What is insomnia?
Insomnia is too little or poor-quality sleep caused by one or more of the following:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up several times during the night with trouble returning to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Having un-refreshing sleep (not feeling well rested), even after sleeping 7 to 8 hours at night
It can last a day or two, a month, or even months on end. Because different individuals need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is not defined by the number of hours you sleep or by how quickly you fall asleep, but by the quality of sleep achieved and how you feel after sleeping.
Insomnia can occur in people of all ages. Most individuals just experience a night or two of poor sleep, but sometimes the sleep disturbance can last for weeks, months, or even years. Insomnia is most common among women and older adults.
Insomnia can be:
- Transient (short term) insomnia lasts from a single night to a few weeks.
- Intermittent (on and off) insomnia is short term, which happens from time to time.
- Chronic (on-going) insomnia occurs at least 3 nights a week over a month or more.
Chronic insomnia is either primary or secondary:
- Primary insomnia is not related to any other health problem.
- Secondary insomnia can be caused by a medical condition (such as cancer, asthma, or arthritis), drugs, stress or a mental health problem (such as depression), or a poor sleep environment (such as too much light or noise, or a bed partner who snores).
Insomnia negatively affects your health and well-being, particularly if you have a chronic sleep problem. At first, you may feel that you are coping surprisingly well with your life. But as the effects of insomnia increase, you will probably find that you are less able to manage the stresses of everyday life.
Some effects of untreated insomnia are:
- poor health and diminished quality of life
- impaired social functioning
- increased impatience and irritability
- diminished mental alertness and memory
- slower reaction times and impaired concentration
- increased risk of disorders such as major depression, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse
- increased likelihood of car, home, and workplace accidents
- poor job performance, missed work days, and school absences
Finding the cause of your insomnia is the first step in diagnosis. Whether you are trying to help yourself or planning to visit a doctor, it is helpful to record your sleep habits. Your sleep history will help you and your doctor find the cause of your sleep problems.
Keeping a detailed sleep history or sleep diary can help you identify lifestyle factors related to insomnia. A sleep diary should record all sleep-related information, including:
- time you went to bed and woke up (total sleep hours)
- quality of your sleep times that you were awake during the night and what you did (e.g., stayed in bed with eyes closed, or got up, had a glass of milk, and meditated)
- types and amount of food, liquids, caffeine, or alcohol you consumed before bed and times of consumption
- feelings and moods before bed – happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety
- drugs or medications taken, amounts taken, and times of consumption
- Do not nap during the day. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, try not to nap during the day because you will throw off your body clock and make it even more difficult to sleep at night. If you are feeling especially tired, and feel as if you absolutely must nap, be sure to sleep for less than 30 minutes, early in the day.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Avoid drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages for several hours before bedtime. Although alcohol may initially act as a sedative, it can interrupt normal sleep patterns.
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant and can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs disrupt sleep.
- Expose yourself to bright light/sunlight soon after awakening. This will help to regulate your body’s natural biological clock. Likewise, try to keep your bedroom dark while you are sleeping so that the light will not interfere with your rest.
- Exercise early in the day. Twenty to thirty minutes of exercise every day can help you sleep, but be sure to exercise in the morning or afternoon. Exercise stimulates the body and aerobic activity before bedtime may make falling asleep more difficult.
- Keep a regular schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, even on the weekends. Keeping a regular schedule will help your body expect sleep at the same time each day.
- Incorporate bedtime rituals. Listening to soft music, sipping a cup of herbal tea, etc., cues your body that it’s time to slow down and begin to prepare for sleep.
- Relax for a while before going to bed. Spending quiet time can make falling asleep easier. This may include meditation, relaxation and/or breathing exercises, or taking a warm bath. Try listening to recorded relaxation or guided imagery programs.
- Don’t eat a large, heavy meal before bed. This can cause indigestion and interfere with your normal sleep cycle. Drinking too much fluid before bed can cause you to get up to urinate. Try to eat your dinner at least two hours before bedtime.
- Bedtime snacks can help. An amino acid called tryptophan, found in milk, turkey, and peanuts, helps the brain produce serotonin, a chemical that helps you relax. Try drinking warm milk or eat a slice of toast with peanut butter or a bowl of cereal before bedtime. Plus, the warmth may temporarily increase your body temperature and the subsequent drop may hasten sleep.
- Jot down all of your concerns and worries. So you don’t need to ruminate in the middle of the night. A journal or “to do” list may be very helpful in letting you put away these concerns until the next day when you are fresh.
- Go to sleep when you are sleepy. When you feel tired, go to bed.
- Make sure your bed is large enough and comfortable. If you are disturbed by a restless bed-mate, switch to a queen- or king-size bed. Test different types of mattresses. Try therapeutic shaped foam pillows that cradle your neck or extra pillows that help you sleep on your side. Get comfortable cotton sheets.
- Make your bedroom primarily a place for sleeping. It is not a good idea to use your bed for paying bills, doing work, etc. Help your body recognize that this is a place for rest or intimacy.
- Keep your bedroom peaceful and comfortable. Make sure your room is well ventilated and the temperature consistent. And try to keep it quiet. You could use a fan or a “white noise” machine to help block outside noises.
- Hide your clock. A big, illuminated digital clock may cause you to focus on the time and make you feel stressed and anxious. Place your clock so you can’t see the time when you are in bed.
- Do visualization. Focus all your attention on your toes or visualize walking down an endless stairwell. Thinking about repetitive or mindless things will help your brain to shut down and adjust to sleep.
- Get out of bed if unable to sleep. Don’t lie in bed awake. Go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Worrying about falling asleep actually keeps many people awake.
- · Don’t do anything stimulating. Don’t read anything job related or watch a stimulating TV program (commercials and news shows tend to be alerting). Don’t expose yourself to bright light. The light gives cues to your brain that it is time to wake up.
- · Consider changing your bedtime. If you are experiencing sleeplessness or insomnia consistently, think about going to bed later so that the time you spend in bed is spent sleeping. If you are only getting five hours of sleep at night, figure out what time you need to get up and subtract five hours (for example, if you want to get up at 6:00 am, go to bed at 1:00 am). This may seem counterproductive and, at first, you may be depriving yourself of some sleep, but it can help train your body to sleep consistently while in bed. When you are spending all of your time in bed sleeping, you can gradually sleep more, by adding 15 minutes at a time.
- · Try the free sleep aps on apple apps, but make sure they are the free to use ones!!