Insomnia is trouble sleeping or falling asleep and it is very common medical symptom of various medical conditions. About 30% to 40% of adults experience insomnia on a yearly basis. We suffer from insomnia because our body is trying to convey a message that something is not working properly.
There are few different types of insomnia and it may manifest for everyone differently. Some people have trouble falling asleep, others have trouble staying asleep and some wake up too early. People may experience insomnia short term, which usually means few days or even weeks whereas chronic insomnia may last several months or more.
As we age, it is normal that we don’t sleep as much as we used to when we were younger. If we still feel refreshed after waking up we shouldn’t worry about not getting as much sleep as we used to. That being said, if insomnia interferes with our life, then we should try and pay attention to see what message our body is trying it send us. If we feel tired, if we find ourselves dozing off during a day or just feel unrefreshed upon waking, then we should take a closer look to find out what brought on the insomnia into our lives.
Average daily sleep requirements per age group:
HOURS OF SLEEP NEEDED
13 to 17
9 to 13
10 to 11
|16 to 65 years||
6 to 9
|Over 65 years||
6 to 8
Older people have less deep and shorter sleep than younger people. People that are over 65 years old spend only 25% of sleep in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep) or stage IV (very deep) sleep versus young child that spends over 50% of sleep in REM. This could also mean that older people dream less as REM sleep is characterized by dreams.
Causes of Insomnia
Insomnia most likely has some underlying cause and most common causes are:
- anxiety or depression
- physical inactivity throughout the day
- poor sleep habits
- sleep apnea or some other sleep problems
- medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, prostate enlargement, gastroesophageal reflux etc.
- certain medications such as stimulants (i.e. methylphenidate), some antidepressants, decongestants
- alcohol, caffeine, nicotine
- arthritis pain or other medical conditions
- stress caused by family life, death or illness of a family member or friend, work, or financial difficulties
Symptoms of Insomnia
- trouble falling asleep
- trouble staying asleep
- waking up too early and being unable to fall back to sleep
- trouble concentrating or focusing during the day
- feeling anxious, tired or irritable
- unable to feel rested or refreshed after waking up even if we get enough hours of sleep
- feeling sleepy during the day
Very few people reach stage of insomnia where they are awake for several days in a row. In such cases, people often suffer from hallucinations. Luckily, most people don’t reach this stage of insomnia. One of the serious medical conditions that are not good for long term health is heavy snoring or sleep apnea that men who are either overweight or middle-aged usually may suffer from. If you think you may have breathing problems at night, you should see your doctor or medical provider.
Complications of insomnia may be manifested through poor school or job performance or higher rate of car accidents. People that work shift work are more prone to fall asleep behind the wheel.
Insomnia can be treated by treating underlying medical problem first, while at the same time learning about and practicing good sleep habits. If necessary, sleep medications can be taken as well. If the medical condition is causing insomnia, then that condition should be treated first which will subsequently ease or make insomnia symptoms completely disappear.
If you suffer from insomnia and don’t have good sleeping habits, you may want to consider developing them. Good sleeping habits may include regular bedtime routine, go to bed at the same time every night even on weekends, keep bedroom dark, avoid watching the clock (you can even turn the clock around so you can’t see the time), don’t think about stressful situations before bedtime and use relaxation techniques such as meditation. It may help to drink a cup of warm milk or have a warm bath infused with scent of lavender oil. Bedroom should be used for sleep and intimacy only; it shouldn’t be used for any daytime activities. Caffeine and chocolate should be avoided before bedtime as they act as stimulants. If you take medications such as diuretics and appetite suppressants, don’t take them before bedtime as they may affect your sleep. If you exercise, do so during the day as exercising before bedtime may act as a stimulant. Alcohol and smoking should be avoided in the evening in order not to affect good night sleep.
Your doctor may prescribe you a sleep medication but it should not be used over prolonged period of time (i.e. 21 days) as you may develop dependency on and it may not be as effective as it was in the beginning which would require higher dosages etc.
We should all aim to treat insomnia symptoms naturally. In case if you have odd working hours that may disturb your sleep pattern, the best way to develop good sleeping habit is to expose yourself in the morning to bright light. Research has shown that this method resets our body effectively enough. Melatonin is much hyped hormonal medication that some people prefer to use; however, exposure to bright natural light in the morning causes our brains to produce melatonin naturally. If you prefer to supplement with melatonin keep in mind that this supplement hasn’t been adequately researched for possible adverse effects. Another supplement that some people may opt to use to treat insomnia is L-tryptophan, but effects of this supplement may not be as predictable when compared to effects of other medications.
You can by over the counter non-prescription medications that contain diphenhydramine. However, it is the best to see your doctor or medical provider for proper assessment and treatment of insomnia.
In the meantime, here are some all natural treatments of insomnia that you can try at home: