What Is Insomnia?

The insomnia definition most of us know involves the inability to fall asleep at bedtime. There’s more, however, to this common condition than sleepless nights.

what is insomnia

Can't sleep? We've got some simple suggestions that might get into the routine of enjoying a full night's rest.

© Stokkete | Dreamstime.com

What does insomnia mean? You might picture someone tossing and turning in bed, trying to get comfortable and relaxed enough to fall asleep. Or maybe you see a vision of yourself just lying awake in bed, feeling tired, but not enough to drift off to sleep.

But what is insomnia beyond the inability to fall asleep? The condition also involves difficulty staying asleep once you have dozed off—and difficulty returning to sleep once you awaken in the middle of the night.

Whether your challenge is falling or staying asleep, the consequences of poor sleep are often the same. Insomnia symptoms can affect every aspect of your life, causing daytime fatigue and sleepiness (leading to drowsy driving), making you irritable and anxious, lessening your ability to concentrate and make decisions, and raising your risk of falls and injuries. All of these symptoms may mistakenly be attributed to aging and worsening medical problems.

FreeGuide_cover_Sleep_wShield_300

Sleep Better Tonight!

Get a FREE Special Report from the editors of University Health News, Sleeping Disorders: Narcolepsy, sleep apnea test, snoring solutions, insomnia cures, and more.

You’ll read about habits and conditions that rob us of peaceful slumber.

What Is Insomnia? Chronic Symptoms

Some research suggests that the medical impact of chronic insomnia—for example, weight gain or obesity—has been underestimated. Chronic insomnia also increases nighttime blood pressure, which can result in heart problems.

Chronic insomnia also is associated with an increased risk of premature death, according to research. Researchers say the findings emphasize the need for physicians to provide effective treatments for insomnia even in people who don’t have coexisting health problems.

Resolving the underlying problem causing the insomnia can help restore normal sleep patterns. For example, if pain is keeping you awake, taking pain medication—either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription—can help you get the sleep you need. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise can also help.

If your primary problem seems to be difficulty falling asleep, a simple solution is to try going to bed at a later hour, when you’re more likely to be sleepy. If your problem is staying asleep, you may have a coexisting sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. Or, you may be taking medications such as antidepressants, decongestants, steroids, and some drugs for hypertension or asthma that can cause insomnia.

Difficulty Falling Asleep? Try These Tips

If insomnia symptoms are making it difficult for you to fall asleep, your doctor may have you try a sleep medication or cognitive behavioral therapy. But before you pursue those routes, consider some simple suggestions:

  • Stick to the same wake-up and bedtime schedule. For some people, the answer to “what does insomnia mean?” is that it’s an inability to establish a body clock that knows when it’s time to sleep and when to be awake. You may be lying awake because your body doesn’t need sleep yet. If you try going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, and can avoid naps (especially late in the afternoon), you may be able to set your personal clock to the sleep/wake schedule you need.
  • Stop looking at a screen (TV, cell phone, computer, tablet, etc.) at least an hour before bedtime. The light from these screens can signal the brain that it’s time to be alert, and the result is insomnia.
  • Exercise during the day, preferably in the morning. It’s no surprise that sleep is essential to help a tired body recover. So the more physical activity you engage in, the more your body and mind will crave sleep at the end of the day.

By trying some of these and other tips on falling asleep in this section (see links below), you may notice a change in your insomnia symptoms. If you do, continue with these positive improvements. If not, tell your doctor about your sleep issues. Sleep is not often brought up at routine appointments, so it may be up to you to discuss the issue and even ask for a referral to a sleep specialist if your symptoms become chronic.

For more tips on beating insomnia, see these University Health News posts:


Originally published May 2016 and updated.

Anchor
Comments

Comments are closed.

×
Enter Your Log In Credentials
×
×

Please Log In

You are trying to access subscribers-only content. If you are a subscriber, use the form below to log in.

Subscribers will have unlimited access to the magazine that helps people live more sustainable, self-reliant lives, with feature stories on tending the garden, managing the homestead, raising healthy livestock and more!

×

Please Log In

You are trying to access subscribers-only content. If you are a subscriber, use the form below to log in.

Subscribers will have unlimited access to the magazine that helps the small-scale poultry enthusiast raise healthy, happy, productive flocks for eggs, meat or fun - from the countryside to the urban homestead!