Whether you’re on vacation with friends, taking the kids to the museum, or sitting in the office, lack of sleep can make your day a nightmare and harm your immune system. Over time, repeated lack of sleep can affect your personality, personal relationships, and career; it can even shorter your lifetime.
You don’t have to put up with insomnia! Keep reading to learn more about what you can do to fight sleeplessness.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder marked by symptoms including 1) Trouble falling asleep (AKA “onset insomnia”); 2) Trouble staying asleep (AKA “maintenance insomnia”); 3) Waking earlier than intended; and 4) Feeling tired when you wake up.
During the day, a person with insomnia might feel tired and cranky and have trouble concentrating. He or she may experience headaches, stomach aches, and depression.
Insomnia is categorized into two types:
1) Primary insomnia: a sleep disorder that is not linked to any other health problem.
2) Secondary insomnia: a sleep disorder that is associated with health conditions (incl. depression, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, asthma, cancer, arthritis, and hyperthyroidism) or substances (medication or addiction).
Insomnia is further broken down into two forms:
1) Acute insomnia: trouble sleeping that lasts between one night and a few weeks.
- Physical or emotional discomfort
- Environmental factors like light, noise, and extreme temperatures
- Changes in sleep schedule
- Change in activity level
2) Chronic insomnia: as the name suggests, chronic insomnia is ongoing trouble sleeping that lasts at least 3 or more nights each week for 30+ days.
- Pain at night
Interestingly enough, women are far more likely to have trouble sleeping than men. The hormonal shifts of a woman’s regular menstrual cycle can cause sleeplessness – and so can menopause and pregnancy.
Anyone unemployed, poor, or over age 60 is more likely to experience insomnia.
Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD can disrupt sleep, putting you at a higher risk for insomnia.
Are you always stressed out? Stress is a huge factor in insomnia and many other health issues. Stress associated with life changes (a breakup, a death in the family, etc.) or constant stress over a long period of time can cause chronic insomnia.
Working alternating shifts, working at night, and frequent travel (across time zones) can also cause difficulty sleeping.
Insomnia is strongly linked to depression.
Psychological difficulties can make it hard to fall asleep, and numerous psychiatric conditions have been discovered to play a role in insomnia. On top that that, insomnia can lead to mood changes, shifts in hormones, and physiological changes that can cause depression.
Not only can depression and insomnia cause and affect each other, they can both lead to alcohol abuse – which is another causal factor for insomnia.
Common signs of depression like loss of interest, low energy, and feelings of hopelessness may be linked with insomnia, and one condition can make the other condition worse. The good news here is that both conditions are treatable, no matter which occurred first.
Insomnia is strongly linked to anxiety.
Lying in bed at night may seem like the perfect time to plan your day or reflect on the past, and many people fill this opportunity with worry. Individuals with prolonged insomnia often feel panicked when they lie down at night – because they are expecting sleeplessness.
For some, constant anxiety is the reason they can’t sleep at night. This may be your problem if you:
- Are constantly thinking about the past or worrying about the future
- Feel overwhelmed
- Feel overly excited/ overly stimulated
Preventing Acute Insomnia (short term solutions)
Everyone will experience trouble sleeping once in awhile. For me, it happens before big tests, plane flights, or when I’m under emotional stress. You may find that practicing good “sleep hygiene” (more below) will cure mild/acute insomnia.
Important Note: Do not use over-the-counter sleeping pills. These pills can become addictive and are associated with many side effects.
Preventing Chronic Insomnia (long term solutions)
If sleeplessness is having a serious effect on your ability to function during the day, you may want to speak with a doctor. He or she may provide you with sleeping pills (for a limited time) and/or suggest behavioral therapy.
The goal of behavioral therapy is to recondition your body to promote sleep. Techniques include sleep restriction therapy and relaxation exercises.
Whether you have acute insomnia or chronic insomnia, it’s important to follow these sleep habits:
1) Avoid naps and stick to a consistent sleep schedule.
2) Avoid the following substances late in the day: alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
3) Exercise frequently, but not before bedtime. Experts recommend exercising at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.
4) It’s best to avoid full meals just before bedtime, but a light snack should be fine if you are hungry.
5) Sleep in a quiet, dark room. Try to minimize noise and keep the space at a comfortable temperature. Use a sleeping mask if light comes through the window. Try earplugs, a “white noise” machine, or a fan to cover up outside noise.
6) Get into a nightly routine to encourage sleep. Read a book, take a bath, listen to music, etc.
7) Avoid screens just before bedtime. This includes the computer, your cellphone, and the TV.
8) Make a to-do list for the next day to minimize worry.
9) Your bed should be used only for sleeping and sex.
Just like diet and exercise, sleep is vital to your overall health. Insomnia can take a serious toll on your emotional and physical life, with complications including slowed reaction time, obesity, and increased risk of diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
If you’ve tried the tips above and still have trouble sleeping, we suggest you speak with your doctor. He or she will give you a physical exam and may ask you to keep a sleep diary. Your doctor may also want to speak with your partner about your sleeping habits. In extreme cases, patients will be referred to a sleep center for special testing.
*Getting adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do for your skin. Click here to learn more about how you can make your skin look its best!