Insomnia is one of the most common sleep difficulties reported in the United States today, as it’s currently estimated that up to 30% of Americans have been diagnosed with some form of the disorder,1 which is characterized by a problem falling and/orstaying asleep.
Some of the tell-tale signs of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night and having trouble going back to sleep, waking up too early in the morning and feeling tired upon waking.
There are two particular known types of the disorder: primary and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia is a condition that affects people who do not otherwise suffer from any other medical problems. Secondary insomnia is a condition, by contrast, that affects people who do suffer from other ailments, the complications from which cause a person to lose sleep at night. People who’ve been diagnosed with asthma, heart problems, depression, anxiety, or arthritis pain frequently suffer from the secondary category.
An important variable related to insomnia is the amount of time that one can suffer from it. Insomnia is either considered “acute” [short-term] or “chronic” [long-term]. Acute insomnia can last anywhere from just one night up to a few weeks, whereas the chronic variety can, in certain cases, last for several months or even years, occurring some three times a week or more2.
- Stress: Whether it’s created by your job, schoolwork, or love life, stress can cause anxiety which often keeps you awake at night.
- Health Conditions: Diagnoses such as depression, asthma, heart problems, restless leg syndrome, cancer, and arthritis pain can all contribute to trouble sleeping.
- Disturbing Environment: Attempting to rest in a room that’s too noisy, too hot or cold, or that has too much light can affect your sleep.
- Medications: Those drugs that are prescribed for colds, allergies, high blood pressure, or in the treatment of depression can contribute to sleep loss.
- Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol: Drinks containing caffeine are well-known stimulants, and consuming coffee, for example, in the late afternoon can keep you from falling asleep at night. The nicotine found in tobacco products is another stimulant which can cause insomnia; and though the sedative effects of alcohol may help you fall asleep, drinking it will prevent deeper stages of sleep and often cause you to awaken in the middle of the night3.
- Eating Habits: Either ingesting a big meal just before going to bed or eating something that causes your stomach to become unsettled can keep you up at night. Eating too much can cause you to feel uncomfortable in when you lay down, and eating something spicy can cause you to lie awake suffering from indigestion and heartburn.
- Owning an Uncomfortable Mattress: A worn-out or otherwise uncomfortable mattress can easily keep you awake at night. Those manufactured of spring coils, water beds, and air mattresses can all create both pressure on and stiffness throughout the body. The best remedy is a simple switch to a memory foam mattress, which will increase blood flow and thus create improved circulation… not to mention its unique ability to alleviate pressure by conforming to your unique shape.
If you believe you may have insomnia and would like to find out for certain, the most practical course of action is to seek the opinion of a professional health care provider. An accurate diagnosis of insomnia can typically be detected by a standard physical examination, accompanied by your documented history of medical and sleep problems. In certain instances, the medical examiner may ask to interview your sleep partner, or request that you keep a journal in order to document your sleep habits. Advanced cases may also be referred to professionals who will perform more detailed tests at a sleep center.
Although insomnia is a serious sleep disorder that affects a tremendous number of people every night, you may “rest assured” that it can be both treated and cured– quite often by simply monitoring bedtime habits and making the necessary adjustments. If modest changes to your nightly ritual, etc. do not have the desired effect, however, don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor, who can discuss appropriate alternatives [ranging from a temporary sleep medication prescription to referral to a behavioral therapist] for lasting relief.
1. Vogin, Gary D. M.D.To Sleep, Perchance to Dream: All about Insomnia. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50772. Last reviewed, January 30, 2005. 1996-2005. Retrieved on June 8, 2009.
2. WebMD. What is Insomnia?. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/insomnia. Retrieved on June 8, 2009.
3. MayoClinic.com. Insomnia. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/insomnia/DS00187. Retrieved on June 8, 2009.