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What Is Insomnia? And How Do You Know If You Have It?
Are you fed up with sleepless nights? If you’re like most people you would have experienced brief periods of insomnia at some stage. That feeling when you’re still awake hours after going to bed, staring at the ceiling wondering, “should I get up or will I eventually fall back to sleep?”
We’ve all been there. Insomnia is a very common problem that affects your mood, energy and ability to function during the day. But what causes insomnia, how do you know if you have it and is there a cure?
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that is defined as difficulty of falling or staying asleep, even when you have the chance to do so. If you have insomnia you probably feel despair about the amount of sleep you get and you most likely experience fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and decreased performance at work.
What Causes Insomnia?
Anxiety, stress, sleep disorders and depression are the most common causes of insomnia. But the real dilemma is that if you’re experiencing insomnia, the lack of sleep can make these feelings even worse. Other emotional and psychological causes of your insomnia may include anger, worry, grief, bipolar disorder, and trauma.
How Do You Know If You Have Insomnia?
You may have insomnia if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Having trouble falling asleep at night
- Waking up during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep again
- Waking up too early in the morning
- You don’t feel well-rested even after a good night’s sleep
- Feeling tired or sleepy during the day
- You feel depressed, anxious or irritable
- Finding it hard to pay attention, focus on tasks or remember things during the day
- You have an increase in accidents or mistakes
- You are worried about the amount of sleep you get
If you have any of these symptoms you may be suffering from insomnia. It could be mild (acute) or chronic insomnia. If your insomnia occurs at least three nights per week for three months or longer, it is most likely chronic insomnia and you should visit your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Can You Cure Insomnia?
The best cure for insomnia is prevention. You don’t deserve to put up with sleepless nights any longer. By working out what the underlying cause of your insomnia is and making simple changes to your daily habits and sleep environment—you can put a stop to your insomnia and finally get some sleep.
Keep a notebook and pencil on your bedside table and next time you find yourself lying in bed staring at the ceiling, make a list of all the things you are thinking about. During the next day, start working through your list and think about ways to resolve each item on your list. It might mean having a conversation with someone about something that is bothering you, coming up with strategies to work more efficiently or making a budget to improve your financial situation.
Tackle each item one at a time and enlist the help of friends, family and professionals to help you resolve each one. Even achieving one small step towards resolving the things that are bothering you at night will make a huge difference to your wellbeing and sleep health.
You can also change your sleep environment and habits to achieve a better night’s sleep by following these simple steps:
- Don’t bring work, devices or tv to bed. In fact, keep them out of your bedroom altogether.
- Make the temperature of your room cool if possible.
- Don’t have alcohol or any stimulants before bed. While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it will actually make you more restless during the night.
- Make sure your mattress is comfortable, no more than 10 years old and a medium-firm mattress is best for sleep.
- Try to create a regular sleep-wake cycle. Go to bed at around the same time each night and wake up at around the same time each morning.
- Try not to nap during the day.
- Get regular exercise. Even a 20-minute walk can make a difference.
- If you’re lying in bed unable to sleep, get up and leave the bedroom after 20 minutes so you only associate your bed with sleep.
- Eat light meals in the evening. Similar to alcohol, heavy meals can cause restlessness at night.
What If Nothing Works For Your Insomnia?
If you’ve tried the steps above and you’re still having trouble sleeping it’s time to visit your doctor. The duration of insomnia is important in making a diagnosis. Not being able to sleep at night for a short period of time due to anxiety, stress, emotions or depression is common however the medical profession considers insomnia chronic if it occurs at least three nights per week for three months or longer.
Chronic insomnia can contribute to serious health problems so it’s important to get treatment if your insomnia is chronic.
Treatment for Chronic Insomnia Can Be Non-Medical or Medical
Non-medical treatment consists of behavioural and psychological techniques. Some of these techniques can be self-taught such as relaxation techniques, muscle relaxation and stimulus control. Stimulus control may involve readjusting your association with your bed. For example, your bed is only for sleeping so if you’re lying awake for more than 20 minutes, leave the room regardless of the time.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another non-medical treatment that has had very high success rates with people suffering from insomnia. CBT aims to change the way you think. If you have beliefs and fears about your sleep health CBT works to replace your way of thinking with positive and rational thoughts. Non-medical treatment works best with the help of a sleep specialist or therapist.
Medical treatment for insomnia includes over the counter and prescription medications. The type of medication depends on the type and severity of insomnia you have. Your doctor will determine the right sleeping aid for you.
If you talk to your doctor and you’re not satisfied with the treatment recommended you may want to get a second opinion or ask for a referral to a doctor that specialises in sleep medicine.
Next time you’re tossing and turning or lying in bed thinking about the same thing over and over again try to change your thought patterns to your sleep health. To truly understand your insomnia, you need to learn about what’s keeping you up at night. Getting to the bottom of that will help you get a better night’s sleep.