Are you the type of person whose typical day is a blur of errands and responsibilities? Are you feeling stressed and having trouble sleeping at night? You could be suffering from insomnia.
Insomnia is a clinical condition characterized by poor quality of sleep. This can include having too little sleep, or trouble getting to sleep. It can also mean having difficulty staying asleep. As a result, a person with insomnia often feels tired upon waking up in the morning. Because of inadequate rest, a person often feels sluggish, and has trouble with focus or concentration. This not only affects school or work performance but also has negative consequences for one’s social and psychological functions.
Primary vs. Secondary Insomnia
Doctors categorize insomnia into two main categories: primary and secondary. The cause of primary insomnia can be hard to pinpoint, as there are usually a combination of factors rather than just a single one. Secondary insomnia, on the other hand, is the result of predisposing factors and conditions which can interfere with sleep. For example, people with sleep apnea suffer from insomnia because the constant interruption of the natural sleep-wake cycle stops the individual from reaching the deep stages of sleep. Medical conditions such as restless leg syndrome or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) can cause a person to wake up during the night because of pain or discomfort.
Secondary insomnia is managed by addressing the health condition which causes the sleep disturbance. For instance, a patient with restless leg syndrome may be prescribed with muscle relaxants or pain killers so that the muscle spasms will not interfere with sleep. GERD patients are given nightly doses of stomach acid neutralizers and taught to modify certain behaviours to prevent acid reflux.
Due to the difficulty of establishing the cause, primary insomnia can take more effort to resolve. As most cases of insomnia are due to emotional and psychological factors (worrying at night, too much stress at work, etc.) a cognitive approach is usually used. The person with insomnia is asked to conduct a thorough and honest self-evaluation so that they can recognize certain issues which stand in the way of getting into a restful state at bedtime.
As much as possible, the use of sleeping aids and sedatives are not recommended because they merely induce drowsiness without really addressing the cause of insomnia. These medications can sometimes do more harm than good, especially if they foster dependence. Also, most patients complain that the frequent use of sleep medication does not really provide the same alertness that a person experiences after a good night’s sleep.
In some cases, simple modifications are all that’s needed to reduce the incidences of insomnia. Cultivating a restful atmosphere in the bedroom (without TV or noise), taking time for a warm bath, and establishing a calming bedtime routine can help you wind down at the end of the day, so that your brain is primed to relax and drift off. Some people with back or neck problems have gratefully discovered that investing in a memory foam mattress helps them feel comfortable in various lying positions, so that they are less likely to toss and turn during the night. Becoming more active during the day, waking up at a reasonable hour, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are also suggested.