If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. An estimated 50-70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. You often hear and read about insomnia, but what exactly is it and why can’t you sleep? If you have questions about insomnia or you’re craving a good night’s sleep, this guide should come in handy.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder, which makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay sleeping for long enough to enable your body to get the rest and recovery time it needs. If you have insomnia, you may find that it takes you a long time to drift off to sleep, even if you feel incredibly tired before you go to bed. You may also find that you wake up during the night. It’s very rare to wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and energized when you suffer from insomnia, and you may struggle to rest during the day even if you feel lethargic or fatigued. Insomnia is very common, and in many cases, it’s a temporary problem, which doesn’t cause too many issues. Most of us can recover from a couple of sleepless nights. The problems lie in cases of more severe or prolonged insomnia. There’s a reason why humans are designed to sleep during the night, and if you miss out on good quality sleep over a period of time, your health may suffer.
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The importance of sleep
Ideally, adults should sleep for between 7 and 9 hours every night. There’s no universal rulebook when it comes to sleep because everybody is unique and some people need more sleep than others. Sleep is important for a number of reasons, and this is why a lack of rest can have such negative consequences for both your mental wellbeing and your physical health. While you’re sleeping, your body doesn’t shut down completely. A number of essential processes are taking place, which enable the body to undergo repairs and to recover in preparation for the next day. When you’re resting, almost every organ and system in the body is getting ready for the day ahead. Your brain is processing information and developing new pathways, your blood vessels are healing, and your immune system is working to protect you from illnesses and infections.
It’s hard to put into words the importance of getting enough sleep. Studies have shown that people who don’t sleep enough have an elevated risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and depression. In children, deep sleep promotes healthy growth and development.
Sleep is also important when it comes to your behavior and your ability to function normally during the day. If you miss out on a good night’s sleep, you may feel irritable, you may be more clumsy than usual, and it might be harder to concentrate. You might find that you’re more susceptible to making mistakes at work and you may be more sensitive and emotional than usual. Your energy levels are also likely to suffer.
What causes insomnia?
There are many possible causes of insomnia. Sometimes, there are problems that are easy to remedy, and in other cases, it can take a lot longer to determine the cause and find effective solutions. The most common causes of insomnia include:
Anxiety and stress
Almost everybody will be affected by stress at some point in their lives, and most of us are familiar with feelings of anxiety when we’ve got a big day ahead. If you’ve got an important meeting or presentation, you’re awaiting exam results, or you’re going to the dentist the next day, increased anxiety levels may make it hard to get to sleep. Stress can also affect sleep patterns. If your mind is active, you’re worried, or you feel uneasy, it’s hard to shut down and distract yourself from the things that are stressing you out. Often, stress and anxiety cause short-term insomnia, but if symptoms persist, it’s important to seek medical advice.
Mental health disorders
If you have a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, this can put you at greater risk of insomnia. If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, see your doctor. Sometimes, taking certain types of medication can affect your ability to sleep, and it may be possible to switch to another drug.
If you have an underlying health condition or you’ve sustained an injury, you may find that you have difficulty sleeping, especially if you’re in pain.
Your sleeping environment
Often, your sleeping environment can have a significant influence on your sleep patterns. If it’s noisy, there’s light coming through the curtains, you’re too hot or cold, or your bed is uncomfortable, you’re going to find it harder to sleep than you would in a dark, quiet room with a comfortable bed.
Sometimes, it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep if you’ve been drinking alcohol or you’ve had caffeine late in the day. Inactivity during the day can also hinder your chances of enjoying a restful night.
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What can be done to combat insomnia?
Insomnia can be a very serious condition, but it’s almost always possible to find a cure. The most important thing to do if you have trouble sleeping is try and identify the cause.
Improving the environment
If you’re lying awake in bed every night listening to your neighbors playing music or the glare of streetlights is keeping you up, take some steps to alter your sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be a tranquil space where you can escape and relax in peace. Use heavy curtains or blackout blinds to keep the room dark and wear earplugs if noise is an issue. If you’re having persistent problems with your neighbors, put a polite note through the door or knock and ask if they would mind being slightly quieter at night. If you find your bed uncomfortable or you’re prone to pain, consider looking for a new mattress.
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Establishing a new routine
Getting used to a new routine can also be hugely beneficial for people who have insomnia. Sometimes, it’s impossible to stick to a pattern, for example, if you’re traveling in different time zones, but if you can adopt a time to get up and go to bed each day, this will make such a difference. Your body operates on an internal clock, and if you can set times, this should mean that you find it easier to get to sleep and that you wake up feeling refreshed. Avoid waiting until you’re falling asleep on the couch to go to bed and hitting snooze a hundred times before you get up. It may take a few days to get used to your new routine, but once your body has adapted, your risk of insomnia should be much lower. When you’re in your bedroom, don’t do anything that could distract you or keep you awake. Leave your phone in another room and don’t watch TV or turn your tablet on and start looking at emails. A third of people admit to waking up and checking their phones in the middle of the night.
Stress causes many people to toss and turn at night. If you’re feeling stressed, take some time out to relax and try and wind down before you get into bed. Exercise, stretch, meditate or use self-help hypnosis to ease anxiety, clear your mind and help you feel calmer. Run a bath, have a chat with your partner or put some uplifting or soothing music on. Read a book, catch up on your favorite TV program, paint a picture or take the dog for a walk. Do anything that makes you feel relaxed. If you can climb into bed feeling chilled, you should find it easier to switch off. If you find that you’re guilty of bringing work home with you, draw a line once you leave the office. Don’t look at your work phone, avoid checking your emails, and focus all your attention on spending the evening doing things you enjoy.
Studies show that regular exercise aids sleep. If you’re active, you’re much less likely to suffer from sleep disorders including insomnia. Exercise tires your body out, but it’s also a very powerful stress-buster. If you’re not as active as you should be, try and increase the amount of exercise you do. You don’t have to take out gym membership or start running miles every day, but make an effort to move more. Take some classes, go for a walk every morning, get your bike out, learn to dance or join a local tennis or golf club. Expert guidelines recommend five 30-minute sessions of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week.
Do you find it impossible to sleep? Are you struggling to remember the last time you had a good night’s sleep, or you woke up not feeling tired? If insomnia is an issue for you, it’s time to make changes. Your body needs sleep, and if you continue to lie awake at night, you may face serious, long-lasting implications. Take these tips on board and if you’re still not sleeping, see your doctor.