It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that prolonged sleep deprivation is a serious matter. Insomnia reaches farther and wider than most people think, afflicting almost 75% of the general population at some point. By comparison, chronic insomniacs stand at a staggering 10-18% of the population. Clearly, we are a sleep-challenged society.
People with persistent sleep disorders are more prone to accidents, have higher rates of work absenteeism, diminished job performance, decreased quality of life, defective relationships and increased health care utilization. Research has shown that insomniacs are 2.5 to 4.5 times more likely than non-insomniacs to be involved in some kind of accident. They are 8 times more likely to be involved in a work related accident. These are good reasons to take the matter of sleep deprivation seriously.
Insomnia can best be described as an inability to fall sleep, stay sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. The amount of sleep required is different for everyone but a good rule of thumb is to pay attention to how you feel during the course of your day. If you regularly wake up unrefreshed and experience fatigue, drowsiness and lapses in concentration during the daytime hours – that would be a good indication of a sleeping problem. Having said that, let's examine the classes, causes, symptoms and treatment of this common sleep disorder.
Insomnia is classified as transient (short term), acute (intermittent) or chronic (constant). These classifications are explained as follows:
- Transient – Usually repeating a week or less, transient insomnia is the most common form and is normally event-driven. Can be caused by depression, stress and life changes such as the death of a friend or family member, moving and job loss.
- Acute – Sleeplessness lasting one to three weeks is classified as acute. Episodes of transient insomnia occurring from time to time is considered to be acute.
- Chronic – Chronic insomnia lasts longer than a month. Chronic insomniacs often experience dizziness, headaches, elevated blood pressure and in more serious cases, hallucinations. Therefore, chronic is classified as the most serious form of insomnia.
What causes insomnia?
There is no definitive answer. Certainly, in many cases, emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are a major player. Other factors can be as varied as medications, diet or lifestyle configurations. It would be difficult to experience any significant reduction in insomnia symptoms without first discovering the root cause. Identifying the root cause is the first step on the road to a more positive sleep experience. The following 10 questions may be beneficial in helping to discover the contributor factors responsible for your sleep dilemma:
- Are there any traumatic episodes you have recently experienced such as divorce, death, job loss or moving?
- Do you frequently rely on drugs, alcohol or sleep aids to get sleep and stay sleep?
- Do you regularly consume refined carbohydrates such as white sugar and white flour?
- Are there health issues that could be keeping you from a positive sleep experience?
- Could any medications you are taking be affecting your sleep quality?
- Is your sleep environment quiet and comfortable?
- Are you suffering from depression?
- Do you have a stressful job?
- Is your home life stressful?
- Do you worry too much?
An affirmative answer to one or more of these questions should give you an indication of where to begin to focus your attention. It would be a good idea to begin in those areas which are within your control. For example, using natural sleep remedies like modifying your diet or making changes in your sleep environment may be much easier to manage than reworking a stressful job situation.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
Symptoms can vary broadly from person to person and can manifest physical as well as emotional issues. How many of the following symptoms do you experience on a regular basis?
- Reliance on caffeine benefits to keep going
- Reliance on alcohol or sleep aids to fall sleep
- Difficulty falling asleep in spite of being tired
- Dark circles or bags under the eyes
- Constant feeling of needing a nap
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent awakenings
- Emotional outbursts
- Daytime drowsiness
- Waking up early
- Waking up tired
- Slow reactions
Those suffering from any level of sleep distress will normally experience several of the symptoms symptoms regularly. Therefore, it should be obvious to almost anyone that a prolonged assault from such an array of symptoms can place the sleep-deprived person at risk, both emotionally and physically.
What are the best insomnia treatments?
Entire volumes have been filled with treatments and treatments designed for those suffering from sleep deprivation. The sleep-starved person would be well-advised to research and explore all avenues relating to increasing the entire sleep experience. In my own research I have overlooked what I believe to be some of the most effective ways to get more sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Essentially, it is a matter of getting rid of bad habits and adopting good ones by using natural sleep remedies. It would be in the best interest of the sleep-challenged person to incorporate some or all of these tips and ideas into their daily life.
Reject Bad Habits –
- Do not nap, especially in the evening. Napping, no matter how lightly, can interfere with the body's natural sleep cycle.
