Do you find yourself having difficulties to fall asleep despite being tired? Do you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep? Do you just lie there anxiously watching the clock, hoping you’ll fall asleep?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, rest assured that you are not alone!
The inability to fall or stay asleep is called insomnia. It keeps you from getting a good night’s rest – the kind of sleep that your body needs to face the next day. Insomnia can affect your temperament, energy levels, and ability to work. And if you have insomnia regularly (chronic insomnia), it can lead to major health problems!
Everybody needs a different amount of sleep to function properly. With that in mind, how does one define whether he has insomnia? It depends on two things:
- the quality of sleep
- how you feel when you wake up.
Even ff you sleep eight hours a night but still feel fatigued the next day, you may have insomnia.
Though insomnia is the most reported sleep complaint, it’s important to look at it as a symptom of another problem, not just a single sleep disorder. What causes insomnia can vary from one person to the next. The reason could be simple such as drinking large amounts of coffee in the day or something more complex such as another health problem or being overly stressed.
In the majority of cases insomnia is curable by making some changes to your sleep routine and daily habits without medications, over-the-counter drugs, and expensive doctors. If you can figure out what causes you insomnia and make some simple lifestyle changes, you could get a good night’s sleep before you know it.
Table of Contents
The symptoms of insomnia
You might have insomnia if you:
- are unable to fall asleep despite being tired
- wake up often throughout the night
- are unable to fall asleep shortly after waking up
- don’t feel refreshed after sleeping
- need to use sleeping pills or alcohol to go to sleep
- wake up too early in the morning
- experience daytime fatigue or irritability
- are unable to concentrate during the day.
The causes of insomnia
To rid yourself of insomnia you need to start looking into what’s causing it. There could be emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, or stress – the reasons for about half of all cases of insomnia.
However, your habits during the day may also affect how you sleep at night. Physical health and your sleep routine may also be culprits. It’s important to identify all possible causes of insomnia. And once you do that, you can develop a treatment that will allow you to feel rested.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have a lot of stress to contend with?
- What’s your emotional state like? Are you depressed, feeling hopeless, or feeling emotionally flat?
- Do you constantly worry or have anxiety?
- Did you recently experience a traumatic event?
- Do you take medications that could cause you sleep problems?
- Do you suffer from any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?
- How comfortable is your sleeping environment?
- Do you regularly fall asleep and wake up at the same time?
Insomnia tends to resolve itself after several days, especially if the cause is stress, jet lag, or a breakup. Still, insomnia could be obstinate and if you regularly suffer from it, you may have chronic insomnia. This is typically tied to an underlying physical or mental issue.
If you have stress, anxiety, depression, bipolarity, grief, or something else mentally wrong, it can cause chronic insomnia. And being unable to go to sleep can exacerbate these problems. The key to treating insomnia in this case is to get help for these mental problems.
Many medical problems can cause insomnia: allergies, acid reflux, hyperthyroidism, cancer, and kidney disease. If you experience chronic pain, you could also have problems with sleeping.
We all know that many prescription drugs often have side effects. But did you know that some medications can cause insomnia? For example, ADHD drugs, antidepressants, the thyroid hormone, corticosteroids, and even high blood pressure drugs can also cause insomnia.
And the medications that cause it don’t even have to be on prescription.
Common OTC drugs such as cold and flu medications may contain alcohol, pain relievers may contain caffeine – all culprits for insomnia. Even slimming pills and diuretics are sometimes problematic.
While insomnia is a sleep disorder, it may be just a symptom of another sleep disorder such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, jet lag, etc.
Sometimes it’s not a mental or physical issue that causes your sleep problems and insomnia. It may be your daily routine. What do you do during the day that could worsen the symptoms of insomnia? Do you take sleeping pills or consume alcohol to get sleep? Do you drink a lot of coffee? Doing this for a long period of time can have long-term effects on your sleep.
