Insomnia is the inability to fall and/or stay asleep and it’s one of the most common sleep disorders in the world. It affects roughly 70 million Americans and between one third to half of all adults globally.
Insomnia can cause fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and even depression. Left untreated, it often causes other, more severe health conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Whether you’re experiencing insomnia or have a loved one noticing symptoms of it, it’s a serious health issue that must be addressed swiftly. We’ll discuss what insomnia is, its symptoms, what causes it, and treatments for it in this blog post. We’ll also explore whether insomnia is genetic and the different types of insomnia.
Finally, we’ll look at steps you can take to get rid of insomnia on your own, or at the very least, have solid findings to share with a sleep health professional. So, what is insomnia? Let’s take a close look.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up too early. People with insomnia often wake up feeling unrefreshed and experience daytime sleepiness, low energy, and difficulty concentrating.
Insomnia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute insomnia usually lasts for a few days or weeks and is caused by temporary, severe stress or a life event. Chronic insomnia can last for months or years and is usually caused by an underlying medical condition or lifestyle factor.
Insomnia can also be classified as primary or secondary. Primary insomnia is when this sleep disorder is not caused by any pre-existing medical condition. Secondary insomnia is when the sleep disorder is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as depression, anxiety, or chronic pain.
Insomnia symptoms vary from individual to individual. Some of the most common symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early, feeling unrefreshed after sleep, daytime sleepiness, low energy, and difficulty concentrating. People with insomnia may also experience irritability, mood swings, and anxiety.
Other symptoms of insomnia include waking up multiple times during the night, restless sleep (including restless leg syndrome), and snoring or loud breathing. Some people with insomnia may also experience nightmares or night terrors.
If you’ve experienced any or all of these, it’s almost certain you have insomnia. Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose, treat, and/or address a medical concern, but the aforementioned factors are clear indicators. Speak with a medical or sleep professional as soon as you notice any of these issues.
What Causes Insomnia?
Insomnia can be caused by a variety of factors, including lifestyle habits, stress, medication, underlying medical conditions, and environmental factors. Here are the most common causes of insomnia broken down into detail:
- Poor sleep hygiene and habits. One of the most common causes of not being able to fall asleep is having poor sleep habits. This includes going to bed more than an hour later than usual, using electronics late at night or without blue blockers, and sleeping in a noisy or uncomfortable environment. Avoid these behaviors to reduce the experience or chance of insomnia.
- Temporary stress. Negative short-term life events like losing one’s job, a car accident, family medical issues, and moving all cause stress and can make it difficult to sleep. Giving yourself time and space to emotionally, mentally, and physically process your life event(s) makes it easier to maintain a normal sleep cycle.
- Chronic stress. Long-term stress can be caused by the loss of a loved one, marital or relationship issues, and being party to a lawsuit. Chronic stressors differ widely from person to person, so it’s important to assess your life situation and see what positive changes you can make. Create a stress management plan and spend some time each week on one or two of your favorite stress reduction activities.
- Irregular work or travel schedule. If you travel frequently for work or leisure, it’s tough to maintain a normal sleep schedule. Mitigate this by staying awake during sunlight hours and sleeping during nighttime hours whenever possible. If worse comes to worst, consider a melatonin supplement to help you fall asleep.
- Lack of exercise. Regular exercise is one of the only scientifically proven ways to get better sleep every night. Without a normal exercise schedule, your body has trouble halting production of cortisol and producing melatonin, the hormone that prepares your mind for sleep. Schedule at least 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise two to three times every week.
- Health and lifestyle decisions. Consuming lots of caffeine, drinking coffee or alcohol late at night, and heavy smoking may all make it more difficult to fall asleep. Look for healthier alternatives to constant coffee consumption, like doctor-approved energy supplements, or simply limiting your caffeine intake to one cup of coffee per day. If you’re struggling to make lifestyle changes, speak with a behavioral specialist, your physician, or other relevant licensed medical professional.
- Napping regularly or too frequently. There’s nothing wrong with a good nap now and then. However, if you’re napping more than once per day or longer than 30 minutes, you’re putting your nightly sleep routine at risk. Napping too heavily at any point in the day throws off your circadian rhythm, which is how your body knows when it’s time to fall asleep. Don’t take any naps after 2pm local time so you can fall asleep naturally.
- Underlying medical conditions. Underlying medical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and sleep apnea, can also cause insomnia. The causes of these conditions must be addressed in order for insomnia treatments to be fully effective.
Treatments for Insomnia
Treatment for insomnia depends on the underlying cause(s) that you or your loved one are experiencing. If lifestyle habits are causing insomnia, putting your lifestyle habits on a new course–such as limiting or avoiding caffeine consumption, exercising earlier in the day, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule–always helps. Stress management techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga, can also help reduce stress and improve sleep.
If you believe any of your medications are causing insomnia, your doctor or psychiatrist may be able to adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication. Set up an appointment to speak with them as soon as you notice significant changes in your sleep.
Facing a major life change, whether planned or unplanned, is a common source of stress for most adults. This can lead you into thought patterns that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help resolve chronic insomnia in particular. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that teaches people how to change their behaviors and feelings by identifying specific thought patterns and reshaping them based on what is fact and what is perception.
