Insomnia: the Facts and the Treatments

Many people have difficulty sleeping occasionally – it’s not an uncommon problem. But when ‘not being able to sleep occasionally’ develops into consistently not being able to sleep yet having to wake up the next day and continue with your everyday life, insomnia can become an incredibly debilitating condition. Insomnia occurs in around 1/3 of the population at some point in their lives and is more common in women. Untreated insomnia can be very damaging and can cause all sorts of problems in your life, such as personality and mood changes, loss in libido, trouble with cognitive and physical tasks, difficulty in concentrating and inability to hold down social activities or a job.

The most common symptoms of insomnia are having difficulty in getting to sleep, waking up early in the morning, waking up frequently or staying awake throughout the night and finding it hard to function properly the next day, although other symptoms could indicate that you have insomnia such as a change in your personal sleep routine.

Insomnia is often caused by something very simple, although sometimes the root cause of insomnia is impossible to pin down and therefore pretty difficult to treat. Having high levels of stress and anxiety can often cause insomnia, as your brain tries to turn over all of the events of the day and tries to make sense of the stressors and worries in your life. You might not be able to ‘switch off’, causing you to be unable to sleep.

Insomnia can also be caused by drug, alcohol, or medication use. Many medications list ‘insomnia’  as one of their side effects and unfortunately, if the medication is something you must take every day, you can’t just stop taking it. However, if drugs or alcohol are thought to be causing your sleep problems, you can stop taking them and your insomnia should ease off. If medication is thought to be the problem, you should speak to your doctor and let them know that you’re suffering from insomnia, as they could try you on a different kind of medication. Physical medical issues, such as heart disease, joint or muscle problems, problems with the genital and urinary organs and chronic long-term pain can also cause insomnia, and so treatment of these problems could help to cure your insomnia.

The first step in treating insomnia is to see if it is being caused by an underlying medical condition. If it is, the condition should be treated before other treatment options are explored. If the insomnia is not being caused by a medical condition or any of the things mentioned above, you should try some of the following tips:

  • Only using the bedroom for sleep and sex, as using it for work or watching television can make you feel as though the bedroom is not sacred for sleep
  • Avoid looking at the clock throughout the night as knowing what time it is and how long you have to go before you get up will just cause you to worry more, exacerbating your insomnia
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine within six hours of going to bed as all of these things could keep you awake
  • Avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime, although exercising in the middle of the day is thought to be very useful
  • Keep your sleeping environment comfortable – the right temperature, not too noisy, and without too many light sources as these can trick your circadian rhythm into thinking that it is daytime
  • Establish a fixed sleeping routine by going  to bed and waking up at the same time every morning and night

If you’re suffering from insomnia, speak to your doctor. Try some of the tips above and if you still are unable to sleep, you could benefit from medication or counselling.