Understanding why we need sleep and knowing the root cause of insomnia is the first step in coming to terms with and treating it.
How do we define insomnia?
Insomnia is the term used to describe a lack of quality sleep; either taking ages to get to sleep, difficulty in staying asleep or waking up too early and being unable to get back to sleep.
What are the effects of insomnia?
People who suffer from poor quality sleep tend to be irritable, inattentive, lacking energy and accident prone.They are more likely to suffer from depression, heart disease and strokes.Continued sleep deprivation brings about changes in the activity and timing of important hormones such as melatonin, cortisol, leptin, thyroid hormones and prolactin. It has been shown in studies that this pattern of hormonal changes has also been witnessed in sufferers of depression and in age-related chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
This is just a taste of the negative effects of insomnia and that’s without mentioning the adverse effect it has on our immune systems or the incredible impact from daytime fatigue on the occurrence of “accidents”; remember Chernobyl or Exxon Valdez.
What is sleep for anyway?
Nobody really knows exactly how sleep works. For centuries it was believed that sleep was just a neutral state of mind and body but modern science is beginning to identify the many positive affects a natural, good night’s sleep has.
The brain’s metabolic rate and temperature is reduced allowing the mending of certain brain cells which would otherwise have difficulty in regenerating.In our deepest sleeping, during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase we do most of our dreaming. It’s at this stage when the receptors of the essential drugs serotonin, histamine and norepinephrine take a rest, restoring them to the appropriate level of sensitivity. This restorative measure is believed to be important in regulating our moods during the waking hours.
Sleep and weight loss
If you’re trying to lose weight and believe that sleep loss won’t adversely affect weight loss, think again. In childhood, human growth hormones (HGH) are responsible for tissue production, but as we grow into adults HGH becomes responsible for, amongst other things, weight regulation. HGH is only released when we sleep.
Sleep to learn
Many studies have been conducted and they have shown that whatever we take in and learn during the waking hours needs to be processed and consolidated before it is put to memory and reflected in our abilities. The process of sleep enhances this in an inestimable way.
So what is the main cause of insomnia?
There may be many reasons why we don’t sleep well but the main cause of insomnia is simply stress.
Our lives, like that of any other organism, are kept for the most part at an optimum state of balance. Our hormonal secretions, fluid levels, temperature and so on are kept in balance so that the mind and body can perform at its peak.
The “flight or fight” response when being confronted by a predator is the most common example of a stress response but it can also be triggered by much less profound events such as crowding, noise or darkness. But even less obvious is that a stress response can happen to events such as fear, anger and even extreme pleasure.Sometimes we can live in a permanent state of stress response and prolonged states of stress can leave the body in a constant state of alarm and imbalance.
The process of sleep runs contrary to the effects of stress response. Falling to sleep involves the gradual shutting down of systems, a decrease in metabolism and the cessation of the readiness for action. Going to sleep makes us less alert and decreases arousal. The stress response increases arousal and makes us more alert.
Stress is the main cause of insomnia
The hormones secreted as a result of stress responses excite the body’s systems. When stress is chronic we are hyperaroused.When we are hyperaroused we can’t sleep.
If you are susceptible to the stresses brought about by daily life which impact on your night time sleep there are sleeping techniques using the senses that can maximize the quality of sleep, bringing enrichment to your waking days.