Insomnia is a disorder that affects sleep duration and quality. Sufferers may not be able to get to sleep; some may wake frequently through the night or wake too early. Most people will experience sporadic insomnia at one point or another; for others, the problem becomes chronic and interferes with daily life.

What causes insomnia?

There are many possible causes for insomnia. The most common reasons for poor sleep quality include:

  • Excessive stress: For many people, insomnia is caused by too much stress. A certain level of stress is unavoidable and may even be healthy. However, when stress gets out of control it can cause negative side effects such as insomnia. If you feel your stress level is too high, try relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga. Often, when an insomnia sufferer is able to get their stress under control through life changes or other means, their sleep quality improves.
  • Travel: Even if you love to travel, it can have a detrimental effect on your sleep schedule, as well as the quality of the sleep you’re getting. Often, getting quality sleep in a new environment like a hotel room can be challenging; in addition, traveling through time zones can cause jet lag.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: This disorder is characterized by chronic, excessive worry that is often vague. Sufferers may experience panic attacks and many also have insomnia. Constant anxiety can cause tension in the body and make it nearly impossible to relax; if you have generalized anxiety disorder or suspect that you might, consult with your doctor about treatment options.
  • Too much caffeine: Sometimes, insomnia can be caused by something as simple as having coffee too late in the day or drinking too many soft drinks. If you find yourself up too late at night, try cutting off your caffeine intake at noon. For the remainder of the day, switch to a healthy caffeine-free alternative like water or decaffeinated herbal tea.
  • Eating close to bedtime: One of the most common causes of acute insomnia is eating within three hours of bedtime. Doing so can lead to indigestion, which affects sleep quality. What you eat is also important; spicy foods and fatty foods can also be culprits that keep you up at night.
  • Alcohol consumption: Although a few drinks can make you feel relaxed, the effect doesn’t last. Consuming too much alcohol can cause waking in the middle of the night. If you choose to drink, keep intake moderate and don’t imbibe too close to bedtime.
  • Certain medications: If you have insomnia and take medication, it may be to blame. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your prescription is causing sleep disruptions. Make sure to disclose all non-prescription medications and supplements you’re taking as well. Your dose may be modified or your medication switched to alleviate sleep issues.

Are there risk factors for insomnia?

There are several risk factors that make insomnia more likely. They include:

  • Increased stress
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Having a mental or physical illness
  • Working an irregular schedule

Insomnia can affect anyone, regardless of gender or age, although women over the age of 60 are more prone to insomnia than others. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, the first thing to do is consult with a medical professional. Sleep apnea can also lead to insomnia since you’re already not likely getting restful sleep or extended periods of sleep at all.

How much sleep do adults need?

Many experts recommend most adults get approximately 7 hours of sleep each night. However, this figure may vary from person to person. The right amount of sleep is the amount that leaves you feeling refreshed and rested in the morning; for some, this may be 7 hours, others may need 9 hours. The important thing is to keep a consistent sleep schedule so your body can adjust accordingly.

What are the side effects of insomnia?

Insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness; other side effects include irritability and lack of focus. This in turn can cause a person to be at a higher risk of accidents, making insomnia a more dangerous problem than many people realize. Not getting enough sleep can also affect everything from your heart health to your immune system, which is why addressing insomnia promptly is so important.

How can insomnia be treated?

There are medications for treating insomnia that can be prescribed by a doctor, as well as over-the-counter sleep medications. However, taking sleep medication comes with side effects and many people prefer a more natural approach. Often, insomnia can be treated without medication, through simple lifestyle changes.

Daily exercise can promote better sleep at night, as can watching what and when you eat. Managing stress successfully is another way to encourage better sleep; relaxation techniques like deep breathing or taking a hot bath an hour before bed can be helpful. Some sufferers respond positively to aromatherapy; lavender is a soothing scent renowned for its relaxing properties.

I think I have insomnia, what should I do?

Addressing your insomnia as soon as you notice it can get you back on the right track. Though prompt attention, you can resolve your insomnia and enjoy better quality sleep. Take our free, online sleep assessment to get an idea of your sleep behavioral patterns and work toward a diagnosis and subsequent treatment for your condition.

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