What is Insomnia?

Insomnia disorder is a common sleep disorder where you often have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or going back to sleep if you awaken. Those with insomnia typically feel tired and have low energy when they are awake, as a result of sleep deprivation. Sleep disturbance affects your body’s overall health. If insomnia or another sleep problem is making it hard to function in your daily life, contact a sleep specialist for treatment.

Insomnia affects 1 in 3 adults in the United States each year. Insomnia can be a short-term or long-term problem, depending on several factors. Many adults at some point will experience short-term, or acute, insomnia which can last several days to a few weeks. Acute insomnia is typically a symptom of a traumatic event or extreme stress. Chronic insomnia is insomnia that lasts more than a month. Persistent insomnia can have serious effects on your mental and physical health.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can be a problem on its own known as primary insomnia, or it can be associated with other health conditions or secondary insomnia. Treating the underlying cause of insomnia may help you sleep better. Some common causes of insomnia include:

  • Being overweight
  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems
  • Medical problems such as sleep apnea or hyperthyroidism
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Use of caffeine or other stimulants
  • Use of alcohol, other depressants, or sedatives
  • Medicines, such as those used to treat asthma
  • Pain and other discomfort caused by a medical condition
  • Shortness of breath caused by chronic obstructive
  • Poor sleep habits, including going to bed at different times or in a noisy environment
  • Changes in your sleep pattern because of different work hours or travel (jet lag).

Insomnia may be a temporary condition, called situational insomnia. Situational insomnia occurs with a stressful life event. It is often caused by noise, chronic pain, worry, or family, work, financial, or school problems. It lasts 3 weeks or less. Situational insomnia generally goes away when the stressful event is over or resolved.

Ongoing, or chronic insomnia, is a more long-term and persistent problem. Chronic insomnia can be caused by irregular sleep-wake patterns resulting from shift work, drug dependency (including long-term use of a sleeping pill or alcohol), stress, illness, or mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Long-term insomnia lasts longer than a month and requires treatment of the underlying problem.

Insomnia Symptoms

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Waking up during the night
  • Difficulty going back to sleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling rested in the morning
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Restlessness or anxiety as bedtime approaches

How is insomnia diagnosed?

While there are no specific tests to diagnose insomnia, your doctor will ask you a series of questions to better understand your sleep problems and symptoms. Your health care provider will ask you about:

  • Your sleep patterns
  • Use of caffeine, alcohol, medicine, and other drugs
  • Eating and exercise habits
  • Your mental and physical condition
  • Your medical and mental health history, and your family’s history
  • Your job and travel patterns

After reviewing your sleep history with your doctor, they may also inquire about any medications you are taking that could affect your sleep. Your health care provider may also ask your spouse, bed partner, or other family members about your sleep habits. After talking with you, your health care provider may give you a physical exam. A blood sample may be taken for lab tests.

You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks to help identify sleep patterns and behaviors. Your health care provider may ask you to take notes each morning about:

  • How long you were in bed
  • The time you actually slept
  • Times you woke up and why
  • When you woke up in the morning
  • Thoughts about the quality of your sleep
  • Any unusual occurrences

Your health care provider may suggest that you sleep overnight in a sleep center. At the sleep center, you may have a continuous, all-night recording of your breathing, eye movements, muscle tone, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and rhythm, and brain waves.

Treating Insomnia

When appropriate, your health care provider will prescribe treatment for underlying problems that are causing insomnia. For example, if you have depression, medicine used to treat depression should help insomnia. If drug or alcohol abuse is the cause of your insomnia, the treatment is to help you to stop using these substances. If you have chronic insomnia, it must be treated with the management of the underlying problem. Your doctor may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy to help you make lifestyle changes that will help with your insomnia.

Acute insomnia may not require treatment, as it only affects your sleep for a few days to a few weeks. In some cases of temporary insomnia, your health care provider may prescribe sleeping pills or medication to help you sleep until the stressful event is over or resolved. Some sleeping medicine can be addictive. Your health care provider will work with you to choose the right medicine for short-term or long-term use. Counseling may also help you deal with psychological problems or reduce the stress that may cause or contribute to your insomnia.

Your health care provider may recommend relaxation techniques, changes in diet, cutting out caffeine, and a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. Your provider also will probably discuss good sleep habits and a regular sleep routine.

How long does insomnia last?

Oftentimes insomnia lasts for just a few nights. If you cannot sleep almost every night for 2 weeks, talk to your health care provider. Insomnia that lasts this long usually continues until the cause is identified and treated.

How can I help prevent insomnia?

Good sleep habits, or sleep hygiene, are crucial to your overall health. Here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Establish a sleep schedule
  • Avoid taking nap
  • Exercise regularly during the day. Avoid exercising in the evening.
  • Sleep in a dark room
  • Keep the bedroom at a cool temperature
  • Go to bed when you are drowsy and get up when you are wide awake
  • Avoid caffeine, other stimulants, cigarettes, and alcohol
  • Eat lightly at the evening meal and avoid snacks after supper
  • Learn to use relaxation exercises
  • Meditate for 20 minutes before you go to bed
  • Read something light or entertaining just before you go to bed
  • Consider having white noise in the background, such as a fan blowing.
  • Try not to focus on falling asleep
  • Try to reduce stress in your life by changing the things that cause stress
  • Keep a “to do” journal. Before you go to bed, write down all the things you are worrying about. Then write down what you can do tomorrow. Mark the other things as things to do later in the week. This will help clear your mind of worry.

Healthy sleep is important If you struggle with sleep over a long period of time, it’s time to consult a sleep specialist. Seeking a sleep medicine specialist could also be beneficial if you believe you are experiencing a sleep disorder like insomnia. If you are looking to get quality sleep and improve your overall health, call Gwinnett Sleep at 678-582-1929 to schedule an appointment today.