Other daytime habits that could hinder you from getting a good night’s rest include:
- taking naps
- eating foods laden with sugar
- not having a regular sleep schedule
- eating a heavy meal close to bedtime
- not exercising enough or exercising late in the day.
Poor daytime habits can lead to insomnia, but it’s a vicious cycle because not getting enough sleep can also make these habits harder to correct. However, just by changing your habits you can eliminate insomnia completely in many cases. Yes, it could take several days or weeks to get used to new patterns, but once the change has been made, you’ll enjoy better sleep.
Fighting insomnia – what you should and should not do
If you want to get a good night’s rest, there are things you should not be doing:
Drinking Before Bedtime
Avoid drinking a large amount of liquids before going to bed. As you get older, frequent trips to the bathroom are common. However, if you stop drinking an hour before going to sleep and use the bathroom a few times as you get ready for bed, you can decrease how often you wake up and need to use the bathroom.
You may think that alcohol will help you fall asleep by relaxing the muscles and clearing your mind. But alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle and cause you to wake up during the night.
Big Evening Meals
Don’t eat a big evening meal. Eat dinner early, at 5 or 6p.m. Don’t eat a lot of spicy heavy rich food. Acidic or spicy foods can cause heartburn, waking you up in the middle of the night.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests avoiding caffeine-filled drinks six hours before going to bed. And if you are sensitive to caffeine, it may be wise to stop using it even earlier or altogether.
Your electronics emit blue light that keeps the body from producing melatonin. Rather than surfing the net on your phone or watching TV, choose some relaxing activity such as listening to music or reading a book.
Stressful or Extremely Active Activities
Do not check any social media notifications or get into an argument with your loved ones before bedtime. Don’t try to catch up on work; do it when you wake up.
It may be tempting to do so, but do not fall asleep during the day, as it makes it harder to sleep at night. If you need a nap, take it for only 30 minutes and before 3p.m.
What you can do to increase chances of better sleep
If you’re constantly worried about sleep and can’t fall asleep, consider using the following techniques to train the body to remember what your bed is for.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and intimacy. Don’t watch TV, work, eat, or use electronic devices in bed. The idea is to link the bedroom with only sleeping and acts of intimacy. Train your brain for this and you’ll find it easier to go to sleep when you’re ready.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Support your biological clock by going to bed and getting up at the same times each day – weekends included. Even if you’re exhausted when you wake up at the usual time, you’ll keep your body in a regular sleep rhythm.
- Improve your sleeping environment. Your sleeping environment plays a huge role in how well you sleep. Make your bedroom cool, free of noise (other than white noise), and dark. If you must, use earplugs or a sound machine to block out noise. Open the window or use a fan to cool the room down. If you sleep early, get an eye mask or blackout curtains to block the light. Get a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Put clocks out of view. When you watch the clock in hope of getting tired and falling asleep, your mind starts to worry that you’ll be tired when the alarm goes off. Cover the clock with something dark so that you can’t see the time.
- Get out of bed when you can’t sleep – don’t try forcing the issue. It will only lead to anxiety. Get out of bed and leave the room. Read, take a bath, or drink herbal tea. When you start to feel tired, go to bed.
- Reduce anxiety. When you have problems sleeping, it can mess with your mind. You may worry that you’ll toss and turn when going to sleep or wake up two hours later unable to fall asleep again. The stress of not getting enough sleep may make insomnia worse. If you’re worried about your first day at a job or a big presentation tomorrow, and stress about not getting good sleep at the same time, you’ll have sleep problems. Worries about sleeping or how you’ll sleep will cause the body to release adrenaline, which will keep you awake.
How to address insomnia that keeps you awake
It’s not uncommon for insomniacs to go to sleep easily; it’s staying asleep that becomes problematic. If you have problems getting back to sleep when you wake up at night, there are things you can do to alleviate the problem.
- Don’t start thinking. This is certainly more easily said than done, but don’t start stressing about getting back to sleep. Stress only releases adrenaline, which keeps you awake longer. Instead focus on how you feel in the body and slowly breathe in and out for several minutes.
