“I can’t sleep. Why can’t I fall asleep? It’s 5am and I need to be up in three hours. I’ve tried everything and I can’t sleep. Why is this happening to me every night?”
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Over half of all adults experience insomnia at some point in their lives. All have different causes for their not being able to sleep. Causes from stress, to restless minds, to even depression. There are so many causes, symptoms, and treatments for insomnia. Let’s start with the basics and work our way to the cures. I personally suffered from 30 sleepless days and nights triggered by depression. Throughout this article I will suggest some ways that I found my way into a restful night of pure drift-off-to-dream slumber.
But let’s start with the basics. What exactly is insomnia?
According to Wikipedia, insomnia is defined as the inability to sleep and or to be incapable of remaining asleep for a reasonable period. Insomnia is not defined by the number of hours of sleep a person gets or how long it takes to fall asleep. Insomnia does not just occur with the inability to sleep it also causes many problems during the day such as tiredness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
There are three different types of insomnia. Transient, acute and chronic. Transient insomnia is considered insomnia lasting from one night to a few weeks. Acute insomnia is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of three weeks to six months. The most serious form of insomnia is chronic insomnia. This type of insomnia lasts for at least a month and sometimes longer. Chronic insomnia is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders.
One of the most common causes of chronic insomnia is depression. Other underlying causes include arthritis, kidney disease, heart failure, asthma, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and hyperthyroidism. However, chronic insomnia may also be due to behavioral factors, including the misuse of caffeine, alcohol, or other substances; disrupted sleep/wake cycles as may occur with shift work or other nighttime activity schedules; and chronic stress.
There are two levels to each type of insomnia, primary and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia occurs when the inability to sleep does not occur because of a medical or environmental cause; however secondary insomnia occurs when the inability to sleep is caused by a health condition.
There are different kinds of insomnia:
Sleep Onset Insomnia (Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome): A disorder in which the major sleep episode is delayed in relation to the desired clock time that results in symptoms of sleep onset insomnia or difficulty in awakening at the desired time.
Idiopathic Insomnia: A lifelong inability to obtain adequate sleep that is presumably due to an abnormality of the neurological control of the sleep-wake system. The insomnia is long-standing, commonly beginning in early childhood, sometimes since birth.
Psycho physiological Insomnia: A disorder of somatized tension (conversion of anxiety into physical symptoms) and learned sleep-preventing association that results in a complaint of insomnia and associated decreased functioning during wakefulness.
Childhood Insomnia (Limit-Setting Sleep Disorder): Primarily a childhood disorder that is characterized by the inadequate enforcement of bedtimes by a caretaker with resultant stalling or refusal to go to bed at the appropriate time.
Another kind of insomnia that generally affects children is called Sleep-Onset Association Disorder. This disorder occurs when sleep onset is impaired by the absence of a certain object or set of circumstances, such as being held, rocked or nursed; television watching, radio listening, etc.
Food Allergy Insomnia: A disorder of initiating and maintaining sleep due to an allergic response to food allergens. It is typically associated with the introduction of a new food or drink, i.e., cow’s milk.
Environmental Insomnia (Environmental Sleep Disorder): A sleep disturbance due to a disturbing environmental factor that causes a complaint of either insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
Transient Insomnia (Adjustment Sleep Disorder): Represents sleep disturbance temporally related to acute stress, conflict or environmental change causing emotional agitation.
Periodic Insomnia (Non 24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome): Consists of a chronic steady pattern consisting of 1-2 hour daily delays in sleep onset and wake times in an individual living in society.
Altitude Insomnia: An acute (short and sharp course, not chronic) insomnia usually accompanied by headaches, loss of appetite, and fatigue, that occurs following ascent to high altitudes.
Hypnotic-Dependency Insomnia (Hypnotic-Dependent Sleep Disorder): Characterized by insomnia or excessive sleepiness that is associated with tolerance to or withdrawal from hypnotic medications.
