What Living With Insomnia Is Really Like
This might just come out as a rambling of complaining, seeing as its 5:15am and, as you can probably guess from the title, I have not slept. I apologize in advance if thats what this is, and thank anyone for reading.
Ive had issues falling asleep since probably my junior year in college, but only in the past year has it gotten so bad that Im actually worried about it .
In college, there would be a few times where, even though I was in bed and tired, I didnt fall asleep until between 2am-4am. Melatonin didnt work, no matter how many times I took it. Im sure sometimes I even took more than youre supposed to . But it never really concerned me too much because these nights would be isolated incidents that didnt happen very often, and not in a row. Plus, I was in college, so my biggest responsibilities the next day would be going to a few classes and then taking a nap. I could do that on no sleep. And, anyway, college is about pulling all-nighters.
Fast-forward my first year or two out of college, and the problem got worse. Then, there would be a few nights where I wouldnt fall asleep until 4am. It wasnt great. Id wake up feeling nauseated and in a fog, unable to concentrate. Id get headaches. Plus, I would be emotional from the lack of sleep. I had a job at that point, so it really wasnt ideal. But still, it rarely caused me a lot of distress, because I knew that if I didnt sleep one night, then the next night I would sleep great. I just had to.
What Are Common Causes Of Insomnia
There are numerous potential causes of insomnia, and in many cases, multiple factors can be involved. Poor sleep can also trigger or worsen other health conditions, creating a complex chain of cause-and-effect for insomnia.
On a holistic level, insomnia is believed to be caused by a state of hyperarousal that disrupts falling asleep or staying asleep. Hyperarousal can be both mental and physical, and it can be triggered by a range of circumstances and health issues.
Insomnia Is A Common Complaint
Over one third of people experience insomnia from time to time, but only around five per cent need treatment for the condition. Transient or short-term insomnia is typically caused by such things as stressful life events, jet lag, changes in sleeping environments, some acute medical illnesses and stimulant medications. Normal sleeping habits return once the acute event is over.If a person has experienced sleeping difficulties for a month or more, this is called persistent or chronic insomnia. There are many causes of persistent insomnia. These include:
- Secondary insomnia due to a range of medical and psychiatric problems and the chronic use of drugs and alcohol.
- Primary sleep disorders include circadian rhythm disorders, central sleep apnoea-insomnia syndrome, inadequate sleep syndromes and periodic limb movement or restless legs syndromes.
- Idiopathic insomnia sleeplessness without a known cause, formerly called childhood onset insomnia.
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Insomnia And Mental Health Disorders
Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder frequently give rise to serious sleeping problems. It is estimated that 40% of people with insomnia have a mental health disorder.
These conditions can incite pervasive negative thoughts and mental hyperarousal that disturbs sleep. In addition, studies indicate that insomnia can exacerbate mood and anxiety disorders, making symptoms worse and even increasing the risk of suicide in people with depression.
Insomnia And Irregular Sleep Schedules
In an ideal world, the bodys internal clock, known as its circadian rhythm, closely follows the daily pattern of day and night. In reality, many people have sleep schedules that cause misalignment of their circadian rhythm.
Two well-known examples are jet lag and shift work. Jet lag disturbs sleep because a persons body cant adjust to a rapid change in time zone. Shift work requires a person to work through the night and sleep during the day. Both can give rise to a disrupted circadian rhythm and insomnia.
In some people, circadian rhythms can be shifted forward or backward without a clear cause, resulting in persistent difficulties in sleep timing and overall sleep quality.
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Favorite Insomnia Advocacy Groups
Project Sleep is nonprofit organization dedicated to raising sleep disorder awareness and providing help to those with sleep disorders. The group awards scholarships to support students with sleep disorders and hosts events to raise help raise awareness about sleep disorders and the importance of sleep health. The group also disseminates information about how to support sleep disorders research.
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What Prescription Medicines Treat Insomnia
Prescription medicines can help treat short-term or long-term insomnia. But your doctor or nurse may have you try first rather than medicine to treat insomnia.
The types of prescription medicines used to treat insomnia include and certain kinds of antidepressants. Prescription sleep medicines can have serious side effects, including sleepiness during the daytime and increased risk of falls for older adults., They can also affect women differently than men. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration required drug companies to lower the recommended dose for women of certain prescription sleep medicines with zolpidem, because women’s bodies do not break down the medicine as quickly as men’s bodies do.
If you decide to use a prescription sleep medicine:
- Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about any warnings and potential side effects of the medicine.
- Take the medicine at the time of day your doctor tells you to.
