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What is insomnia?
According to the latest guidelines, insomnia is defined as the difficulty or inability to fall asleep and/or to stay asleep. This definition only applies to people who want to sleep at their usual schedule but are unable to do so.
Insomnia is often associated with anxiety and anticipatory fear. In other words, people are scared when it is time to sleep, as they predict it won’t be easy.
Other symptoms that can be seen with insomnia include asthenia (low energy), irritability, mood disturbances, distractibility, daytime sleepiness, and reduced performance at work or school.
The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders V or DSM V for short classifies insomnia as part of the sleep disorders just like sleep apnea and narcolepsy.
When it comes to the prevalence of insomnia, the numbers are just crazy! 30-40% of Americans report having an insomniac episode in the last 12 months.
Types and causes of insomnia
The term “insomnia” tends to be thrown around at any person who faces difficulty when trying to fall asleep; however, the classifications go further than this.
Insomnia is divided into two types based on the duration it lasts.
- Acute insomnia
- Chronic insomnia
Let’s briefly discuss each type:
This type of insomnia is often associated with specific events in someone’s life. For instance, you might find it hard to sleep the night before the exam, or when you hear some terrible news.
It is the most common type, and if you ask people if they had a similar episode in the past, most of them would tell you a story about that “one night” when they couldn’t sleep and stay up till dawn.
Acute insomnia usually lasts for a few nights and then disappears once your circadian rhythm (biological clock) gets back to normal.
To be able to diagnose chronic insomnia, some criteria must be present, they include:
- Trouble falling or maintaining sleep for at least 3 nights per week.
- Experiencing similar episodes for at least 3 months.
The exact cause of chronic insomnia can be challenging to pinpoint, as it is often caused by unknown factors.
Nevertheless, there are some risk factors that might trigger chronic insomnia. Examples are:
- A sudden change in the sleeping environment
- Working night shifts
- Jet lag
- Bad sleep hygiene
- Some organic diseases (e.g., congestive heart failure, gastroesophageal reflux disease -GERD-, hyperthyroidism, etc.)
- Some mental diseases (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.)
- Certain pharmaceutical drugs (e.g., corticosteroids, statins, alpha-blockers, SSRIs, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, newer-generation antihistamines, etc.)
Signs and Symptoms of insomnia
Oftentimes, people think of difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep when they hear the term “insomnia”; however, other signs and symptoms can also be associated with insomnia.
These symptoms could be the result of an underlying medical condition that’s also causing insomnia, or they could simply be the consequences of poor sleep.
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty maintaining sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Lethargy during the day
- Mood swings
- Frequent headaches
- Increased frequency of errors
- Decreased or absent motivation to study or work
- Decreased overall performance
- Automobile accidents (indirect cause)
- Anticipatory fear of sleep
Of course, the frequency and severity of the symptoms will vary greatly. For instance, one patient might experience all the signs and symptoms mentioned on our list, while another patient will only complain of difficulty falling asleep.
How does insomnia affect women?
When it comes to sleep disorders, women are at a higher risk of developing these conditions. Insomnia is no exception, as the number of women who suffer from insomnia is twice that of men.
Scientists believe this to be the result of the hormonal changes women experience every month.
These hormonal fluctuations happen during:
The menstrual cycle: just before the menses (period), estrogen and progesterone are going up steeply. As a result, women might experience insomnia in the leading days to period. This effect is especially accentuated in women who have been diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Pregnancy: while women can become insomniac during the first trimester of pregnancy, the symptoms are often mild and disappear quickly. However, during the third trimester, a lot of pregnant women will complain of waking up during the night and difficulty falling back asleep. This is believed to be due to the high pressure in the pelvic area and muscle cramps.
Menopause: two of the classic symptoms noted during perimenopause are hot flashes and night sweats, which can eventually cause sleep disturbances.
The signs and symptoms of insomnia are identical for both genders.
Ways to overcome insomnia
Even though most episodes of insomnia resolve spontaneously, chronic insomnia needs special attention and care, as it could be devastating for patients.
As a first step, your physician will try to determine the cause of your insomnia, which is the cornerstone of a good management plan. Eliminating the triggering factor can cure insomnia and prevent future episodes.
Regardless of whether the cause of insomnia is identified or not, patients with insomnia can benefit from non-pharmacological treatment, as well as pharmacological treatment.
Sleep hygiene: this involves improving your everyday routine, exercising more, going to bed at the same time every day, avoiding energy drinks, coffee, tea, and any other product that contains caffeine before bed.
Additionally, patients should avoid using their laptops, phones, or any other LED device before sleeping, as it would suppress the secretion of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
For patients who must use their electronic devices at night, getting blue light blocking glasses can be helpful because they block the UV light coming from the screen.
These glasses will also prevent future episodes of insomnia by keeping a regular cycle of melatonin secretion.
Of course, blue light blocking glasses are not the only gadgets to help you get better sleep. There is a sea of gadgets to help you get the sleep you deserve.
Yoga and meditation: practicing yoga and meditation or listening to relaxing music have been shown to reduce stress hormones, which can keep you vigilant. Don’t know where to start? Find the accessories you need no matter what level of yoga in my article Gift Ideas for the Beginner and Experienced Yogi.
Sleep restriction: the logic of this method is simple; avoid going to bed all day until you’re exhausted and falling asleep might not be as tricky that night.
This option is only used when other treatment methods have failed. Some of the drug classes your doctor might prescribe include:
- New generation sleep pills
- Antidepressants (SSRIs)
Nowadays, we are living in a highly stressful environment that can cause many organic and/or psychological medical conditions.
Insomnia is one of these conditions that is found more commonly in women, and that can result in devastating consequences, hence the need for spreading education about it and teaching people the correct steps to take when suffering from insomnia.
If you experienced insomnia in the past or at the present time, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. I will be thrilled to read them.
Results may vary. Information and statements made are for general purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Her Own Health does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Her Own Health are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.