Stimulant-Dependent Sleep Disorder: Characterized by a reduction of sleepiness or suppression of sleep by central stimulants, and resultant alterations in wakefulness following drug abstinence.
Alcohol-Dependent Insomnia (Alcohol-Dependent Sleep Disorder): Characterized by the assisted initiation of sleep onset by the sustained ingestion of alcohol that is used for its hypnotic effect.
Toxin-Induced Sleep Disorder: Characterized by either insomnia or excessive sleepiness produced by poisoning with heavy metals or organic toxins.
Insomnia is found in males and females of all ages; however it is more common in females and in the elderly. Females tend to suffer from insomnia especially after menopause. Insomnia is not considered a serious problem for your health, however it is a serious problem because it interferes with your daily routine as well as your home life. Most adults need about 8 hours of sleep each night, however the amount of sleep you need tends to change with age, and most older people tend to sleep less at night because they take naps during the day.
Everyone is different and choose different ways to ease their mind and assist them in sleeping. Many choose to take medications. Many insomniacs rely on sleeping tablets and other sedatives to get rest. The most commonly used class of hypnotics prescribed for insomnia are the benzodiazepines. This includes drugs such as temazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, nitrazepam and midazolam. These medications can be addictive, especially after taking them over long periods of time.
Non-benzodiazepine prescription drugs, including Ambien and Lunesta, have a cleaner side effect profile than the older benzodiazepines; however, there are controversies over whether these non-benzodiazepine drugs are superior to benzodiazepines. These drugs appear to cause both psychological dependence and physical dependence, and can also cause the same memory and cognitive disturbances as the benzodiazepines along with morning sedation. Always remember that sleeping pills can be unsafe if you have certain health problems.
None of these ever really worked for me. At times when I had gotten desperate to sleep, I would take Nyquil. I do NOT recommend it. If you want to take pills, invest in NutraSleep. It is a unique blend of natural ingredients, vitamins, and minerals that aid.
Another great sleep aid is Lavender Airea room spray. For about $9 this spray, when sprayed in minimal amounts in your bedroom and pillow will comfort you and help you sleep. Using aromatherapy, including jasmine oil, lavender oil, Mahabhringaraj and other relaxing essential oils, may also help induce a state of restfulness.
Try taking a warm bath, but don’t overdo it. Too long in hot water your body can get drained of vitality. Listening to soothing and soft music can lull you to sleep. Listening to the sounds of waves, rain, or nature are great ways to sooth the soul. I’m not a big milk drinker, but many studies have shown that a glass of warm milk 15 minutes before going to bed will soothe your nervous system. Milk contains calcium, which works directly on jagged nerves to make you relax. Sleep in a well ventilated room.
Fresh air and a room temperature between 60-65 degrees will give you the best sleeping conditions. Any warmer and you’ll toss and turn from the discomfort of being too warm. Keep the thermostat down and do your temperature-adjusting inside the bed with more or fewer blankets. A firm bed will also give your entire body the support it needs to really relax. You can also try getting up earlier in the morning than you have to. This will help you to be much more tired at night and more apt to get to sleep.
If none of these have worked, you can always go see your doctor, or turn to the AIA. American Insomnia Association. This is a patent based organization that is dedicated to assisting and providing resources to individuals who suffer from insomnia. The AIA advocates and promotes awareness, education, and research of insomnia disorders and encourages the formation of local support groups. It’s a great organization that is willing to help. Check them out at www.americaninsomniaassociation.org.
If you do decide to go to your doctor, before you do go, try keeping a diary for a week or two of your sleep pattern, your daily routine, and how you feel during the day, just so you have ample information to show to your doctor so he can better assist you with curing the insomnia. Also, another good idea is to ask your bed partner if he or she has notice any changes in how you sleep. In some cases you may be referred to a sleep center for special tests.
In closing, you need your rest, so don’t wait another minute if you are a sufferer of insomnia to get assistance.