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Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Insomnia
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What is Insomnia?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insomnia is a condition characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep (x, x, x). When a patient is unable to sleep, it can manifest as extreme daytime sleepiness and limit the ability to function throughout the day.

Insomnia can be a result or byproduct of other medical conditions. For example, insomnia and cancer share a link, as insomnia can worsen cancer-related conditions and symptoms like pain, fatigue, depression or anxiety (x).

Types of Insomnia

The National Sleep Foundation has identified five various types of insomnia (x):

Acute Insomnia

Acute insomnia refers to brief bouts of insomnia, often triggered by negative or stressful events in the patient’s life. Usually this type resolves itself without medical intervention (x).

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia, also known as lifelong insomnia, includes sleepless nights at least three times a week lasting at least three months. There are multiple potential causes of chronic insomnia including environmental changes, less than ideal sleeping habits, clinical disorders and certain medication.

Unlike acute insomnia, patients suffering from this form of insomnia can benefit from treatment to return to healthy sleeping patterns (x).

Comorbid Insomnia

Comorbid insomnia is a type of chronic insomnia and develops along with another medical condition. Psychiatric symptoms like anxiety and depression can change sleep patterns. Conditions like arthritis, back pain and chronic headaches can also cause insomnia or discomfort at night (x).

Onset Insomnia

Onset insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep at the beginning of the night (x).

Maintenance Insomnia

Maintenance insomnia is the inability to stay asleep. Patients suffering from this condition usually wake up in the middle of the night and find it very difficult to return to sleep (x).

Chronic Insomnia Symptoms

The following are the identified symptoms of chronic insomnia (x, x):

  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Inability to remain asleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Waking up feeling unrefreshed
  • Low energy and repeated bouts of fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Behavioral problems including aggression or impulsiveness

However, these symptoms appear in other sleep disorders as well, which is why it’s important to verify insomnia before beginning treatment.

Insomnia Symptoms

Insomnia Risk Factors & Causes

Insomnia stems from a series of physical and psychological elements. In some instances, an underlying ailment causes chronic insomnia, while physiological problems such as trauma may cause acute insomnia (x).

Circadian Rhythm Disruption

The circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock (x). It becomes disrupted by exposure to high altitudes, environmental noise, stress, extreme weather temperatures, jet lag or changes in job shifts.

Psychological Issues

Psychotic disorders, depression, anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder can cause insomnia (x, x, x, x).

Medical Conditions

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Asthma
  • Heart failure
  • Epilepsy
  • Angina
  • Acid-reflux disease
  • Chronic pain

Hormones

Hormonal shifts during menstruation, menopause or pregnancy also trigger insomnia, as well as exposure to parasites or genetic conditions.

Technology

Multiple studies suggest that prolonged exposure to light from technological devices before going to bed affects melatonin levels, sleep quantity and quality. For example, one study discovered that backlit tablet systems give off optical radiation wavelengths that are close to the peak sensitivity of melatonin suppression, affecting stimulation to the circadian rhythm and complicating insomnia symptoms (x, x).

Insomnia Treatment

If insomnia becomes a recurring ailment, there are multiple treatment options for its symptoms. Most people usually experience brief periods of insomnia as a result of certain life events, but when insomnia lasts for a long period of time, it is worth seeking out help.

Non-Medical Treatments

Non-medical treatments include psychological and behavioral techniques. You can teach them to yourself, but a trained professional can also help (x, x).

Relaxation Training

Relaxation training, also known as progressive muscle relaxation, teaches the patient to systematically tense and relax the muscles of different areas of the body. This exercise helps the patient to calm down and induces sleep in the process (x).

Breathing exercises, meditation techniques, guided imagery and mindfulness exercises have also helped with sleep. Some people also use audio recordings to guide them through the process (x, x, x).

Stimulus Control

Stimulus control restricts the activities in the bedroom, allowing the patient to create a link between the bedroom and only sleep. For example, don’t get into bed unless you are tired and leave your bedroom if you have been awake for more than 30 minutes. Repeating this behavior helps break old mental associations between the bedroom and activities other than sleep — working, reading or scrolling social media, for example — and sets new mental associations (x, x).

Medical Treatments

There are multiple medications available to help insomnia patients treat their symptoms, including over-the-counter treatments. It’s important to purchase medication depending on your symptoms and health. However, you should check with your doctor before you take a sleep aid (x).

Alternative Medicine

In addition to medication, there are also alternative treatments available to help with insomnia. However, these medications are not subjected to the same tests as other treatments to confirm their effectiveness and side effects (x).

Prevention

Like most conditions, insomnia can be avoided. Here are some steps to prevent it (x):

Set Regular Sleep Hours

Maintaining a regular bedtime and wake-up time every day will condition your body to sleep better. Choose a bedtime when you are likely to feel sleepy, so you’ll be able to stick to it.

Convert Your Bedroom into a Soothing Sleeping Environment

Your bedroom is sacred and it should be a peaceful place for you to tune out at the end of the day and get enough rest. Make it a controlled environment. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and manipulate the temperature, lighting, decor and cleanliness so you to have access to everything you need to fall asleep and stay asleep (x, x).

Exercise

Regular and moderate exercise relieves tension from a stressful workday, but try to steer clear of rigorous exercise like running or weight lifting too close to bedtime because it could keep you awake. Instead, consider walking or swimming (x).

Avoid Caffeine

Physicians advise insomniacs to limit or eliminate all forms of caffeine from their diets. Although it is common, there is no nutritional need for caffeine and it blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain to increase adrenaline, so it is counterproductive for insomniacs (x).

Supplements for Insomnia

Pure Melatonin Powder

Melatonin is known to help improve sleep quality. The recommended dose is a single serving size between 1 mg and 3 mg before bedtime (x, x).

Pure L-Tryptophan Powder

L-Tryptophan is an amino acid we get from food or supplementation. It also produces serotonin, which is used to make melatonin in the body (x, x).

Pure Glycine Powder

Functioning as an antioxidant, glycine is a nonessential amino acid that’s important to muscle maintenance and energy production. A pharmacist should determine the proper dosage (x, x).

L-Theanine Powder

Usually found in green tea, L-theanine powder is a rich source of polyphenols, which possess antioxidant properties and promotes overall health. The recommended dose ranges between 100 to 200 mg one to three times daily (x, x).

Pure Valerian Root

Native to Asia, North America and Europe, valerian root promotes calmness and acts like a sleep aid. The recommended dose is between 300 to 600 mg daily (x).

Chamomile

A member of the daisy family, chamomile is a common calming aid. The recommended dose is 800 mg once or twice daily with water (x, x).

Kava Kava

Kava kava is a calming agent that helps with sleeplessness, unease and muscle tension. The recommended dose is 1000 mg once or twice daily or as directed by a doctor (x, x).

The Bottom Line

Insomnia symptoms can be brief and acute or chronic and long-lasting. If you have other medical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or heart failure, insomnia can develop alongside it.

Treatments include both medical and non-medical methods, such as relaxation training and stimulus control. To prevent its symptoms, consider practicing regular, moderate exercise, avoiding caffeine and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.

If you are displaying symptoms of insomnia, it is important you pay a visit to your doctor before you begin treatment.

About the author

Ayoola Oni


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