THE BOTTOM LINE
- Insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep
- There are three main types of insomnia
- Treating insomnia is important for your overall quality of life
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, this article is probably right where you need to be to determine if insomnia is the cause.
Does it take you longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep at night? It typically should take you no longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep at night, so if you’re regularly finding yourself laying in bed for hours wondering why you’re not sleeping, you may be suffering from insomnia.
Do you ever wake up at night and find it nearly impossible to fall asleep? Waking up in the middle of the night can be extremely frustrating. If you regularly wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulties falling back to sleep, you may have insomnia.
Do you ever wake up far earlier than your desired wake time? Waking up way too early and being unable to fall back to sleep can leave you feeling drained before the day began. If this happens to you regularly, it may be a sign of insomnia.
Insomnia can be detrimental to your entire quality of life and for most people, it’s very treatable. With some lifestyle adjustments and healthy habits, it’s usually possible to get your sleep-wake cycle back on track.
What exactly is insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder, affecting approximately 30% of sleepers. It is characterized by difficulty falling asleep and/or difficulty staying asleep and can lead to a number of health consequences. Insomnia is generally broken down into three different types, depending on the length of time you have experienced symptoms.
Wait, there are different types of insomnia?
Yes, if you thought it was just as simple as insomnia or no insomnia, it is actually more complex than that. Depending on the type of insomnia you suffer from, the causes and treatments can be different. Taking the time to identify which type of insomnia is keeping you up at night will make it much easier to understand why it’s happening and how to fix it.
Here is an overview of the three different types of insomnia:
TYPES OF INSOMNIA
1. TRANSIENT INSOMNIA
This can be considered a temporary form of insomnia because it only lasts a few days to a week and is caused by a specific stressor or excitement/anxiety leading to an upcoming event.
Potential causes of transient insomnia:
Worrying about a future event, such as a job interview or presentation
Short term stress, such as a relationship or workplace conflict
Short term illness, such as a head cold or migraine
Excitement or anxiety over an upcoming event, like a family vacation
Jet lag or sleeping in a new or unfamiliar environment (such as a hotel)
2. ACUTE INSOMNIA (SHORT TERM)
While this insomnia can last several weeks, it is also considered to be temporary because it’s caused by a specific stressor and is likely to disappear in time. In some people, acute insomnia can transition into chronic insomnia, especially without intervention.
Potential causes of acute insomnia:
Untreated transient insomnia
Stress or anxiety caused by a recurring problem, such as workplace harassment or a toxic relationship
Stress caused by a major lifestyle change, such as a move to a new city or getting a divorce
Bereavement following the death of a loved one
3. CHRONIC INSOMNIA (LONG TERM)
This type of insomnia can plague you for months or even years and can be caused by long-term problems related to stress, health, age, or sleep environment.
Potential causes of chronic insomnia:
Untreated short-term insomnia
Long term health problems, such as cancer or another illness
Mental health conditions, such as depression
Long term stress and anxiety, such as continuous financial struggles
Medications or illicit drug use/abuse
Poor sleep environment
Identifying which type of insomnia you have is so important.
Leaving one of the shorter-term insomnias untreated can cause it to develop into long-term insomnia (and we want your sleep to get better, not get worse!)
What impact could insomnia have on my health?
If you don’t treat insomnia, it can lead to sleep deprivation and have detrimental effects on your health, which can make your insomnia worse, which can make your health worse, and the vicious cycle continues.
Non-sleep-related health problems: Sleep deprivation caused by chronic insomnia can weaken your immune system, increase your blood pressure, put you at a higher risk of heart disease, and cause headaches and gastrointestinal problems.
Poor mental health: Research has found that insomnia can cause an overall poorer mental health status, and more specifically a poorer emotional state. The strain on your brain and body can cause you to feel cloudy, anxious, and irritable. More severe cases of sleep deprivation can lead to depression, and can even cause hallucinations.
What causes it?
There are various medical conditions and medications that can cause insomnia. While treating the cause of insomnia can often eliminate symptoms, it’s always best to combine behavioral changes above with other interventions.
Underlying medical conditions: Certain conditions such as sleep apnea, anemia (low iron), depression, anxiety, pain disorders, and dementia can each cause insomnia. In such cases, you need to treat the underlying medical condition that’s causing your insomnia.
Medications: Sometimes insomnia can be a side effect of medications needed for other medical or mental health conditions. Some examples include antidepressants, seizure medication, stimulants, and steroids. In this case, you may want to talk to your doctor about a potential medication or dosing change.
