• Ask the Doctor: Understanding Insomnia

    Thursday, April 11th, 2024

    by Dr. Gregory Brown

    The medical condition known as insomnia is more common than most people realize, and ranks as one of the most prevalent sleep disorders. This problem should not be taken lightly, as lack of sleep can affect all aspects of one’s life. Fortunately, with professional help it may be possible to cure insomnia through a combination of behavior and lifestyle modification.

    types-of-sleep-disorderStudies say that in any given year, one third of us have trouble falling asleep to some degree. Research also shows that up to ten percent of us may suffer from what is known as chronic insomnia. Females are more disposed to the problem than males, although trouble falling asleep can affect anybody at any age or walk of life.

    Insomnia is a sleep disorder that involves the disruption of normal patterns of sleep. This can manifest itself in various ways. Some people will basically be unable to fall asleep at all, while other individuals will find it hard to stay asleep after they finally doze off. There are also folks who can fall asleep, but are unable to achieve a deep and rejuvenating sleep through the night.

    The causes of this sleep disorder are multifaceted, and are often related to preexisting medical conditions or problems in the surrounding environment. Sleep therapists who have studied this issue believe that half of all insomnia cases come from environmental factors, and can therefore be treated through lifestyle modification.

    Symptoms of insomnia can include:

    • Drowsiness, fatigue or irritability during the day.
    • Trouble concentrating during the day.
    • A sleep that leaves you unrefreshed.
    • Need for sleeping pills to fall asleep.
    • Trouble falling asleep despite being sufficiently tired.
    • Frequently waking up during the night.
    • Trouble going back to sleep after being awakened.
    • Waking up too early the next morning.

    Causes of Insomnia

    Stress and worry in the daytime are often taken to bed and thus prevent a good night’s sleep. For example, an illness in one’s family, trouble at work or a marriage on the rocks can lead to insomnia. Individuals who have trouble dealing with stress may be more prone to developing sleep disorder symptoms.

    Mental or physical problems can also make it hard to fall asleep. Depression is a common cause of insomnia, along with other psychological disorders such as anxiety or schizophrenia.

    A physical illness or injury is another contributing factor to trouble sleeping. Problems with the digestive system, lungs, heart, pancreas, liver or kidneys can all throw sleeping patterns out of whack. Additional contributors to sleeplessness include chronic pain, breathing disorders like sleep apnea, or common heartburn from overeating.

    Emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression are main factors leading to insomnia. A person’s daytime lifestyle habits and overall physical health may also play significant roles. To cure this sleep disorder, it’s important to identify all possible causes of your insomnia. Once you figure out the root cause or causes, you can take the necessary steps to getting a better night’s sleep.

    Here is an insomnia checklist to help you identify the root causes:

    • Do you try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day?
    • Is your sleep environment dark and quiet, and your bed comfortable?
    • Are you under a lot of stress at work or elsewhere?
    • Are you taking certain medications that could be affecting your sleep?
    • Are you feeling depressed? Do you feel emotionally down?
    • Do you experience chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?
    • Have you recently had to deal with a traumatic experience?
    • Do you have any chronic health problems that could be keeping you awake?

    Treating Insomnia

    If you feel stressed out and unable to relax at bedtime, you may benefit from relaxation techniques that connect with the body’s natural relaxation response. Relaxation techniques for insomnia help you quiet your mind and relieve tension in your body.

    They also help you fall asleep faster and get back to sleep more quickly when you wake up in the middle of the night. And there is the added benefit of avoiding the side effects of sleep medicine.

    As a general rule, treatment for insomnia should be done in the most natural way possible, thus avoiding the use of medication. To help understand why they can’t sleep, some insomniacs choose to submit themselves to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT.

    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy examines the personal issues and lifestyle problems which are affecting normal sleep patterns. After the analysis is complete, behavior modification is recommended. CBT is often quite successful on its own, and therefore sleeping medication prescribed by a doctor hopefully will not be necessary.

    Insomnia is a sleep disorder that afflicts many people and can be difficult to overcome. Abnormal sleeping patterns interfere with daily life, and an individual may struggle both professionally and personally as a result.

    In more serious cases of insomnia, consultation with a doctor to find out why you can’t sleep is highly recommended. Once the doctor understands better the underlying causes, treatment options can then be pursued.

    (published December 24, 2010)