric conditions such as depression. Anxiety may be associated with onset insomnia (trouble falling asleep), or maintenance insomnia (waking up during the night and not being able to return to sleep). Unhealthy lifestyles choices and habits can also impact on the quality of sleep such as the consumption of certain substances (alcohol, caffeine, drugs and/or nicotine) and their abuse, eating patterns (late night snacking or ingesting large quantities). Insomnia may also be caused by neurotransmitters in the brain that are known to be involved with sleep and wakefulness. In addition, there are many possible chemical interactions in the brain that could interfere with sleep.

Here is a list of the most common ways that insomnia can be a cause for concern:

  • 1. If it lasts longer than three months or has become a regular occurrence.
  • 2. If it is connected to anxiety, depression, a major life circumstance, alcohol or substance abuse.
  • 3. If it is tied to unhealthy eating/consumption patterns
  • 4. If there is an underlying psychological disorder or medical condition

How to Prevent Insomnia?

Because of the varying degrees of duration and patterns, there is no single, foolproof way to prevent insomnia. If it is a serious and frequent occurrence, your doctor may be able to identify a medical condition or disorder. General prevention of insomnia centers around promotion of a healthy lifestyle/habits, getting plenty of rest, recreation and exercise in combination with stress and anxiety management, regular physical examinations, and consuming a balanced diet.

The most effective way to prevent insomnia is to keep regular bedtime hours and a routine. There are many ways to improve your sleep that involve psychological and behavioral steps ranging from drastic cognitive behavioral treatments to alternative relaxation techniques and adopting better general sleep hygiene/habits. Other simple measures that can be taken to improve sleep include curbing late night eating/snacking, avoiding bright lighting while winding down and trying to limit possible distractions, such as a TV, computer, or pets.

In the event that you do suffer from insomnia, there are many treatments available, both over the counter and by prescription. Some pharmaceutical treatments are known to cause serious and uncomfortable side effects, so it is always good to look for a risk-free all-natural non-habit forming alternative. It is important to use non-medical and less-invasive approaches, such as proper sleep hygiene, and relaxation techniques. For some, a combination of medical and behavioral/cognitive treatments may be the best way to manage insomnia symptoms, and for others an insomnia treatment supplement is the right course of treatment.

Taking a sleep aid is not a quick fix for insomnia or any other sleep condition. Insomnia is not a condition that can, or should, be dealt with in a few treatments and then be forgotten. Attempts to do so will often result in an unsatisfying experience or recurring sleep disruptions and fatigue. For real and effective insomnia relief, be sure to choose the best treatment you can find and stick with it until your insomnia is no longer ruling your nights.


References:

1 - National Institute of Health, Cleveland Clinic Children's

2 - National Sleep Foundation

3 - National Sleep Foundation