What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep (insomnia) or stay asleep, or it can cause you to wake up too early and not be able to go back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up.
Insomnia not only drains your energy and mood, it can also affect your health, job performance, and quality of life.
The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, but most adults need 7-8 hours a night.
At some point, many adults experience short-term (acute) insomnia, lasting a few days or weeks. It is usually due to stress or a traumatic event. But some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts a month or more.
Insomnia may be the main problem, or it may be related to other medical conditions or medications.
This sleep disorder affects a third of the population (30%), more common in the elderly, women and people with mental illness. Most cases of insomnia have an acute onset, coincide with stressful situations and tend to become chronic in 60% of cases.
When a person does not sleep well for a period of time, physical and mental changes occur that can lead to illness.
This is why sleep is essential for the good physical and mental state of the individual. There is a two-way relationship between sleep and health.
What are the symptoms of having insomnia?
Insomnia affects a person’s alertness by causing decreased concentration, lack of physical energy, and emotional and behavioral disturbances (malaise), of which you may experience a number of different symptoms.
- You can stay awake for a long time before falling asleep. This is more common in young adults.
- I can probably only sleep for a short time. You may wake up frequently during the night or stay up most of the night.
- This is the most common symptom and mainly affects older people.
- It is also common to wake up too early in the morning and not be able to go back to sleep.
- Poor quality sleep can keep you awake and sleepy during the day. You may also find it difficult to concentrate on everyday tasks. Insomnia can make you anxious, depressed, or irritable.
What are the causes of insomnia?
The causes of insomnia are many. Some are frequent and others are rare, some are due to environmental influences and others are due to individual disorders, some are of psychiatric or psychological origin and others are of organic origin, some are transient; These are related to stressful events or changes in the person’s routine.
Instead, chronic insomnia is associated with many factors, including:
Stress. Anxiety can make your mind more active at night, making it harder to sleep. Stressful or traumatic events can also cause insomnia.
Travel and Time Change. Flight delays caused by long commutes, night shifts, or frequent shifts disrupt circadian rhythms (changes the body goes through in a 2-hour cycle), which can cause insomnia.
Poor Sleep Hygiene. Irregular bedtimes, naps, as well as stimulating activities and screen use (computers, televisions, cell phones, etc.) before bed can disrupt sleep.
A good Meal before Bed. Too much food can cause discomfort at bedtime, difficulty falling asleep.
Diseases and Disorders. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression are examples of diseases or disorders associated with insomnia.
Certain Medications. There are medications that can make it difficult to sleep, such as some antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and those that contain caffeine in their ingredients (for example, some flu preparations).
Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol. The caffeine in coffee, tea or mate and the nicotine in cigarettes are stimulants that can affect sleep. On the other hand, while alcohol can make you drowsy and help you fall asleep, it also prevents you from reaching the deepest stages of sleep, often causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.
Advanced Age. With aging, there are changes in sleep patterns, changes in activity levels, deterioration of health and use of medications, which favor the appearance of insomnia.
What are the consequences of suffering from insomnia?
Sleep is just as important to your health as a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Whatever the reason for your inability to sleep, insomnia can affect your mental and physical well-being. People with insomnia reported a worse quality of life than those who slept well.
Complications of insomnia can include:
- Poor performance at work or school.
- Difficulty concentrating and constant tiredness
- Reduced reaction time when driving and increased risk of accidents.
- Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, existential disorder or substance abuse.
- Increased risk and severity of long-term illnesses or conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
What treatments exist?
Currently, treatment for insomnia is based on making lifestyle changes and addressing any issues that may be related to insomnia, such as stress, health problems, or reversible medications.
If these measures don’t work, your doctor may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or both to help improve relaxation and sleep.
The first solution is to find the cause and, if possible, eliminate it.
The second is the assistance of a specialist to carry out a therapy; Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help control anxiety related to insomnia, as well as negative thoughts that make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Stimulus Control Therapy. This method eliminates the factors that condition your mind against sleep. For example, you can learn to set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, avoid naps, use the bed only for sleep and sex, leave the room if you can’t sleep for 20 minutes, and roll over to go back to bed When you are tired.
- Relaxation Techniques. Muscle relaxation exercises, biofeedback, and continuous breathing are ways to reduce anxiety before bed. Practicing these techniques can help you control your breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, and mood so you can relax.
- Sleep Restriction. This therapy reduces the time you spend in bed and avoids naps during the day, which leads to partial insomnia and tiredness the following night. As you get better sleep, gradually increase your time in bed.
- Passive Awakening. The goal of this learned insomnia therapy, also known as paradoxical intent, is to reduce sleep-related anxiety and nervousness by lying down and trying to stay awake rather than hoping to sleep.
- Phototherapy. If you go to bed too early and wake up too early, you can use light to slow down your internal clock. You can go outside at times of the year when it’s dark or use spotlights. Talk to your doctor about their recommendations.
Finally, it is about using prescription or alternative medicines, which can be sold without a prescription, as well as home remedies:
- Prescription drugs. Prescription sleeping pills can help you fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. Doctors generally don’t recommend relying on prescription sleeping pills for more than a few weeks; however, there are a number of medications that are approved for long-term use. Medications such as Eszopiclone, Ramelteon, Zaleplon, Zolpidem, among others.
- Alternative medicine. Many people never see a doctor because of insomnia and try to manage sleep deprivation on their own.
- Melatonin. This over-the-counter supplement is marketed as a way to help with insomnia. Melatonin is generally considered safe to use for a few weeks.
- Valerian. This supplement is sold as a sleeping pill because it has a mild sedative effect. Before you try it, talk to your doctor about valerian.
- Acupuncture. There is some evidence that acupuncture may be beneficial for people with insomnia. If you choose to try acupuncture along with your regular treatment, ask your doctor how to find a qualified practitioner.
- Yoga or tai chi. Some studies suggest that regular yoga or tai chi practice can help improve sleep quality.
- Meditation. Several small studies show that meditation, along with conventional treatments, can help improve sleep and reduce stress.
NOTE: If insomnia prevents you from functioning during the day, see your doctor to determine the cause of your sleep problems and how to treat them. If your doctor thinks you may have a sleep disorder, you may be referred to a sleep center for testing.