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Insomnia – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Healthy Sleep | Sleep

People who can say with 100% confidence that they get deep, quality sleep every single night, without fail, are unicorns—they sadly don’t exist. Whether it’s because of work or family stress, traumatic events, or the lack of capacity to “shut down” our brains, we have all experienced having trouble falling asleep at one point in our lives.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder generally characterized as exactly that—difficulty or inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. It can be acute, transient, or chronic; it can happen sporadically or it can be something you experience most nights of every week. So how do you know if you have insomnia, and what can you do to overcome it?

Can’t sleep and don’t know why? Check out our Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders with symptoms, causes, and treatments on over twenty types of sleep disorders.

Quick Facts – Insomnia

Frequency: Roughly 30% of the global population

Risk Factors: Pre-existing physical (e.g. chronic pain) and mental health conditions (depression, anxiety), obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high stress levels, an irregular work schedule

Nature: Physical and mental

Treatment: Lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prescription or sleep medication, sleep restriction

Symptoms – Insomnia

Do you always wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all? Or maybe you struggle to fall asleep but then find yourself waking up too early in the morning? The following list contains some of the most common symptoms of insomnia.

  1. Difficulty falling asleep
  2. Waking up in the middle of the night
  3. Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
  4. Depressive moods
  5. Irritability and difficulty focusing and remembering
  6. Low energy and feelings of fatigue
  7. Anxiety and persistent worries about sleep

Causes – Insomnia

There is no single, definitive cause of insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia can result from medical and psychiatric conditions, food and lifestyle habits (i.e. sleeping or eating patterns and schedule), as well as certain biological factors. Here are some examples.

  1. Hyperthyroidism – This condition speeds up the body’s vital functions and overstimulates the nervous system, making it difficult to calm down and fall asleep.
  2. Working irregular hours or rotational shifts – This disrupts your circadian rhythm (a.k.a. your body clock), which then throws off your feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day.
  3. Excessive caffeine intake
  4. Drinking and/or smoking
  5. Chronic pain – Arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain are examples of pain conditions that can cause or aggravate insomnia. 
  6. Sinus allergies and nasal conditions – Nose and sinus conditions such as nasal congestion and allergic rhinitis have been found to significantly affect quality and duration of sleep.
  7. Mental and emotional stress
  8. Depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health conditions
  9. Respiratory conditions (e.g. asthma) – Coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and certain related medications make it difficult to initiate and maintain sleep.
  10. Significant life changes or traumatic events (e.g. divorce, death of a loved one)

Treatment – Insomnia

Those with transient insomnia that lasts for less than a week are usually able to recover by improving sleep hygiene (e.g. keeping the room dark and free of distractions, engaging in relaxing bedtime activities). And for acute and chronic insomnia, there are already several scientifically tested and recognized approaches to treatment, including the ones below.

  1. Lifestyle changes – Regular exercise, a healthy diet, following a consistent bedtime, etc.
  2. Relaxation techniques – Meditation, mindfulness, and similar approaches
  3. Prescription or sleep medication – Over-the-counter sleep medication can help with acute and transient insomnia, while prescription medication is an option for chronic insomnia.
  4. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – This is often used for chronic or long-term insomnia. CBT addresses not just the symptoms of insomnia, but also any underlying physical and psychiatric conditions that may be causing it.
  5. Sleep restriction – This is the process of limiting the time you spend in bed awake while trying to fall asleep.

How You Will Overcome Insomnia

We get it—insomnia is both exhausting and utterly frustrating because all you want is for once to just get a decent night’s sleep. But don’t give up just yet! In a study of 1,435 adults monitored for a year, 75% of those who exhibited acute insomnia were able to go back to having good sleep within a year. And CBT has also proven effective in treating and/or managing chronic insomnia.

By getting informed, making healthier lifestyle choices, and seeking help from professionals, you can overcome insomnia. When that happens, good quality sleep will no longer be a dream but a reality.

Did you know?

This article is part of our Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders – A resource that will help you get your quality sleep back. Click here to learn more about sleep disorders, their causes, symptoms and how to overcome them.

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
Featured in the Huffington Post, USA Today, and VOGUE

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