Age: Aging can lead to disruptions in your circadian rhythm and make it harder to maintain deep sleep. A sensitive circadian rhythm makes people especially susceptible to insomnia. Maintaining good sleep habits and schedules can help offset age-related insomnia.
Menopause: Declining estrogen during menopause leads to a host of side-effects that may disrupt sleep. Insomnia is very common in menopausal women and can sometimes be complicated to treat. A combination of behavioral interventions, good sleep habits, and lifestyle changes is often enough to treat this type of insomnia. Some people also find hormone replacement therapy to be useful.
If after reading these potential causes, you’re still unable to pinpoint what is causing your insomnia, try using this insomnia questionnaire to help you!
Can it be treated?
Unfortunately, the first line of treatment that many people receive for insomnia is often sleeping pills. These are short-term solutions that have significant health risks and do not fix the underlying sleep issues. Additionally, many prescription medications actually reduce the overall quality of sleep you get.
Overall, the recommended treatment for chronic insomnia is a non-drug approach.
This means using lifestyle and habit changes rather than prescription medication. Learning to better work with your body’s natural rhythms and building good sleep habits can improve your sleep. Additionally, techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy are especially effective for the treatment of insomnia.
Transient vs Acute vs Chronic treatment:
Many of the same methods can help all types of insomnia. Transient and acute insomnia often subside on their own, especially with good sleep habits. However, people with chronic insomnia may need more intense intervention and may even need to seek professional therapy if the problems do not subside. The good news is that insomnia can be cured for many people through natural interventions.
A GUIDE TO TREATING INSOMNIA WITH NATURAL INTERVENTIONS
The best way to effectively treat insomnia is to optimize your sleep routine, reduce stress, and avoid habits that make it worse. Changing everything at once is difficult, so it’s best to try and change your habit gradually. That way, they are more likely to stick. Here are some effective interventions if you are struggling with insomnia:
1. GO TO BED WHEN YOU'RE TIRED
Forcing yourself to go to sleep usually doesn’t have the best results. Wait until you are truly sleepy before heading to bed. If you’ve built a bedtime routine, go through it and if you aren’t tired, simply engage in a relaxing activity in a dimly lit environment until you feel the need for sleep. Laying in bed awake creates unhelpful associations between stressing over sleep and your bed. It’s possible to retrain your brain to only associate bed with sleep and oftentimes that means spending less time in bed.
2. WAKE UP AT THE SAME TIME EVERY DAY
It may feel exhausting if you’ve had trouble sleeping, but it will help you reset your sleep-wake cycle. Trust us!
3. AMP UP YOUR SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
Set your room to a cool temperature (65℉), turn on a soothing sound machine, and unplug at least an hour before bed (no electronics)! An eye mask can also be very beneficial for keeping that melatonin flowing. Learn more tips on amping up your sleep environment with our comprehensive guide to building a sleep sanctuary.
4. NO DAYTIME NAPPING
Daytime napping can disrupt your already distressed sleep-wake cycle. Skip the nap and try pumping yourself up with upbeat music and light activity when you feel those midday lulls.
5. AVOID SUBSTANCES BEFORE BED
No caffeine after 2 pm, and no alcohol or snacks (particularly high-sugar, high-fat, or spicy foods) up to 4 hours prior to bedtime. Learn more about the impact substances have on your sleep.
Daily exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep and help you fall asleep faster. Try for at least 20 minutes of light to medium activity on most days. Learn more about how you can exercise for better sleep.
Stress and insomnia go hand-in-hand. Learning how to effectively manage your stress, ruminating thoughts, and worries can make a huge difference to your symptoms. Try writing a to-do list before bed for the next day and do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation during the day (or before bed).
Exercise, yoga, stretching, and progressive muscle relaxation are other excellent alternatives for helping your mind unwind. As a bonus, regular meditation has been found to boost natural melatonin and help synchronize brain waves for better sleep.
Wait it out
Insomnia is tough but often temporary. By trusting that things will get back to normal and acknowledging that missing sleep is not the end of the world, you can get through it. Lean into relaxation techniques to help you work through the inevitable stress it causes. Stressing over being unable to sleep unfortunately makes the problem worse.
Accept it before stressing
Not being able to sleep is a reality we all must face from time to time. Sometimes you have to accept the disruption and modify your day accordingly. Clear any unneeded items from your schedule and engage in some relaxing activities if you can. Try and keep a happy attitude and behave as if you’ve slept. Faking it can often make your mind believe that you are in fact alert and awake!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
If your insomnia is negatively impacting your life and you are unable to get it under control, a sleep therapist specializing in CBT-I can help.