Through CBT, it’s easier to uncover fight-or-flight thought patterns that seem beneficial, but actually exacerbate stress. By slowly reworking your thoughts towards more fact-based patterns, you can get the sleep you need and deserve.
How to Cure Insomnia
Curing insomnia is a complex matter because no fixed factors are responsible for causing or exacerbating it. The best way to cure insomnia, though, is to identify and address any underlying causes.
If your lifestyle choices are causing insomnia, deciding what you’re willing to change–then following through–will improve your sleep. If medications are causing insomnia, adjusting the dosage or switching to a different medication can help.
If a pre-existing medical condition is causing insomnia, treating the condition can help improve sleep. This often requires the guidance of an experienced medical professional, as you want to make sure the changes you’re making don’t worsen other areas of your life.
Is Insomnia Genetic?
Recent research from Sleep Medicine Clinics has found that genetics account for anywhere from 31 to 58% of an individual’s chance of experiencing insomnia. The answer is yes–there’s absolutely the possibility that if your family members struggle with insomnia, you may as well.
Don’t panic, though. Just because insomnia has occurred in your family tree doesn’t mean you’ll automatically experience it. That does mean you should pay closer attention to your own sleep hygiene, though.
Types of Insomnia
There are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary. Primary insomnia is direct insomnia, where no other medical condition is causing it. This is usually considered short-term insomnia, because once the cause is resolved, the insomnia usually subsides or disappears.
Secondary insomnia refers to sleep issues brought on by other health matters. This is also called long-term or chronic insomnia and can be more difficult to resolve. For example, an individual with a pre-existing mental health disorder may have a harder time falling asleep if their condition makes it more challenging.
How to Get Rid of Insomnia
Getting rid of insomnia takes some effort and you may not see results overnight. Usually it takes at least 48 to 72 hours for your entire sleep cycle to reset, even if you’re making all of the changes that you need to.
Bear in mind that severe insomnia cases can’t always be treated on your own and usually require third-party involvement. That said, insomnia is usually a mild- to medium-severity issue that can be resolved with strategic action.
Here’s how to deal with insomnia:
- Take an honest look at your life and habits. It’s difficult to cure your insomnia if you aren’t transparent about what your life looks like right now. If you love staying up late binging your favorite online series or changing your wakeup time every day, those choices must be addressed. Decide what bad habit(s) you’ll part ways with and stick to it.
- Prioritize your sleep health. Just like exercise or diet, your sleep hygiene requires consistent effort before you see improvements. Your bedroom should be a calming, clutter-free environment that’s easy to fall asleep in. If it doesn’t match this description yet, take time to make it so.
- Make necessary schedule adjustments. If you normally wake up late or go to bed well past 11pm, that should be addressed first. Determine the cause of your late nights and eliminate or reschedule it. The old adage hasn’t changed; your health truly is your wealth!
Frequently Asked Questions About Insomnia
Getting your sleep health in order can be a winding path at times. One question leads to another, and soon you’re discovering more personal health aspects are connected than you ever thought possible.
If you have more questions about insomnia and sleep health, we know the feeling. We collected the most commonly asked questions about insomnia and our answers below:
What Causes Insomnia In Females?
The US Office on Women’s Health research has found that several mental health disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and depression can contribute to insomnia. These are examples of secondary insomnia and should always be evaluated by a medical professional.
Can Insomnia Be Cured?
Yes, insomnia is a curable sleep disorder. It’s not always easy, and usually requires major lifestyle adjustments over a period of weeks or months.
That said, it’s possible and your sleep issues of today can be in the rearview mirror with the right efforts. Consult a sleep doctor or participate in a sleep study if you’re making changes that aren’t leading to noticeable results.
Which Vitamins Help With Sleep?
Magnesium is one of the best micronutrients that helps one fall asleep better (technically, it’s a mineral, not a vitamin). The right amount of magnesium, which is usually 500 milligrams nightly, helps your mind shut down and prepare your body for sleep.
It’s best to speak with your primary care physician or a doctor before committing to a new supplement, even if it’s designed to help. This ensures the magnesium supplement doesn’t adversely affect any other medications or personal health conditions you may have.
What Is the Best Natural Thing to Help You Sleep?
If you had to pick just one natural factor to help you sleep better, it would be a cooler room. This takes minimal effort on your part, is a proven way to fall asleep better, and helps your body recover better at night.
Learning the best temperature to sleep in in various environments is even better. You won’t experience large seasonal fluctuations and you’ll have more consistent energy throughout the year.
What Deficiency Can Cause Insomnia?
A Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to problems falling and/or staying asleep because it’s essential for energy regulation and heart health. B12 contributes to the breakdown of homocysteine, a protein that can cause heart disease when there’s too much of it.
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Notice: Content created by or available in association with My Green Mattress is created and intended for personal information and educational use only. This content and the information contained within it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, address, or resolve any kind of perceived or real medical issue. If you or a loved one are experiencing any kind of sleep-related physical or mental health disorder, contact a licensed medical professional right away. My Green Mattress, its staff, associates, and affiliates make no recommendations, claims, propositions, statements, or otherwise that can be construed as legal, medical, or personal health advice.