Sleep is a basic human need. It is no coincidence that its lack is becoming an issue in today’s society. In the name of performance, we betray our natural biorhythm and subject ourselves to constant stress. As a result, we suffer, especially in later life, from sleep disorders, most often from insomnia.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that most people have experienced at various stages of their lives. People with insomnia, have difficulty sleeping, experience stress and feelings of tension and nervousness, which leads them to the next day tired and feeling down, creating difficulties in their daily life, as well as their personal and professional life.
There are two types of insomnia: primary (not due to another disease or disorder) and secondary (due to another disease or disorder).
Insomnia is divided into transient and chronic. Transient, it lasts for a while, but it can reappear and is due to some external factors and passes without treatment. Chronic insomnia is characterized by sleep disturbances that occur at least 3 nights per week and last for more than 3 months.
These are the most common symptoms of insomnia:
- Difficulty relaxing
- Interruption of sleep
- Waking up very early
- Feeling tired in the morning
- Sleepiness during the day
- Nervousness, depression, anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Gastrointestinal disorders
What causes insomnia
The form of sleep has changed radically several times throughout history. Sleeping alone in a closed room, for which we have a limit of 8 hours with little exaggeration, is a relatively modern thing and we owe it to the industrial revolution. Then, moreover, the work was still physically demanding. Today, most people do rather mentally work. When we fall asleep at night, it’s not our exhausted body that helps us sleep, it’s our mind that doesn’t let us sleep. A person’s advanced age, pain or mental or neurological illness, time changes, and an inappropriate sleep environment also contribute to insomnia.
These are the most common causes of insomnia:
- Stress and anxiety
Anxiety disorders, but also everyday stress, related to obligations, family and financial issues, etc.
- Depression and other psychological disorders
Both depression and other disorders are directly linked to either insomnia or excessive sleeping.
- Underlying disease
Chronic pain, breathing difficulties, frequent urination, contribute to the manifestation of insomnia. Diseases that have been linked to insomnia are arthritis, cancer, heart failure, lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, thyroid disorders, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s.
- Changes in the environment and our routine
Changes in our daily schedule can disrupt the body’s biological clock, making it difficult to sleep.
- Bad sleep habits
Some of these habits are irregular sleep schedules, arousal activities at night, inappropriate sleeping environment.
Antidepressants, drugs for the heart, blood pressure, allergies, stimulants and corticosteroids. Also, over-the-counter medications such as pain reliever combinations, decongestants, and weight loss supplements may contain caffeine and other stimulants.
- Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
Coffee, tea, soft drinks and other caffeinated drinks have a stimulating effect. Nicotine is also a stimulant. Alcohol has a depressant effect and promotes relaxation, but it does not allow the body to go into the deeper stages of sleep and often causes interruptions in sleep during the night.
- Eating a large amount of food before bed
A large meal at night causes discomfort and makes it difficult to sleep. It can also cause heartburn or acid reflux, factors that also contribute to insomnia.
What are the effects of insomnia?
Insomnia can greatly affect a person’s daily life. It can lead to fatigue, inability to concentrate, mood disorders and reduced performance in activities (work, studies).
In addition, neuroimaging has shown structural brain changes and differences in brain perfusion in patients with insomnia. Also, it can worsen any cardiovascular disease, cause emotional disorders, even depression.
Finally, sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep are associated with weight gain and the onset of diabetes.
How is chronic insomnia treated?
Insomnia is not necessarily associated with a restless mind. It can be a concomitant phenomenon of other diseases. If your insomnia has been bothering you for a long time, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor, who can refer you to a sleep laboratory for a comprehensive examination. Medication is usually a last resort for chronic insomnia and is only used to restore the natural rhythm of sleep.
Ideally, you should know the reasons of your insomnia. These are different for each person. It may be momentary stress (transient or acute insomnia) or the result of a long-term exhausting lifestyle (chronic insomnia). The first step is to observe the rules of so-called sleep hygiene (clean air in the room, absence of caffeine and alcohol, quiet activity before sleep, etc.). If you’ve already tried these medications and still aren’t sleeping well, psychotherapy may be the ideal option.
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule.
- Go to bed without delay when you feel sleepy.
- Use the bed only for sleep or love.
- Do not engage in other matters while lying down.
- Take care of the bedroom environment (noise, lighting, temperature, disturbances).
- Remove electronic devices from the bedroom.
- Don’t consume heavy and rich dinners.
- Limit, especially in the evening, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, coca cola, dark chocolate)
- Take any medicines that have stimulating properties early before going to bed (consult the leaflet and your doctor).
- When you go to sleep, forget your worries.
- Don’t take a nap at noon, or even if the midday nap doesn’t last more than 30 minutes.
- Exercise regularly but finish exercising at least 3 hours before going to bed.
How much sleep do we really need?
Depending on the age group, sleeping hours differ:
- Adults (18-64 years): 7 to 9 hours
- Children (6-12 years): 9 to 13 hours
- Infants and toddlers (0-5 years): 12 to 13 hours
Sleep is undoubtedly a necessary condition for good human health. For this reason we must take insomnia seriously and seek help to reverse this condition.