Many people suffer from insomnia. They find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep or they wake up during the night and are unable to fall asleep again. This tends to leave them feeling tired during the day.
They find this debilitating, making it difficult to summon the energy they need to be effective at work and enjoy the quality of life they would like.
However, changes in your daily routine and habits can help you overcome your insomnia, enabling you to sleep better, hence perform better during your waking hours.
Insomnia may be acute or short-term, transient, which generally lasts no more than three days, or chronic, which is longer term, occurring at least three nights a week and lasting at least three months or sometimes even years.
Insomnia is usually the result of stress or habits that disrupt sleep. Acute insomnia may be caused by stressful life events such as examinations or bad news. Transient insomnia can likewise be attributed to temporary stressful situations.
Chronic insomnia is often the result of more long-term stressful situations or habits, such as changes in the environment, unhealthy sleeping habits, other clinical disorders, and certain medications, all of which could lead to a long-term pattern of insufficient sleep.
Work pressures or concerns, pressures at school, health worries, financial worries, family concerns and other sources of worry and stress can keep your mind active when you are in bed, making it difficult to sleep.
Stressful life events or trauma, such as the loss of someone dear to you, the illness of a relative, the loss or threatened loss of your job or divorce, can all lead to insomnia.
Insomnia can also be the result of disruption of your body’s circadian rhythms, which act like a biological clock, guiding your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature. This may be the result of, for instance, jet lag or changing work shifts.
Poor sleeping habits such as irregular bed-times, frequent naps during the day, stimulating activities before bed-time or an uncomfortable bed or sleeping environment can contribute to insomnia, so too can using your bed just before going to sleep for video games, watching television or activities on your laptop or smartphone.
Eating a lot late in the evening may make you feel uncomfortable when lying down. You may also have heartburn that keeps you awake.
Drinking coffee, tea, cola and other caffeinated drinks in the evening may stop you from falling asleep, as they are stimulants. The nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can interfere with sleep.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes awakening in the middle of the night.
Medical conditions that may be linked with insomnia include chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux diseases, an overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Anxiety disorders may also disrupt your sleep.
Sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnoea, which causes you to stop breathing periodically during the night, and restless legs syndrome, may also interfere with or prevent your sleeping.
Identifying the cause of the insomnia makes it easier to overcome or treat it.
Since there is a strong association between stress and insomnia and poor sleeping habits and insomnia, learning to handle stress and adopting habits conducive to restful sleep are the first means of overcoming insomnia.
Learning to relax and put out of your mind until the next day issues that worry you or problems you would like to find a solution to should make it easier to get to sleep. Bed-time is a time for sleeping, not for problem solving. Set aside your worries in the interests of obtaining the sleep that is so important for staying healthy.
Stick to a regular bedtime routine that enables you to be in bed in time to have the sleep you need. Being in bed at about the same time every evening and rising at the same time each morning, helps your sleep routine.
Being active helps promote a good sleep. Naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Try to limit a nap to 30 minutes at the most, Do not sleep after 3pm.
Avoiding before bed a heavy meal, drinks with caffeine in them, alcohol and smoking may also help you have a good night’s sleep. Try not to drink too much too close to bedtime, to avoid frequent toilet visits during the night.
Many people are able to overcome the problem of insomnia on their own. Others seek the assistance of their doctor.
A form of therapy that often helps overcome insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy. Applied to insomnia, the therapy aims to help you control or eliminate negative thoughts that keep you awake, develop good sleeping habits and avoid habits that prevent you sleeping well.
Sometimes worrying about not getting to sleep can be the very thing that keeps you awake. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps you learn how to overcome this as well.
Other types of therapy include stimulus control therapy, which helps remove factors that interfere with sleep, and paradox therapy, whereby you are encouraged to try to stay awake rather than sleep, which may have the effect of your actually falling asleep.
Relaxation exercises before going to bed may make it easier to sleep.
There are sleeping pills the doctor can prescribe to help you sleep, if you are unable to overcome your insomnia in any other way.
Doctors do not generally recommend relying on prescription sleeping pills for more than a few weeks.
There are, however, some medicines to assist sleeping that are suitable for long-term use.
Prescription pills, like all medicines, can have side effects. These may include daytime grogginess. They can be habit forming as well.
Over-the-counter sleep medications can make you drowsy and have other side-effects. They are not intended for regular use. It is advisable to contact your doctor before taking them.
Some tips to make your bedtime more conducive to sleep include making the bed and the bedroom comfortable, using your bedroom primarily for sleep rather than for activities such as using your laptop and keeping the bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature.
Try to find ways to relax. Put aside your worries and plans when you get into bed.
A warm bath before bed can be relaxing. Breathing exercises may help as well. Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading, soft music and prayer.
Do not try too hard to sleep. The harder you try, the more awake you may become. Just relax and let sleep take over.
In the morning, do not stay in bed longer than you need to. If you feel rested, get up and start the day on a positive note.
The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. To contact the iGo team, email firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-27730663.