So You Have Insomnia. Here’s What You Can Do About It.
So, what is Insomnia? Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which people have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. As a result, they may get too little sleep or poor-quality sleep. Additionally, those who have insomnia typically do not feel refreshed when they wake up.
Most people can identify with this description of insomnia. We have all had periods where when we have had difficulty falling asleep, maybe due to distress, anxiety, or excitement. However, when discussing insomnia, it is critical to differentiate between short term insomnia and long term or chronic insomnia.
Short-term Insomnia or (Transient Insomnia)
Around half of all people will experience short term insomnia in any single year. This kind of insomnia usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks and is typically brought on by an event that causes stress. For example, many people in Ireland may remember getting shorter and lighter sleep before an important event such as the Leaving Certificate. These kinds of reactions are the body’s standard response to stressful situations, and they are normal and healthy. Evidence suggests that these periods of elevated anxiety (within reason) may help improve cognitive performance. During this time, the need for sleep builds up, which will help bring sleep to normal levels when the stressful period has passed. Put simply, most short-term insomnia is a temporary cyclical process and will pass with time.
During these periods, you shouldn’t worry about the lack of sleep you’re getting. Use the extra time to prepare for the problems that are bringing on the stress in the first place. If you focus too much on this interruption, you will find yourself spending time in bed worrying about your sleep. Worrying will most likely result in more anxiety and frustration and ultimately distract you from more important matters.
Long term Insomnia or (Chronic Insomnia)
If you are having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep more than three nights a week for three months or more, this is considered chronic insomnia. Long-term insomnia is more severe than short term insomnia and can lead to an array of adverse effects that interfere with daily life.
Typical symptoms of long term insomnia include
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up during the night
- Trouble staying or returning to sleep
- Waking too early
- Daytime grogginess
- Never feeling rested after a night’s sleep
- Mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Increase in mistakes and accidents
During this period, it is not uncommon to begin developing feelings of worry and frustration when trying to get sleep. These feelings can then become psychological triggers associated with sleep. For example, you may be reading at night, and you begin to feel tired, so you decide to go to bed. However, as soon as you get into bed to try and sleep those negative associations are triggered and you suddenly feel wide awake. This process has a tendency to become worse and spiral into a negative feedback loop. These associations become difficult to break, which is why we describe this type of insomnia is chronic. It is therefore vital to address any hindrance to sleep as soon as it arises.
It is important to note that psychological factors are not the sole cause of sleeping problems. For example, a poor bedroom environment (a cheap Mattress, a bad Pillow, thin Curtains, wrong Temperature, ext.) can all significantly hinder your sleep. However, these factors if not addressed will probably become psychological triggers preventing sleep and spiral in the same process as I just described.
Kinds of Insomnia
To properly deal with Insomnia it is vital to understand what kind of insomnia you may be experiencing.
As the name would suggest, this kind of insomnia affects people who have trouble staying asleep. This could mean that you experience multiple awakenings during the night, or it could be one long period where you can’t get back to sleep. Getting up in the middle of the night can be part of the natural sleep cycle (something called Biphasic sleep). However, if the awakenings result in you feeling daytime tiredness, this kind of insomnia could be to blame.
Delayed sleep phase Insomnia
This kind of insomnia means you have difficulty falling asleep. Typically Delayed sleep phase Insomnia occurs due to some sort of interruption to your biological sleep clock. To understand what may be interrupting your biological clock, you will need to record what you do in the hours before you go to sleep. Some potential causes could include psychological triggers, again, as we already discussed, but it could also have something to do with your sleeping environment or a pre-sleep activity.
For example, I had a patient who had difficulty sleeping and we found out through looking at her case history that she ran every night before going to bed. This was easily corrected by changing her exercise schedule to early in the morning instead of the evening.
Early morning awakening insomnia
This means waking early in the morning and being unable to fall back to sleep after. An example of this, you may be waking up between 3 to 5 a.m. and be unable to get sufficient sleep. This is quite common and something that has been reported to me often by my patients over the past 25 years.
Can’t figure out which kind you have?
With so many factors contributing to insomnia, it can be challenging identifying if you are suffering from sleep deprivation and what kind of insomnia you have. The only way to truly understand is through trial and error. By removing negative factors and observing how your sleep is affected, we can begin to get a real comprehension of your sleep.
So, now I’m going to discuss the primary ways that people deal with insomnia.
Creating The Perfect Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment is probably the most important factor in getting a refreshing night’s sleep. Over a third of your life is spent in the bedroom; however, many people still overlook the importance of how much a good bedroom contributes to great sleep. If sleep is important to you, it’s vital to understand exactly how your bedroom impacts your sleep, and how we can improve it.
Get the right sleeping equipment
About nine in ten rated that having a comfortable mattress (92%) and/or comfortable pillows (91%) are important in getting a good night’s sleep. This means it is by far the most important element for sleep. If you don’t get your mattress AND pillow right, you can be sure that it will significantly affect your sleep. If you only want to make one change, get your mattress and pillow right, then you will be way ahead of the curve.
Clean Out All the Clutter
Your bedroom should be your oasis and reserved for sleep and sleep alone. Using your bedroom for other activities leads to your brain associating the room with those things. This means you need to change how you think about your bedroom. A good start would involve making sure to NOT to have your computer, desk, phone, or television in your bedroom.
Keeping electronics out of the room corresponds to our earlier tip of removing clutter, however, there are additional reasons why you need to keep them away from your bed. Most of these devices also emit a ‘sleep stealing’ blue light and may wake you if you receive a text or notification during the night.
Keep Your Room Dark
Light inhibits the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that naturally promotes sleep. Most people don’t know this, but, Even if you are asleep, light can still be detected through your eyelids and this will cause your brain to stop the production of melatonin since the brain will be confused between if it is night or is it daytime. In the past before electricity, there was no light during the night so keeping our rooms dark was no concern, but now we have street lights that can. You really want as much darkness as possible in your room.
I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s so simple yet so important. Most sleep experts suggest keeping your room a few degrees lower than your average daytime temperature.