Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that is characterized by difficulty in initiating sleep, difficulty in staying asleep, or difficulty in going back to sleep. Occasional or isolated episodes of insomnia are not worrisome. Many individuals could have experienced insomnia at some point in their lives especially when they’re undergoing a lot of stress. However, persistent insomnia that lasts for a significant period of time warrants investigation because it can lead to other serious complications.
Insomnia can be classified into two: primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia is the type of insomnia that cannot be attributed to any medical, mental, or environmental factors. Secondary insomnia, on the other hand, is the type of insomnia that occurs “secondary” to other diseases or environmental conditions.
Examples of the causes of secondary insomnia are:
- Sleeping disturbances like light, noise, heat, or cold temperature
- Jet lag
- Change in work shifts
- Pain from a medical illness
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic cough
- Medications like some anti-depressants
- Drinks with caffeine
People with insomnia present with the following symptoms:
- Difficulty in falling asleep
- Difficulty in staying asleep or in going back to sleep
- Early awakening
- Morning sleepiness
- Tiredness or lack of energy at daytime
- Inability to focus or pay attention
- Memory lapses
- Poor judgment
Prolonged lack of sleep can take its toll in an individual suffering from insomnia. Frequent lack of sleep can weaken the body and the immune system and put the individual at risk for many illnesses. Lack of sleep can also lead to poor concentration and judgment. These might lead to accidents in the road or in handling machineries. Lack of sleep also translates to poor performance at school or at work. This can lead to depression and can aggravate anxiety. It can also lead to substance abuse.
The diagnosis of insomnia is based on a good history. A doctor will the patient several questions that will assess the severity of the condition and will identify the factors that could possibly aggravate the condition. In some instances, if sleep apnea is suspected as the cause of insomnia, a sleep study might be requested, which requires an overnight stay in a sleep center while being monitored for signs of apnea.
Management of insomnia is largely based on establishing a good sleeping habit and addressing the factors that cause the insomnia. The following are some of the tips that can be helpful in establishing a good sleep habit:
- Keep your sleeping area comfortable and free from distractions. Dim the lights when you are about to sleep, and turn off gadgets that might distract you from your sleep.
- Establish a regular sleeping routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day. Establishing a regular routine trains your body clock to turn on or off at predictable hours.
- Exercise regularly, but do it at least 5 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid heavy meals at before bed.
- Avoid caffeinated substances like coffee, tea, or soda.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant.
- Avoid day-time naps. Day time naps can make it difficult for you to feel sleepy at night.
- Do something that can help you relax like reading a book, listening to soft music or taking a bath.
- If you can’t fall asleep, get up from your bed and do something that is relaxing.
- Limit your bed activities to sleep and sex. Don’t eat, watch TV, browse the internet, read, play games in your bed.
- Stop counting time. Stop worrying about how much sleep you have left. Set your alarm clock then hide it so that you won’t know how much time has passed.
Aside from establishing a good sleeping habit, the underlying cause of the insomnia must also be addressed. For example, pain medications must be given for pain; depression should be treated with anti-depressants; and apnea might require the use of CPAP.
If insomnia is persistent despite these conservative interventions, then sleeping pills might be prescribed. These medications should only be taken upon the advice of a medical professional. Behavioral or psychotherapy can also be done. These include relaxation techniques, stimulus control, sleep restriction, and other methods that train the mind and the body to sleep at designated periods of time.