- Relax. If you don't relax, you won’t sleep well. You can try meditation, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation to help you relax. It’s possible to do these relaxation techniques in bed. They won’t replace sleep, but they can certainly help refresh your body and mind.
- Encourage relaxation by rolling your eyes or rubbing your ears. Your ears have pressure points (at the top) that help with relaxation and calmness. You can also close your eyes and slowly roll them upward several times.
- Enjoy a quiet activity. If you’ve been in bed and awake for 20 minutes, get out of it and do something relaxing, such as reading a book. Dim the lights, and do not use a computer or phone, which can trick the body into thinking that it’s time to get up.
- Don’t brainstorm projects. All too often people worry about work when going to bed. This is the worst thing you can do because you start thinking about all the things you can tackle the next day and it compounds. If you have anxiety about something, consider writing it down and letting it go until the next day. You’ll be able to tackle the issue better after a good night’s rest.
3 Relaxation methods to help you fall (back) asleep
Feeling relaxed is a surefire way to get to sleep and stay asleep, but you may need a little help. There are three relaxation methods that you can use to increase your chances of restful sleep.
- Breathing in the stomach – deep full breathing which involves the chest, stomach, ribcage, and lower back can aid in relaxing your body. With your eyes closed take long deep slow breaths, each breath deeper than the one before. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Get comfortable. Beginning with your feet, tighten the muscles as much as possible. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Do this for every muscle group, from the feet to the head.
- Meditation. Lie down or sit still and focus on breathing naturally and how the body is feeling. Let thoughts go through your mind, but without judgement. The key is to focus on your breathing and body.
Medications, supplements, or therapy for insomnia?
When people can’t get to sleep, they are often tempted to use sleeping aids. However, you must understand a little about them before you do so.
Dietary insomnia supplements
Many herbal and dietary supplements are advertised as helping to get a good night’s rest. While they come across as natural, many sleep remedies still have side effects and can interfere with other vitamins or medications you are using. It’s always important to talk to your doctor before you start an over-the-counter sleeping aid.
Research is being done on alternative sleep cures, but some supplements may work well for you. Melatonin and valerian are two supplements most known to be helpful in treating insomnia.
- Melatonin – the body already produces this hormone at night, which helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. However, if you’re not getting a good night’s rest, it’s also available as an OTC supplement in many drug and retail stores. While it’s not beneficial for everybody, it can be an effective treatment for insomniacs who tend to go to bed and get up late.
- Valerian – this is a herb that has mild sedative effects, hence could help you get to sleep and stay asleep. The quality of this supplement is hit or miss, so keep that in mind.
Sleeping aids prescribed by the doctor
Prescribed sleeping drugs can offer temporary relief, but you shouldn’t use them in the long term. They’re not a cure, and if you abuse them, you could become addicted to them and worsen insomnia. The only time to take these drugs is when you’ve exhausted all other measures and are still having problems.
Try changing your habits and attitudes about sleep first, as studies suggest that it’s the biggest difference one can make in treating insomnia.
Sometimes it’s not a physical problem that keeps people awake at night, but a mental one. Worries, aggravation, and frustrations can all hinder you from getting a good rest at night. Consider talking to a sleep specialist about your problems. They may suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help alleviate your problems and help you to sleep.
CBT is a type of psychotherapy that will treat problems by altering your negative thoughts and emotions. According to a Harvard Medical School study CBT was much more effective at treating people who had chronic insomnia than prescribed sleeping aids. Best of all, there were no risks or side effects to CBT.
When to talk to a doctor
If you have done everything possible to treat insomnia on your own but have no success, it’s time to talk to a sleep specialist. After all, insomnia will begin to affect your mental and physical health. Give the doctor as much information as possible. If you kept a sleep diary, share it so that s/he has a better sense of what you have tried or what your sleeping habits are like.