Insomnia 101: The Need-to-Know Facts

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux



Most people have no problem falling asleep at night, especially given how jam-packed the modern day is. Even so, the majority of individuals suffer from insomnia in some form at some point in their lives. It's important to acknowledge if you have it, because the longer you go without sleep, the greater your risk is for symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating and mood instability.


What is insomnia?


Most people recognize insomnia as a condition in which you have trouble either going to or staying asleep. Although it can occur on its own, it is sometimes associated with other conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, or arthritis. It is one of the most common sleep problems people have. According to the National Sleep Foundation, between thirty to forty percent of Americans claim to have suffered from it within the past year.


What are the different types of insomnia?


There are three major types of insomnia. These include transient, acute, and chronic. Although the symptoms are similar for the three, each type is distinct in terms of how long it lasts. Transient insomnia lasts for a week or less. Acute insomnia lasts three to four weeks, while chronic insomnia lasts a month or more.


A doctor might also classify your insomnia as primary, secondary, or co-morbid. Primary means that it is happening without connection to an environmental, medical, or psychiatric issue, and that it is the main problem you need to address. Secondary insomnia is basically the opposite; it's always the result of an underlying problem, such as pain from a broken leg or feeling sick. Comorbid means that it occurs at the same time as an unrelated condition.


What causes the condition?


By far the most common things that cause insomnia are stress and anxiety. For example, if you're worried about how to pay your bills, you might keep going over and over the numbers of your budget in your head as you try to fall asleep. What stresses you out can vary drastically from what bothers someone else, so there's no real way to predict whether a situation will result in insomnia or not.


A wide range of other things can cause insomnia, including medications, stimulants such as caffeine, certain depressants such as alcohol, and various medical and mental conditions such as Parkinson's, sleep apnea, and depression. Some people experience temporary insomnia when they change their schedules or environments, so it's very common when traveling. Being inconsistent with your sleep patterns can also throw you into insomnia. Improper eating is another cause. If you are hungry, you might not be able to sleep because you keep thinking about having something to eat, or because your stomach is growling. If you eat too much, you can stimulate acid reflux or feel uncomfortable because your belly is too stuffed.


How do you treat it?


The vast majority of insomnia cases are transient or acute. They usually resolve on their own when the environment or circumstances change, or as you adapt to your stressors. They normally do not require any special treatment, but some people find that relaxation techniques such as taking a warm bath, meditating, or listening to calming music are helpful.


Over-the-counter sleep aids are also available—many of which are non-habit forming. Certain foods and drinks are said to be beneficial, as well, such as chamomile tea, warm milk, or turkey.


Chronic insomnia is more likely to be related to other problems, so you might need to treat those issues before insomnia goes away. Your doctor might prescribe a stronger sleep aid for you. He also might try options such as cognitive behavioral therapy, stimulus control, temporary sleep restriction, or light therapy depending on the root of the sleeplessness.


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