What is Insomnia?
Everybody struggles with insomnia at some point or another in their lives. For most people, it is fairly short-lived and only happens occasionally. For others, sleeplessness is a constant battle. For those people, a good night’s sleep is a commodity which is hard to come by. They may have tried everything from herbal teas to prescription drugs in order to get the rest they need. Whatever form of sleeplessness you may have suffered from, it is almost always miserable. There is nothing worse than staring at the clock, counting how many hours’ sleep you will get if you fall asleep right then.
One of the chief complaints doctors hear in their offices is poor sleep. Insomnia drives more patients to doctor’s offices than colds do. With that being said, sleeplessness is not usually considered a medical problem–rather most doctors view it as a symptom of something else. Once you can find out what is causing the insomnia, you can then proceed with treating it so you can try to get a better night’s sleep. In most cases, the causes of a bad night’s sleep are anxiety or depression. It could be minor anxiety, but even minor anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. You may feel like you cannot turn your mind off once you get into bed. You may rehash the day’s events, or spend hours tossing and turning trying to figure out the details for the next day, week, or even month. While it is often simple to give a diagnosis of anxiety, treating it can be difficult. If the anxiety is chronic, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed. If it is merely occasional anxiety, there may need to be more digging to get to the root of it and cure your insomnia.
Often, insomnia is the result of a poor sleep hygiene routine. Sleep hygiene has nothing to do with cleanliness, rather it is a pattern of behaviors which let your body and your mind know it is time to go to bed. When you have poor sleep hygiene habits, insomnia can creep in and make you miserable from time to time. Things like drinking too much alcohol (even occasionally), watching television, working on the computer, or exercising right before bed can keep you from resting well. While alcohol is a depressant and can make you tired initially, your liver has to work overtime to process the alcohol. Often the result will be an initial deep sleep for a few hours, followed by a middle of the night awakening where you struggle to get back to sleep. When you watch television prior to bed, the movement of the lights and television will trick your body into an unnatural circadian rhythm. It will make it hard for your brain to biologically accept that it is time for bed, as well as to shut down your mind to a calm state to go to sleep. The same principles apply to working on the computer right before bed. The unnatural light will trick your mind and body into thinking it is daytime, making it hard to go to sleep. Exercising right before bed will get your heart pumping, raise your metabolism, and increase circulation. It will be hard to slow everything down in order to get a good night’s rest at that point.
There can be a slew of other medical conditions which can lead to insomnia in people, however, anxiety, depression, and poor sleep hygiene are usually the main culprits behind insomnia. For cases which are troublesome but aren’t chronic, many doctors will prescribe a sleep aid to be used when the patient must get sleep. For cases of frequent insomnia, a doctor will often recommend a sleep study to get to the root of the problem. Sleep studies are often able to uncover causes of insomnia which may not have been suspected in the past like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. Other times, generalized insomnia is diagnosed and the doctor may recommend meditation, relaxation techniques, or even counseling in order to teach the patient how to slow the mind prior to bed. Occasional insomnia is something almost everybody encounters at one point or another in life. While it is annoying, it is not life threatening. Chronic insomnia can lead to other health concerns including shortened life span, heart disease, and even obesity. While the causes of insomnia can differ greatly, treatments usually involve over the counter medications, relaxation techniques, and prescription medication to help get through bouts of sleeplessness.