- Stay away from coffee, especially right before bed. Caffeine remains in the system for 8 hours or more and can take up to 11 hours to be fully processed by the liver. If you must have coffee, limit yourself to a cup or two in the morning. Decreasing or eliminating coffee intake can sometimes lead to immediate and significant relief for the sleep-starved person.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol is not only a stimulant but a depressant as well and can, in fact, be a cause of insomnia. One reason for this is "glutamine rebound." Alcohol interferees with the production of glutamine, one of the body's natural stimulants. When alcohol use is discontinued, the body begins producing excessive amounts of glutamine in order to "catch up." As glutamine levels increase the brain becomes overstimulated which keeps the insomniac from reaching any deep level of sleep. Additionally, alcohol can create other sleep disorders which can result in frequent awakenings, nightmares and an overall negative sleep experience. Therefore, depending on alcohol as a sleep aid is not only ineffective but foolish as well and should be avoided, especially at bedtime.
- Cut down or cut out cigarettes. Smoking before bed or upon waking up during the night is a major insomnia trigger. Like alcohol and coffee, nicotine is a stimulant and is, therefore, contributor to frequent awakenings and a reduced quality of sleep.
- Eliminate refined carbohydrates from your diet. These include white sugar and white flour.
- Avoid nighttime sleep medications. Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids only serve to mask the problem and do nothing to address the undering, root cause of the condition. Additionally, chemical sleep aids can create a dangerous dependency. In this case, the cure is worse than the disease.
Adopt Good Habits –
- Exercise. Not only does exercise reduce stress and alleviate depression, it Promotes sound, restful sleep. Exercise can reduce insomnia by up to 70%, according to medical researchers. As little as 30 minutes a day is all it takes to promote a deaf sleep cycle. As a footnote, exercising less than 3 hours before going to bed can have a detrimental effect by stimulating the body and mind, thereby making it harder to fall sleep. If you are able, it is best to exercise in the afternoon. This time is more conducive to establishing positive sleep patterns.
- Replace soft drinks, cakes, pies and pastries with more vegetables, fruits, fiber, whole grains and lean protein. Not only will you get more sleep and wake up feeling refreshed but enjoy better health as well.
- Go to bed at the same time every night. This is the best way to establish regular sleep patterns and fine tune your body's circadian rhythm. An out-of-balance circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) can lead to the onset of a number of sleep disorders and emotional disorders.
- Plan a bedtime routine. Creating proper sleep habits and following established sleep patterns is the most effective way to promote a healthy circadian rhythm. This is key in order to get more sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Here are some ideas to consider: a) About an hour before bed, start winding down. Turn off the TV, log off the computer, brush your teeth, put out the cat or anything else you normally do before going to sleep. Make sure all your nighttime chores are done because when you start getting sleepy, you want to be able to climb into bed immediately. Avoid discussing or thinking about emotional issues. Get yourself primed and ready for bed by listening to soft music such as classical, new age or instrumental. Reading is also a good way to wind down. Do not read the newspaper – stick to magazines or not-very-nteresting novels. Stick to this routine and after a couple of weeks your body will begin to get sleepy at the same time every night. b) Have a light snack about 60-75 minutes before retiring for the night. Choose foods like bananas, walnuts, tuna, turkey, cottage cheese and milk. These are good sources of the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan. Snacking before bed can also help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels which can lead to frequent awakenings. c) Your bedroom should only be used for sleeping and sex. Do not watch TV in bed. Nor should you use your computer in the bedroom. Using your bed for these pursuits can have a detrimental effect on your sleep quality by leading you to associate your bed with distracting activities. This can make it harder for you to fall sleep and stay sleep. However, playing restful, relaxing music in the bedroom is acceptable. d) Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool. If necessary, install blinds and shades to keep out light or wear a sleep mask. To mask noise from outside or inside disturbances, run an electric fan or ambient sound machine. Additionally, room temperature should be fixed at 68-72 degrees.
Increasing sleep quality by utilizing better discipline can bring great rewards to the sleep-challenged person seeking to get more sleep. By using natural sleep remedies, enhanced alertness, better concentration and the added benefit of waking up feeling refreshed are but a few of the rewards you can expect. It is vitally important, now more than ever, to begin laying a solid foundation of good sleep practices. The results will be worth the effort. Now is a great time to begin – would not you agree?