- Do not drive or do other activities that require you to be alert and sober.
- Take only the amount of medicine prescribed by your doctor.
- Tell your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about all other medicines you take, both over-the-counter and prescription.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Do not take medicines that your doctor has not prescribed to you.
- Talk to your doctor or nurse if you want to stop using the sleep medicine. You need to stop taking some sleep medicines gradually .
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Insomnia Causes And Symptoms
Insomnia is believed to originate due to a state of hyperarousal that can impact sleep-onset and sleep maintenance. Hyperarousal can be mental, physical, or a combination of both. Environmental, physiological, and psychological factors can all play a role in insomnia. These include the following:
Insomnia has also been linked to unhealthy lifestyle and sleep habits. Many people adopt these habits when they are younger, making them hard to break as adults. These habits can include going to bed at a different time each night or napping too long during the day. Exposure to screen devices like computers, televisions, and cell phones can also cause sleep problems, as can working evening or night shifts. Other factors can cause difficulty falling or staying asleep, such as inadequate exercise during the day or excessive noise and/or light in the sleepers bedroom.
The most common symptoms among chronic insomnia patients include difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, waking up earlier than planned, and not feeling tired or ready for bed at scheduled times. Daytime impairment is a necessary component of insomnia, and this can also manifest in different ways. Common impairments include fatigue and malaise, memory and concentration difficulties, mood disturbances and irritability, and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and aggression.
Can I Take A Supplement Or Natural Product For Insomnia
Some dietary supplements also claim to help people sleep. Manufacturers may label dietary supplements like melatonin as “natural” products.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. The FDA does not test supplements for safety or effectiveness . The FDA can remove supplements from the market if they are found to be unsafe.
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How Is Insomnia Treated
If your insomnia is caused by a short-term change in your sleep/wake schedule, such as with jet lag, your sleep schedule will probably return to normal on its own.
Chronic or long-term insomnia can be treated with , , and .
If insomnia is a symptom or side effect of another health problem, your doctor may recommend treating the other health problem at the same time. When the other health problem is treated, secondary insomnia often goes away on its own. For example, if menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, are keeping you awake, your doctor might try treating your hot flashes first. Research suggests that older women who use hormone replacement therapy, eat healthy foods based on a Mediterranean diet, and limit how much caffeine and alcohol they drink may have fewer sleep problems than women who did not do those things.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have symptoms of insomnia, and ask about the best ways to treat insomnia.
Common Psychological And Medical Causes Of Insomnia
Sometimes, insomnia only lasts a few days and goes away on its own, especially when it is tied to an obviously temporary cause, such as stress over an upcoming presentation, a painful breakup, or jet lag. Other times, insomnia is stubbornly persistent. Chronic insomnia is usually tied to an underlying mental or physical issue.
Anxiety, stress, and depression are some of the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Having difficulty sleeping can also make anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms worse. Other common emotional and psychological causes include anger, worry, grief, bipolar disorder, and trauma. Treating these underlying problems is essential to resolving your insomnia.
Medical problems or illness. Many medical conditions and diseases can contribute to insomnia, including asthma, allergies, Parkinsons disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, and cancer. Chronic pain is also a common cause of insomnia.
Medications. Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including antidepressants, stimulants for ADHD, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications, and some contraceptives. Common over-the-counter culprits include cold and flu medications that contain alcohol, pain relievers that contain caffeine , diuretics, and slimming pills.
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Media Technology In The Bedroom
suggests that using devices with screens before bed can cause a loss of sleep in young people.
These devices can also harm sleep patterns in adults. Recreational use after lights-out appears to
- over-the-counter sleep aids, some of which are available for purchase online
- melatonin, which is also available for purchase online
However, there is not enough strong evidence to prove that melatonin helps with sleep.
A number of remedies and tips can help manage insomnia. They involve changes to:
How Can I Prevent Insomnia
Lifestyle changes and improvements to your bedtime routine and bedroom setup can often help you sleep better:
- Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed.
- Be physically active during the day, outside if possible.
- Cut back on caffeine, including coffee, sodas and chocolate, throughout the day and especially at night.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, including weekends.
- Put away smartphones, TVs, laptops or other screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Turn your bedroom into a dark, quiet, cool sanctuary.
- Unwind with soothing music, a good book or meditation.
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Youre Just A Spectator
I was 6-7 years old and one day I got rushed to the hospital by my parents because they heard me breathing really loud and hard. The last thing I remembered were faces of the doctors and nurses above me while I was lying on my back. Then I flatlined.
