Sleep is becoming increasingly recognized as an important vital sign of good health. Insomnia is the sensation of daytime fatigue and impaired performance caused by insufficient sleep. With increasing instances of insomnia, it is noticed that nearly 10-20% adults experience chronic insomnia.
A majority of them are women, older adults, primary care patients and those with medical or psychiatric conditions. Find out possible causes for insomnia and how it can be treated. There are various insomnia medications and herbal remedies that provide relief.
We have yet to understand the exact nature of sleep and its effect on our well being. Each person has a different need for sleep. All of us go through an occasional night of disturbed sleep. But if you experience sleep problems night after night, you might be suffering from insomnia.
Many an adult faces the problem of insomnia and this condition tends to worsen with age. Insomnia is not about the number of hours a person gets to sleep or how long it takes him. It can last for a brief duration of a few days or even much longer. Insomnia leaves a person dull and irritable and anxious. In extreme cases of sleep deprivation, hallucinations are also possible. Insomnia is categorized on how long its lasts:
- Transient insomnia can last from a single night to a few days. If there are episodes of transient insomnia occurring on and off, it is called intermittent insomnia.
- Short term insomnia lasts for about 3 weeks or so
- A person suffering from chronic insomnia has difficulty falling asleep for a month or longer thereby affecting his normal daily functioning. When insomnia is the sole complaint of the patient, it is a case of primary chronic insomnia. Secondary chronic insomnia occurs when it is induced by medical or psychiatric conditions.
Other categories of insomnia are listed below:
Sleep Onset Insomnia: This sleep disorder involves a delayed sleep-phase syndrome, wherein the onset of sleep is delayed in relation to the desired timings. It results in sleep onset insomnia as well as difficulty in awakening at desired time.
Childhood Insomnia: This sleep disorder arises more out of inadequate enforcement of bedtime.
Environmental Insomnia: Disturbing environmental factors can cause sleep disturbance that leads to insomnia.
Cause of insomnia
The causes for insomnia are many - physical, psychological and lifestyle related. If you sleep in an uncomfortable bed or bedroom, it can be an important cause of insomnia. Physical ailments such as asthma, sleep apnea or indigestion or prostrate problems can disturb your sleep quality and quota on account of frequent waking bouts. If you are emotionally stressed or worried or sad, you may suffer from a bout of insomnia.
Those suffering from depression or anxiety and are under medication may find sleep eluding them often. Lifestyle plays no small role in causing insomnia. Late night partying, too much coffee or alcohol or stimulant drugs will adversely affect your sleep habits.
People with insomnia tend to wake up too early or feel fatigued and restless on waking up. Another symptom of insomnia is the ability to sleep despite feeling tired. Characteristic symptoms of insomnia range from morning headaches and difficulty in concentration to irritability and daytime sleepiness.
When you wake up feeling tired, your sleep has been inadequate and of poor quality. It feels as if you haven't slept at all. Insomnia can result in accidents especially if you are driving or operating machinery. An insomniac usually has difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep.
Working on your insomnia requires a multi-pronged approach. Lifestyle changes may bring about relief in cases of transient and short-term insomnia. Reduce your intake of coffee, tea and colas especially in the latter part of the day. Smokers are likely to experience nighttime breathing problems that can lead to insomnia. Try and follow a regular schedule to cure your insomnia.
Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Rich and heavy meals partaken close to bedtime can also be a cause for insomnia. Avoid catnaps during the day.
Do not let your insomnia work on your mind, as it will become a vicious cycle. Relax after a warm bath and maybe a warm milk drink. Listen to soothing music and you may be able to cure temporary phases of insomnia. Ensure that your sleeping area is dark and quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Reading for some time helps some people fall asleep.
Once a problem of insomnia is diagnosed, you may need an assessment by a physician. Your medical history is perused for underlying medial or psychiatric causes. Often, insomnia is a symptom. There are formal tests such as overnight polysomnography and multiple sleep latency testing.
Insomnia can occur as a side effect of some medications such as decongestants, anti-hypertensive drugs such as methyldopa and propranolol and anti epileptics. Thyroid medications and antidepressants can also cause some form of insomnia.
Insomnia treatment can take the form of light therapy and behavior modification.
Ensure that your body's circadian rhythm or biological clock is allowed to function normally. Shift workers and night workers may face sleep problems. Parents with little children may need to sleep during the day to compensate for lost sleep. Treating underlying medical conditions may alleviate symptoms of insomnia. FDA has approved a new drug that is chemically related to the natural hormone melatonin. This drug is not advised for those with liver problems.
There are some insomnia medications that are available over the counter. Sedative antihistamines can be effective against insomnia but leave the person with a hangover effect in the morning. Medication for insomnia usually begins with benzodiazepine hypnotics. But they are usually not recommended for chronic cases since it may lead to habituation and dependency along with rebound insomnia and daytime drowsiness.
Newer-generation non-benzodiazepine hypnotics such as zolpidem offer multiple advantages over traditional sedative-hypnotics. Newer-generation sleeping pills such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta work well for short-term insomnia.
Some herbal medications are also popularly used in the cure and treatment of insomnia. Valerian is said to be effective against insomnia.
Melatonin is another natural remedy for insomnia, though it is still unregulated by FDA. Melatonin may show results in the case of insomnia in elderly persons and frequent travelers and those suffering from jet lag. Eating spirulina seaweed, soy nuts, chicken, cottage cheese, turkey and oats and bananas and rice will step up your body's melatonin production.
Chamomile tea is also known to have sedative properties. But it may react adversely with those suffering from allergies to plants or pollen. Besides it might affect the central nervous system for those on medications for neurological or psychiatric problems.