Insomnia can be a common sleep disorder. It can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake you up too early to not be able get back to sleep. Sometimes you may feel tired even after waking up. Insomnia can affect your mood, energy levels, and work performance as well as your quality of life.
While everyone is different in how much sleep they need, most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Many adults will experience short-term (or acute) insomnia at some point. This can last for days or even weeks. This is usually caused by stress or trauma. Some people experience chronic (long-term) insomnia for up to a month. It could be the main problem or it may be a symptom of other medical conditions.
It doesn’t mean you have to suffer through sleepless nights. It’s possible to make small changes in your daily routine that will help you get better sleep.
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Some symptoms of insomnia include:
- It is difficult to fall asleep at night
- You should wake up at night
- Too early to get up
- After a good night’s rest, it is difficult to feel rested.
- Daytime sleepiness or tiredness
- Depression, anxiety or irritability
- Difficulty paying attention, focusing and remembering
- Accidents or errors that are more frequent
- Continual worries about sleep
When should you see a doctor?
Your doctor can help you determine the root cause of insomnia and the best treatment. Your doctor might refer you to a specialist sleep center if you suspect you may have a sleep disorder.
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Insomnia can be the main problem or it could be associated with other conditions.
Chronic insomnia is often caused by stress, life events, or bad habits that disrupt sleep. Although it is possible to resolve insomnia by treating the root cause, some cases can go on for years.
Chronic insomnia can be caused by:
- Stress. Your mind can be active during the night due to worries about school, work, finances, family, or health. This can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Insomnia can also be caused by stressful life events, such as the death, illness, or job loss.
- Work or travel. Your circadian rhythms are an internal clock that guides your body’s metabolism, sleep-wake cycle and body temperature. Insomnia can be caused by disrupting your body’s circadian rhythms. Jet lag can be caused by traveling to multiple time zones, changing shifts frequently, or working late or early shifts.
- Poor sleep habits. Poor sleeping habits include a irregular bedtime, naps, stimulating activities prior to bed, uncomfortable sleeping environment, and the use of your bed for working, eating, or watching TV. Your sleep cycle can be disrupted by the presence of computers, televisions, video games and smartphones just before bed.
- Too much eating in the evening. It is okay to have a small snack before bed, but too much can make you feel uncomfortable when you lie down. Heartburn is a common condition that can keep you awake at night. It’s caused by acid reflux and food going back into your stomach.
Chronic insomnia can also be caused by medical conditions and the use of certain medications. Although treatment of the medical condition can improve sleep quality, insomnia may recur even after it is resolved.
Other common causes of insomnia are:
- Mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can disrupt your sleep. Depression can manifest as a sudden awakening. Insomnia is often accompanied by other mental disorders.
- Medications. Some prescription drugs, including antidepressants, medications for asthma and blood pressure, can cause sleep problems. Over-the-counter medications such as pain medication, allergy and cold medicines, weight loss products, and some pain medications can cause sleep disruptions.
- Conditions medical. Chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease and asthma are all possible causes of insomnia.
- Sleep-related disorders. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes your breathing to stop periodically during the night. This interrupts your sleep. Restless legs syndrome can cause unpleasant sensations in the legs and an almost overwhelming desire to move them. This may make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Stimulants include coffee, tea, cola, and other caffeinated beverages. You can avoid falling asleep at night by drinking them in the evening or late afternoon. Another stimulant that can disrupt sleep is nicotine in tobacco products. Although alcohol may be helpful in falling asleep, it can also cause awakenings during the night.
Insomnia, aging and insomnia
As we age, insomnia becomes more common. As you get older, you may experience:
- Sleep patterns are changing. As you age, sleep becomes less restful. Therefore noises and other environmental changes are more likely than ever to wake you up. Your internal clock may change with age. You will wake up earlier in morning and get tired later in the evening. However, older people still require the same amount sleep as younger ones.
- Activity changes You might be less physically and socially active. Inactivity can make it difficult to get a good night of sleep. You may also find it more common to take a nap every day, which can affect your ability to sleep at night.
- Changes in health. Sleep problems can be caused by chronic pain, such as back or arthritis conditions. Problems such as bladder or prostate problems, which can increase your need to urinate at night, can interrupt sleep. As we age, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome are more common.
- More medicines Prescription drug use is higher in older people than it is in younger people, increasing the risk of insomnia.
Children and teens with insomnia
Teens and children may also have sleep problems. Some teens and children have difficulty falling asleep or refusing to go to bed at a set time because their internal clocks are slower. They prefer to sleep in and go to bed earlier than usual.
Nearly everyone experiences occasional insomnia. Your risk of falling asleep is higher if you:
- You are a woman. The hormone shifts that occur during menopause and the menstrual cycle may play a part. Night sweats and hot flashes can disrupt sleep during menopause. Pregnancy is also a common time for insomnia.
- You are over 60. As we age, our sleep patterns and health change, so does our inability to fall asleep.
- A mental disorder or physical condition is present. Sleep disturbances can be caused by many factors that affect your mental and physical health.
- You are under a lot stress. Temporary insomnia can be caused by stressful events and times. Chronic insomnia can also be caused by long-lasting or severe stress.
- There is no set schedule. You may experience sleep disruptions from traveling or changing shifts at work.
Your health is just as important as eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sleeping well. No matter what reason you have for losing sleep, insomnia can impact your mental and physical health. People who suffer from insomnia have a lower quality life than those who sleep well.
Insomnia can lead to:
- Performance at school or on the job is lower
- Slower reaction time when driving, and a higher chance of getting into an accident
- Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, or substance abuse can lead to mental health problems.
- Increased severity and risk of long-term conditions or diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure,
You can prevent insomnia by developing good sleep habits that promote sound sleep.
- Your bedtime and your wake time should be the same every day, even weekends.
- Keep active — Regular activity promotes a good night of sleep.
- To determine if your medications may be contributing to your insomnia, check them out.
- Limit or avoid naps
- Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Avoid eating large meals or drinking before going to bed.
- Your bedroom should be comfortable and suitable for sleeping.
- Relaxation is possible by creating a bedtime ritual that includes a warm bath, reading, or listening to soft music.