Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition in which a person has difficulty falling asleep, waking up easily, or both. When a person suffers from insomnia, he usually wakes up tired, which makes it difficult to carry out his daily duties. Prolonged lack of the required amount of sleep can lead to health problems, reduced work capacity, and quality of life.

How much sleep a person needs varies from person to person, but most adults need 7-8 hours a night. It is estimated that about 30-50% of the population is affected by insomnia at some point in their lives, and in about 10% it is chronic.

Insomnia is classified according to the duration of the problem. Different authors offer different classifications, but the following is generally accepted:

  • Transient insomnia – lasting less than a week
  • Short-term insomnia – between one and three weeks
  • Chronic insomnia – more than three weeks

What are the causes of insomnia?

The most common causes of insomnia include:

Stress – a job change, new home, health or family worry, loss of a loved one, divorce, or any events that we rate as stressful and cause anxiety can lead to insomnia

Depression – sufferers of depression either sleep too much or cannot sleep. Usually, a disturbed balance of substances in the brain or the anxieties that depression causes prevent sleep.

Mental disorders – schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, neurasthenias, and other psychiatric diseases are often accompanied by insomnia.

Medications – many medications prescribed for various ailments can lead to sleep disturbances. Such are some antidepressants, drugs for heart disease and blood pressure disorders, anti-allergy, corticosteroids, combinations of some pain relievers, as well as some weight loss products containing caffeine and others. Withdrawal reaction from certain medications, alcohol, sedatives, or stimulants

Caffeine, Nicotine, Alcohol – Coffee, cola, tea, and other caffeinated beverages are well-known sleep-inducing stimulants. Nicotine in cigarettes also acts as a stimulant and interferes with sleep. Alcohol has a “narcotic” effect on the nervous system and can help you fall asleep, but it prevents you from reaching the deeper phases of sleep and can also cause you to wake up at night.

Illnesses – chronic pain, conditions leading to difficulty breathing, or frequent urination can cause difficulty in sleeping. Those associated with insomnia are arthritis, cancer, heart failure, sleep apnea, lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hyperthyroidism, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and others. Exact adherence to the treatment prescribed by the doctor for the given condition can help relieve insomnia.

Changes in working hours and travel – traveling by plane or working in shifts can upset the “biological clock” that controls the body’s sleep-wake cycles

Poor sleep hygiene – sleep hygiene refers to the habits that promote good sleep. Poor sleep hygiene is going to bed at different times, low comfort in the sleeping place, and long lying in bed during the day.

“Learned” insomnia – this condition occurs in people who worry too much about not being able to fall asleep or try too hard to fall asleep. Most such people sleep better when they are away from where they usually sleep or are not trying to sleep (for example, when they are watching TV or reading a book).

Eating a large amount of food before bed – eating a small breakfast before bed is not a problem, eating larger amounts of food can cause heaviness, a burning sensation in the chest or abdomen, and other unpleasant sensations that prevent sleep.

Who are the risk groups of people who can develop insomnia?

In addition to having the aforementioned diseases or habits, certain groups of people are thought to be at greater risk of developing insomnia. Such groups are:

  • long-distance travelers
  • people with frequently changing work schedules
  • adults over 60 years of age
  • teenagers, young adults
  • suffering from psychiatric diseases
  • pregnant women
  • menopausal women
  • drug and/or drug abusers
  • alcoholics

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

In addition to difficulty falling asleep and waking up easily, insomnia sufferers also experience other complaints that occur while they are awake and often bring them to the doctor. The most common symptoms of insomnia are:

  • frequent awakening at night
  • morning fatigue
  • concentration disorders, often making mistakes
  • reduced memory
  • irritability
  • impaired coordination
  • headache
  • digestive tract symptoms

Often the onset of symptoms can be associated with some stressful event such as a change of school, job, new relationship, loss of a loved one, etc.

Medical help should be sought when insomnia lasts more than three weeks or less but disrupts the patient’s daily habits and duties.

What tests can be done to find the cause of insomnia?

The most important thing for discovering the cause of insomnia is a correctly taken history. Your doctor will ask about stressful events related to the onset of symptoms, previous illnesses, medications, alcohol, coffee, drugs, and sleep habits. The physical examination aims to detect signs of diseases that may cause insomnia.

Blood tests to assess thyroid function, blood gas analysis (if chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is suspected), and more specialized tests in sleep disorders laboratories or neurology departments such as polysomnography may be done. It is a study in which one sleeps one night in a sleep research laboratory, during which during sleep devices are attached to the research body to monitor the function of the heart, the nervous system, the way of breathing, and the movements.

What is the treatment for insomnia?

The main goal of therapy is to find the cause of insomnia. Treating only the symptoms rarely leads to success. In most cases, insomnia is curable as long as the exact cause is found.

As an initial treatment, behavioral therapy is usually applied. Its purpose is to learn new habits related to sleep. Its effectiveness is comparable to drug therapy, and in some cases even greater. During the behavioral therapy is applied:

  • learning new sleep habits
  • relaxation techniques
  • cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.

Taking medication can help overcome insomnia when there are indications for their use and they are prescribed by a doctor. Their side effects include drowsiness, concentration disorders, balance disorders, agitation, and others.

Research shows that combining medication and behavioral therapy is more effective in treating insomnia than either method alone. Therapy is most successful when it is chosen specifically for each patient according to the cause.

How can we cope with insomnia on our own?

Medical help should be sought when insomnia lasts more than three weeks or less but disrupts the patient’s daily habits and duties.

The following tips can be applied to deal with insomnia:

  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time
  • Don’t stay in bed when you’re awake – if you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something else, like reading a book
  • Use the bed only for sleep and sex – don’t read, work, or watch TV in bed
  • Try different relaxation techniques
  • Avoid naps during the day, keep them to no more than 30 minutes, and don’t take them after 3 pm
  • Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible for sleep
  • Exercise at least 20-30 minutes a day
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes – smoking and drinking coffee after lunch interfere with sleep. Although alcohol can help you fall asleep, your sleep is incomplete and you may wake up frequently during the night.
  • Ask your doctor if the medications you take for your illnesses are contributing to your insomnia. Also, check if other products you are taking contain caffeine and other stimulants
  • Avoid eating large amounts of food before bed
  • Hide clocks in the bedroom – set an alarm so you know when to wake up, but then hide all the other clocks in the room. The less you know what time it is, the better you’ll sleep

What are the complications?

Usually, insomnia is not associated with serious complications. However, prolonged failure to deal with it and its cause can lead to physical and mental problems that seriously reduce quality of life.

Complications that can follow insomnia include:

  • increased risk of accidents caused by impaired concentration – traffic accidents and others
  • increased risk of depression
  • obesity
  • reduced immune system function

The material is informative and cannot replace consultation with a doctor. Before starting treatment, you must consult a doctor.

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