Why Many of Us Can’t Sleep
At the end of a long, busy day, you expect to be able to fall asleep, no problem. Yet when you crawl under the covers and turn out the light, what happens? You can’t sleep. Maybe you lie awake for a long time before falling asleep. Perhaps you can fall asleep initially, but you’re not able to stay asleep. Instead, you wake up on and off throughout a restless night, or you wake very early in the morning—even hours before the alarm is set to ring. You rise from bed to start the day feeling tired and unrefreshed. You could be suffering from insomnia.
These are the symptoms of this common sleep disorder, which are also reported by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. They include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Inability to stay asleep for the night
- Waking very early in the morning
- Feeling tired and unrested after a night of sleep
Estimates suggest that a third or more of adults in the United States are experiencing symptoms at any given time. As many as 20 percent of adults contend with this sleep disorder that lasts for a relatively short period of time, from a few weeks to a few months. Roughly 10 percent of adults suffer chronic insomnia, with consistent symptoms of the sleep disorder that last for three months or more.
Insomnia’s Toll—and Its Risks
Insomnia is disruptive to daily functioning, affecting energy, mood, concentration, and thinking. Without restful sleep, people are at greater risk for accident or injury. Relationships—both personal and professional—often suffer under the strain of insomnia. Common consequences include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Fatigue, and a lack of energy for regular activities
- Mood swings, irritability, anxiousness, low mood
Insomnia, especially when chronic, can lead to other health problems and medical disorders. Long-term, untreated insomnia is linked to greater risks for:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood sugar
- Mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
What Triggers Insomnia?
In some cases, insomnia can occur without a clear, identifiable cause. But there are many possible causes for this sleep disorder. It often is a response to stress, or to significant events that occur in life, both positive and negative. In some cases, it is a consequence of another medical condition. Arthritis, thyroid disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), depression and anxiety are among the medical conditions that trigger insomnia. Insomnia can also be a side effect of medication use and also may become more likely with age. Other possible causes include:
- Physical pain, whether from injury or illness
- Irregular sleep schedule, as well as sudden or frequent changes to sleep routine
- Use of stimulants including caffeine and nicotine
- Alcohol consumption, especially close to bedtime
- Eating too much in the evening hours before bed
Insomnia can be prevented in many cases, and also can be treated effectively using sleep-smart strategies and different forms of therapy. Sleep hygiene is a key factor in both preventing and treating this condition. This means sticking to a regular sleep routine, avoiding substances like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, which interfere with healthy sleep, and managing stress. Regular exercise can be tremendously helpful in avoiding and alleviating insomnia. So, too, can mindfulness practices, and relaxation therapies. Other treatments for insomnia include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. There is a specific course of CBT therapy for insomnia, which has been demonstrated highly effective in treating the sleep disorder. CBT for insomnia addresses behaviors, thought patterns, and emotions connected to sleep, and helps get to the underlying root of sleep issues.
- Sleep medication. Medications for sleep—whether over-the-counter or prescription— aren’t the best first choice in treating sleep problems like insomnia. But in some cases, under the guidance of a sleep specialist or sleep-knowledgeable physician, a short course of sleep medication can break the cycle of sleeplessness, frustration, and fatigue that accompanies insomnia.
Restful, restorative sleep is essential to health and wellness. If you think you may suffer from insomnia, reach out to your physician or to a sleep specialist for help.
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