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You no doubt have found yourself tossing and turning at night, failing to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. If that sounds too familiar and happens too frequently, you may be suffering from insomnia. Any insomnia definition describes an inability to fall asleep. However, the condition—which effects an estimated 60 million Americans—can be a much more complex issue, one that may relate to multiple factors.
What Causes Insomnia?
Insomnia can be a short-term or long-term issue. Short-term (or transient) insomnia can be caused by illness, stress, travel, or environmental factors. Long-term (or chronic) insomnia is usually caused by an underlying psychological or physical condition, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Illnesses or medical conditions that can cause short-term insomnia include allergies, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, and neurological conditions, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Can’t Fall Asleep—Or Can’t Stay Asleep?
If you experience trouble staying asleep, you may be suffering from sleep apnea. This condition involves flaccid tissue completely blocking your airway; as a result, airflow to your lungs is periodically sealed off throughout the night. Sleep apnea symptoms can cause your body to jolt awake at times. If this is the case, see your physician right away; sleep apnea can be a serious condition that can lead to a number of other health risks.
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Neurological diseases that may cause insomnia include Parkinson’s or restless leg syndrome (RLS). People who have RLS, for example, typically experience an increase in symptoms during periods of rest or inactivity; this makes sleeping much more difficult. Studies show that people suffering from RLS are more likely to suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety.
Insomnia not only can have an impact on your nights, but on your days as well. A chronic lack of sleep causes daytime sleepiness and an increase in anxiety and irritability, and also puts you at risk for drowsy driving and falls at home.
Some of these conditions can be mistakenly attributed to aging and related medical problems, so if you believe you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, it’s important to see your healthcare provider. Your physician may prescribe medication to treat your insomnia. Non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics such as Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta, and Rozerem are the most popular, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. As with any prescription drug, it’s important to understand any and all possible side effects.
Beyond Sleep Meds
Prescription medications may not be necessary to treat your insomnia. In certain instances, the solution may lie in lifestyle changes. The following six can go a long way in making sure you fall asleep easily and stay asleep throughout the night.
- Set the same bedtime and wake-up time each and every day. This can help your body to get in a routine for when to sleep. It’s also important to avoid naps if suffering from insomnia, as this may disturb your body’s sleep routine.
- Avoid electronics and screens before bed. These devices may distract you from falling asleep and can keep your body in an alert state.
- Exercise during the day. The more physical activity your body goes through during the day, the more likely you are to feel tired when it comes time to sleep.
- Avoid stimulants before bedtime. Set a cutoff time during the day to have that last cup of coffee. A study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined the effects of caffeine on sleep and recommended not using caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime. While consuming alcohol before bed may initially help you to fall asleep quickly, you’re more likely to experience disruptions during your sleep and wake up throughout the night.
- Avoid staring at the clock. If you’re experiencing trouble falling asleep, staring at a clock as time passes by can only magnify the issue and increase your anxiety related to not falling asleep.
Stick with these changes for some time and don’t get discouraged if you find yourself continuing to experience insomnia at first. Your body may have to go through an adjustment period to practice good sleep hygiene.
If a problem still persists over time, however, seek help from your physician or consider seeing a sleep specialist.