Pretty much everyone suffers from the occasional bout of insomnia - I certainly have. The sleepless nights tend to strike when you're stressed or excited, and wreak havoc on the next day. But if you have chronic insomnia, it's a whole different animal: you might go for months without a good night's sleep.
Below you'll find my guide to the basics of insomnia.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia comes in all shapes and sizes. The three main types are:
- Transient Insomnia - This usually only lasts a night or two and is most often brought about by an outside influence such as sleeping in a strange bed or stress over an upcoming job interview.
- Short Term Insomnia - This type can last anywhere from days or weeks and, again, can be caused by stress. Poor sleep habits can also bring on short-term insomnia.
- Chronic Insomnia - This is the worst type. It can go on, night after night, sometimes for years. Chronic insomnia is a serious problem and can lead to sleep deprivation and all sorts of physical and mental health problems.
Causes of Insomnia
Stress is a major cause of insomnia. It's difficult to sleep when you're worried about an upcoming change in your life, about marital upheaval, financial difficulties or illness. But it doesn't have to be bad news that disturbs your sleep. Anticipation of a vacation, a birth or other exciting event can also keep you awake. Think of how long it takes for children to fall asleep on Christmas Eve!
The discomfort of an illness can also make it hard to sleep. Diseases including arthritis, diabetes and heartburn after a holiday meal cause sleep problems. So do other sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea and nightmares.
One surprising sleep thief is an overactive mind. Instead of easing you into dreamland, your thoughts continue to whirl in your head. You have so much on your mind that you don't have time for sleep.
Certain characteristics of your lifestyle could be the cause of your insomnia. Do you put work and entertainment ahead of sleep? Is sleep something you do when you have the time? Eventually your body will become accustomed to this foolish and erratic pattern and sleep will become elusive. Better to keep regular hours for sleeping and waking and let your body become accustomed to that instead.
Avoid factors that can cause sleep problems. Coffee and other foods that contain caffeine may keep you awake at night. Although alcohol can help you drift off to sleep, it can cause disrupted sleep later in the night. Smoking can also disrupt sleep, as can foods that cause heartburn or gas.
Treatment of Insomnia
There are a number of treatments for insomnia, from herbal remedies to over-the-counter potions to prescription drugs like Ambien and Lunesta. But before resorting to pills, why not try a few changes in your life first?
- Treat any underlying causes of insomnia. If you suffer from a disease or disorder that could be contributing to your insomnia, see a doctor to get that treated first.
- Reduce your stress and anxiety levels
- Practice relaxation techniques. Meditation. Hypnosis. Soft music.
- Improve your lifestyle. Keep regular hours. Cut back on caffeine, smoking and alcohol. Make sure the bedroom and bed are comfortable places to rest.
If you are still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about your best treatment options. Do all that's necessary to get the sleep you need - it will determine not only the quality of your days, but your life expectancy as well.