Do you think you could possibly have insomnia? If so, you are definitely not alone, and I’m here to help. Keep reading to find out exactly what is insomnia, its effects and how you can combat this condition in no time at all!
What is The Definition of Insomnia?
The definition of insomnia is the perception of inadequate or poor-quality sleep due to a variety of factors such as difficulty falling asleep or waking up frequently during the night. Insomnia is measured by how satisfied we feel after a night’s rest. Some common symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep at night, constant worrying about sleeping, daytime sluggishness and irritability. (1)
What’s Causing My Insomnia?
- Stress. We all experience daily stressors in our lives, such as work, relationships, finances etc. If we don’t deal with these appropriately, they may keep our minds awake at night with constant worries.
- Travel or work schedule. Your circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, guiding your cycle of sleep. Disrupting your body's circadian rhythms can lead to insomnia. Causes include jet lag from travelling across time zones or working unusual work shift hours.
- Poor sleep hygiene. Poor sleep habits occur when you are using your bedroom for too many other stimulating activities that do not involve sleeping, such as playing video games, watching movies, socializing etc. This is because we are conditioning our minds to associate our beds with being awake and stimulated, rather than sleeping.
- Eating too late in the evening. Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. Many people also experience heartburn, a backflow of acid and food from the stomach into the oesophagus after eating, which may keep you awake.
- Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol. The three deadly sins! Too much of these can negatively affect your sleeping, as caffeine and nicotine contain stimulants. Alcohol may help us fall asleep initially but can be extremely disruptive to remain asleep.
- Certain medical conditions such as restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, sleep apnea etc.
- Hormones. Certain hormone shifts that occur during menstruation could be the cause, eg: Estrogen.
Can Insomnia Hurt Your Health?
The answer is yes, it most certainly can harm your health - and it's worse than you may think.
Insomnia can cause a host of health issues, including strokes, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety, a weakened immune system, and seizures.
How Much Sleep Does A Person Need?
While sleep requirements may differ from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best.
Children and young adults need even more sleep. And despite the belief that people's sleep needs decrease with age, most older people still need at least 7 hours of sleep (2).
Should I Consider Sleeping Medications?
I know that sleeping pills do the trick when it comes to knocking you out - the temptation is real. Sleeping pills may be a short-term solution, but they definitely should not be a long term crutch for your sleeping troubles.
Why, may you ask? According to one sleep researcher from Arizona State University, using sleeping pills regularly could be just as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!
Studies have also reported an alarming link between sleeping pills and Alzheimer's- definitely something to take seriously.
The takeaway point here is that yes, sleeping pills do the trick when it comes to knocking you out, but the long-term effects are simply not worth it.
If you’re battling to sleep, it’s time you kicked sleeping aids to the curb and found another solution! Read on for some helpful solutions...
6 Ways to Combat Insomnia Naturally
1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule EVERY DAY.
Try and go to bed and wake up at around the same time, so that your circadian clock doesn’t fall out of sync. Once your body has settled into a natural rhythm, you should have no issues falling asleep. In order to maintain this cycle, avoid drastically oversleeping on weekends, as this will really throw you off for the upcoming work week.
2. Making sure you are relaxed as possible before you hit the pillow.
Try and ensure that your bedroom is clean and clutter-free, as attempting to sleep in a room that is very cluttered can cause feelings of anxiety, which is definitely not conducive to a good night's sleep!
Taking a warm bath or shower before you go to sleep, or practise some relaxation exercises such as mindful breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are also great bedtime habits. Instead of drinking normal tea with sugar before bed, try drinking chamomile tea - it is known for its relaxing properties that can help prepare you for bedtime.
3. Put your electronic devices away!
If you’re among these nighttime technology-users, you may not realize the negative effects this could be having on your sleeping patterns.
The truth is, using electronic devices before bedtime can be physiologically and psychologically stimulating in ways that can adversely affect your sleep.
According to The National Sleep Foundation, the blue light emitted from the screens of these devices can cause your body to release use melatonin (our sleep hormone) meaning you could battle to sleep — not only does it cause sleep delays, but it can also delay REM sleep. This is a very important stage, as it is when you are in your deepest stage of sleep. Skipping this could result in you feeling really groggy the next morning.
Aim to put your cellphone or laptop away at least an hour before bedtime, and limit staring at bright screens too late. If you can’t do this, at least download an anti-dimmer software to preserve your eyes from the harsh lighting, such as f.lux.
4. Make an effort to exercise around 30 minutes per day.
Sleep is really good for calming the mind, as long as vigorous exercise is not done just before bedtime.
According to a sleep researcher from Aarhus University in Denmark, regular morning exercise outdoors improves sleep rhythms and tells your body to produce the hormone melatonin earlier in the evening, which in turn has a positive effect on your sleep.
Try and avoid exercising later in the evenings, as this can keep your body wide awake. If you must exercise in the evenings, rather do it straight after work. (5)
5. Practice CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
This involves practising good sleep hygiene in order to condition your brain to associate your bedroom with calm, peace, and of course sleeping! This means you should not do any other activities in the bedroom except sleeping and sex. That means no tv, books, games or chatting on the bed! If you find you cannot get to sleep in about 20 minutes, doctors advise that you get up and leave the room - do something very boring until you feel ready to attempt sleep again.
If you still cannot sleep, then repeat the process! Although this can be frustrating at first, CBT has proven to be highly effective in combating insomnia naturally.
According to The National Sleep Foundation, many people get the most effective treatment from CBT when they see a sleep specialist, as they can customize the CBT to the person’s individual habits, as everyone has different routines before bed.
6. Keep a “worry journal”.
Write down all of the things that are worrying you down on a piece of paper during the day. Reflect on them when you have the time, and make notes and goals about how you are going to overcome them.
The aim of this is to make sure that by the time your head hits the pillow, you don’t have a million worries rushing through your mind, making you anxious and keeping you awake.
If worries still persist, keep the journal next to your bed and write down any other worries that may come to you. Tell yourself that you will look at them and tend to them in the morning - this should help give you peace of mind.
I’m Still Struggling To Sleep, Now What?
Sometimes, no matter what, sleep tends to evade our desperate grasps. This can be especially problematic when we have work and other responsibilities to maintain. So the burning question is, what is the solution to this problem? Unfortunately, pharmaceutical sleeping pills are nothing but a short-term solution, and end up doing far more harm than good - remember, taking sleeping pills regularly can be just as harmful as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. A good solution would be to look for something that is nature-based, allowing you to fall asleep and awaken naturally without waking up feeling sluggish and disoriented.
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