We all have nights we can’t sleep. But if you repeatedly have trouble sleeping, or feel the stress of being too tired to sleep, then you might be suffering from insomnia. Insomnia may be caused by stress, or happen when we feel fine. Still, even if we feel relaxed at bedtime, we can easily become stressed if it is 3:00 a.m., we’re wide awake, and the clock is ticking toward another frantic day.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), as many as 30% of adults complain about insomnia. This inability to sleep, no matter how tired you are, occurs most often along with outside stimuli or events. Simple stress, for whatever reason, is a very common cause. But unlike single events which might cause us to lose sleep one or two nights, insomniacs worry about endlessly lying awake, and the anxiety and stress of insomnia can build over time.
Insomnia may be caused by lifestyles. If your partner snores, or you sleep with a large dog, you may be more irritated by sleep loss than you realize. Trying to go to bed knowing you face these challenges, outside noises, and other disturbing stimuli, can cause you to stress over situations you feel you can’t control.
Ignoring sleep disturbance problems won’t make them go away. Your partner might need to look for snoring remedies, and heaven forbid, the dog might have to move. If you can’t change outside noises, ambient sound machines or music may mask the sound enough to help you relax. Personally, I have tried every kind of earplug on the market, and they don’t work for me. But they might for someone else.
Other lifestyle causes include being sedentary, eating or drinking too much caffeine, sugar, or even just eating too late at night. Happily, making changes to our behavior really can impact lifestyle based insomnia, even if it has gone on for a long time.
Special events can cause insomnia, too. Remember being a child, too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve? As adults we can still lose sleep before a big event. There may be stress from planning and organizing, or our minds can simply be full of all the details to keep straight. Ironically special events often make us want to look our best, and as the clock ticks by we worry about the bags under our eyes instead. Fortunately, the insomnia that happens when we are excited does not last for long.
What’s different about chronic insomnia?
The AASM breaks down 11 different types of insomnia, many of which go away after lifestyle changes, or simply on their own. But if you can’t get to sleep, you toss and turn, wake up in the middle of the night for months, or even years, then chronic insomnia may be to blame.
While the occasional sleepless night can cause a lack of focus for a day or two, chronic insomnia can cause extreme mood swings, contribute to depression, give us headaches, and make us generally hard to live with. The more sleep we lose, the more stressed we feel, and the more we worry about not being able to sleep.
When to talk with your doctor. Chronic insomnia can have underlying physical causes that you are not even aware of. Conditions like sleep apnea require someone else to observe you when you finally do sleep, to determine if you stop breathing. Long term medications may also cause sleeplessness, or your insomnia could be a result of some other undiagnosed condition.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT-I) has shown to be helpful for chronic insomnia brought on from emotional issues. Since lack of sleep only compounds stress, anxiety and depression, improving your sleep can definitely improve how you feel. The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine maintains a list of specialists who can provide CBT-I.
The AASM maintains sleep centers in different parts of the U.S., for a variety of sleep disorders. For information about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of insomnia, as well as how to find a certified sleep physician or CBT-I specialist, visit their website, http://www.sleepeducation.com/sleep-disorders/insomnia/overview-facts.
If you have insomnia, you already feel how much stress it adds to your daily life. It may be time to put your sleeplessness to bed…once and for all.
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