The weirdest, unexplainable thing happened then and there I suddenly could see the whole scene as a spectator, like I was a floating spirit in that room. I could see myself getting revived, saw my mom crying and my dad comforting her. Then, I saw a white entity shaped like my body, falling through the ceiling and slowly, like a leaf on the wind, falling down to eventually land inside my body. Thats when that experience ended.
I was put in a medically induced coma, and I woke up after some days, I dont remember. I had stuff plugged into me, an IV, red glowing elastic ring on my finger etc. Anyway, I later mentioned to the doctors that I saw it all, I saw them using the defibrillators, my parents etc. No one really believed me and told me that I was probably dreaming and biasing my memories due to watching tv, but I know what I saw!
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Challenging The Worries And Thoughts That Fuel Insomnia
Its also helpful to challenge the negative attitudes about sleep and your insomnia problem that youve developed over time. The key is to recognize self-defeating thoughts and replace them with more realistic ones.
|Challenging self-defeating thoughts that fuel insomnia|
|Self-defeating thought:||Sleep-promoting comeback:|
|Unrealistic expectations: I should be able to sleep well every night like a normal person. I shouldnt have a problem!||Lots of people struggle with sleep from time to time. I will be able to sleep with the right techniques.|
|Exaggeration: Its the same every single night, another night of sleepless misery.||Not every night is the same. Some nights I do sleep better than others.|
|Catastrophizing: If I dont get some sleep, Ill tank my presentation and jeopardize my job.||I can get through the presentation even if Im tired. I can still rest and relax tonight, even if I cant sleep.|
|Hopelessness: Im never going to be able to sleep well. Its out of my control.||Insomnia can be cured. If I stop worrying so much and focus on positive solutions, I can beat it.|
|Fortune telling: Its going to take me at least an hour to get to sleep tonight. I just know it.||I dont know what will happen tonight. Maybe Ill get to sleep quickly if I use the strategies Ive learned.|
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Tips For Preventing Insomnia
Chronic insomnia may necessitate prescription medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and other types of formal treatment. For some people, practicing healthy lifestyle habits and good sleep hygiene can alleviate insomnia symptoms and help them sleep more soundly. The following sleep hygiene measures can be beneficial for people with insomnia:
- Limiting or eliminating naps, especially late in the day
- Restricting the use of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco products in the evening
- Avoiding late-night meals
Early Morning Awakening Insomnia
Early morning awakening insomnia involves waking up well before a person wants or plans to in the morning. Some experts view this as a component of sleep maintenance while others consider it separately.
Inability to get their desired amount of sleep can impair a persons physical and mental function the next day.
Overnight Treatment For Chronic Insomnia
- By Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health
ARCHIVED CONTENT: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date each article was posted or last reviewed. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Each night, as millions of Americans slumber peacefully, millions more cant fall asleep or stay asleep. For some, its just a now-and-then hitch. For others, insomnia is a chronic problem that affects mood, daytime alertness and performance, and emotional and physical health.
Chronic insomnia often starts out innocently enough. Stress or trouble at home or work interferes with sleep for a few nights. But then the habits that come along with not sleepinglooking at the clock, lying in bed wide awake, worrying about not getting to sleepcan stick. Soon just the sight of your bed or the tick of the clock toward 10:00 pm can trigger anxiety and render you wide awake.
Loosening the grip of chronic insomnia can take time and effort. Some of the sleepless turn to medications. One widely used behavioral approach, called stimulus control therapy, aims to break harmful sleep habits and thoughts over the course of several weeks. A new approach that uses a 25-hour program called intensive sleep retraining may be enough to break the cycle in a day.
Should I Stay Up All Night If I Cant Sleep
Ideally, you should stay out of the bedroom for a minimum of 30 minutes, Perlis says. You can go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy. Youll be more likely to fall asleep faster if you go to bed when youre drowsy. Sometimes its helpful to pick a time up front, be it 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes, says Perlis.
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You Have Difficulty Falling Or Staying Asleep
Insomnia presents itself differently depending on the person. While you might fall asleep instantly at night only to wake up alert at 1 a.m., someone else may climb into bed and not drift to sleep at all.
Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep, explained Brandon Peters-Mathews, a sleep medicine specialist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. Its often characterized by spending more than 20 to 30 minutes trying to get to sleep.
And if you wake up earlier than desired, thats also a symptom of insomnia, according to Anita Shelgikar, acting chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center.
Any single symptom or combination of these symptoms can be a sign youre suffering from insomnia.