Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects millions across the world including India. It is marked by difficulty in falling and staying asleep. A person suffering from insomnia can also wake up too early while finding it troublesome to get back to sleep. If your sleep issues occur thrice a week for at least three months and affect your functional life, your doctor will diagnose you as a patient with clinical insomnia. A person with this condition is likely to experience daytime sleepiness, lethargy, mood swings, irritability and anxiety among others.
Sleep is a crucial physiological function during which your brain performs a lot of its duties. It is also necessary for other important body organs to perform their functions. You need sound sleep for psychological well-being and good quality of life. Lack of sleep is also associated with various complications like developing chronic disorders, depression, anxiety disorder, etc. Some of the causes and risk factors behind insomnia include stress, excessive caffeine intake, hormonal imbalance, certain medicines, health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, so on and so forth.
TYPES OF INSOMNIA
Insomnia, as a sleep disorder, varies in terms of longevity of its symptoms. It is categorised in three types on this basis:
Transient insomnia: When the symptoms of insomnia last up to three nights, it is known as transient insomnia.
Acute insomnia: It is also termed as short-term insomnia and the manifestations stay for quite a few weeks.
Chronic insomnia: In this variation, insomnia lasts for months and years. The National Institutes of Health observes that chronic insomnia is the side effect of other health care issues.
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS BEHIND INSOMNIA
Several factors may lead to or increase your risk of insomnia. Here is a low-down on the most prominent ones.
Stress: Anxiety about work, academics, financial issues and relationship can keep you active at night and make it troublesome to doze off. Traumatic life experiences like the loss of a loved one and divorce, among others, can also have the same effect.
Poor sleep habits: Irregular sleep schedule, lack of bedtime routine, nerve stimulating activities and working late till night could be the reasons behind insomnia. Also, staying glued to gadgets can be another sleep snatcher as their blue light can interfere with your circadian rhythms.
Unhealthy food habit: Eating a lot before going to bed can lead to heartburn or discomfort in the tummy. All these can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
Mental health challenges: Poor sleep quality and quantity can be the result of psychological disorders like depression, anxiety and stress.
Medications: Certain drugs can interfere with your sleep cycle. They include antidepressants, and drugs for allergies, cough and cold, asthma and blood pressure among others.
Health conditions: Neuro degenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, cardiac ailments, asthma, acute pain, cancer and diabetes can be the culprits behind insomnia. A sleep-related breathing disorder, known as sleep apnoea, can also disrupt your shut-eye time.
Stimulants: Caffeine, nicotine (in tobacco products) and alcohol are stimulants that can keep you awake through the night. They may also lead to disrupted sleep.
Gender: This may also up your risk of insomnia. Women are likely to experience this condition during pregnancy and menopause.
Age: Evidences suggest that senior citizens experience disturbed sleep. Changing health conditions and sleep patterns probably raise their chance of insomnia.
SYMPTOMS OF INSOMNIA
Not being able to sleep clearly indicates insomnia. But it comes with associated signs and symptoms:
- Waking in the middle of sleep
- Getting up from sleep too early
- Tiredness despite sleeping through the night
- Feeling sleepy through the day
- Irritability and stress
- Poor concentration and lack of focus
- Poor hand-eye coordination
- Compromised social skills
- Digestive disorders
DIAGNOSIS OF INSOMNIA
It is best to visit a sleep specialist if you experience disturbed sleep and other signs and symptoms associated with insomnia. He will start by evaluating your medical history and go on to review your sleep-wake pattern. He may ask you if you experience daytime sleepiness and fatigue or not and suggest that you maintain a sleep journal. This will give him a better understanding of your sleep schedule. For a confirmatory diagnosis, your sleep expert may suggest a night-long test in the laboratory to monitor brain waves, breathing, heartbeat, eye movements and body movements as you sleep. Actigraphy is another diagnostic method for sleep issues. A wearable device known as actigraph measures your sleep-wake pattern.
LIFESTYLE MODIFICATIONS AND THERAPIES FOR INSOMNIA
Your sleep physician will first review your condition and try to resolve insomnia with lifestyle modifications if it’s not severe. There are several therapies to tackle the condition too. Here are some lifestyle measures and therapies that may be advised to you if you are suffering from insomnia. Some of these suggestions may help you prevent the condition altogether.
- Try to doze off between 9-11 pm. This is because your body has its own clock and a hormone called melatonin (responsible for inducing sleep) is secreted by the pineal gland during this time.
- Have a fixed time for sleeping and waking up. It’s preferable to go to bed early and wake up early by completing full 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Ensure your bedroom environment is conducive for sleep. Don’t convert it to an office or a reading room. Switch off the lights and sleep because the sleeping hormone will be secreted only in the dark.
- Maintain a gap of at least 2 hours between dinner and bedtime to avoid sleeplessness due to acid reflux.
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants before bedtime.
- Practise meditation. Research suggests that this mind-body-technique can induce sound sleep by calming your nerves and alleviating stress.
- Avoid daytime naps so that you feel tired and sleepy at night. Staying physically active during the daytime and regular exercise can also induce sound sleep at night.
- You may be advised cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia. It works by focussing on your thoughts and behaviours. This therapy can be a good option if insomnia is triggered by behavioural issues.
MEDICINES FOR INSOMNIA
If these lifestyle measures and therapies don’t work for you, then your doctor may suggest oral medicines to help you manage insomnia. Prescription, however, will depend on the underlying cause behind this condition. Antidepressants, sleeping pills and sleep inducers among others may be suggested. A word of caution: Don’t self-medicate with over-the-counter medicines if you are suffering from insomnia. They may backfire or give you serious side effects.