Insomnia & Sleeping Difficulties
Problems falling asleep, awakening after being asleep, and not being able to sleep through the night are all common problems. Insomnia is probably the most common.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia has been defined quite simply as “sleeplessness.” But there is nothing simple about the inconvenience that at some point insomnia causes in many people’s lives. No one is completely certain why humans require sleep, but the fact that sleep deprivation has many serious impacts upon our lives demonstrates its importance.
The amount of sleep that is necessary for individuals varies. It is approximated that most people require 7 hours of sleep each night, with 8% satisfied with 5 hours or less and 4% requiring 10 hours or more. It depends entirely on the individual. It becomes obvious that you are not receiving the amount of sleep your body requires if you begin to experience adverse effects on your life.
What are some of the causes of insomnia and other sleep difficulties?
Although causes may vary from individual to individual, some common causes include:
trauma in your life (major or minor)
overeating just before bed
stimulants in the bloodstream like caffeine and nicotine (e.g., coffee, chocolate, cola and cigarettes)
lack of exercise
conditions that don’t encourage sleep (noise or light)
concerns about work or school
concerns about daily living (money, violence, transportation, job, relationships)
decongestants and pain and cold relievers
asthma and other breathing disorders
What are the consequences of insomnia and other sleep difficulties?
The symptoms of insomnia can be extremely mild to serious. If symptoms of insomnia are affecting your ability to function effectively you will need to consider seeking help.
Some consequences may include:
decreased problem-solving skills
lowered mental alertness
Drowsiness or falling asleep at every opportunity
inability to concentrate
decrease in efficiency
irritability & anger
feeling depressed or down
fatigue and lowered physical performance
What can I do to manage insomnia and other sleep difficulties?
Implement routine. Try to go to bed & wake at the same time daily. This helps your body get into a rhythm and makes sleeping feel more natural.
Limit the bed to sleeping. Try not to study, watch TV, play on your phone, read or eat in bed.
Exercise. Do some exercise during the day to induce tiredness.
Relax before bed. Have a warm bath, listen to soothing music, use deep breathing techniques, yoga or light stretching, etc. Learning meditation can be a very useful tool for stilling the mind and relaxing the body.
Avoid naps. Napping during the day may minimize your ability to sleep at night.
Minimize anxiety. Try not to tackle anything that may cause stress & anxiety just before bedtime. Some find it helpful to process the days thoughts and feelings by write down any worries or to making a list of things you need to do the next day.
Avoid stimulants. Avoid having caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, cola) or cigarettes before bed. [Note: alcohol may make you drowsy but can disrupt sleeping patterns.]
Warm & soothing drinks. Warm chamomile or peppermint tea or a milk-based drink may help you sleep.
Lavender. Lavender is considered a natural sedative, so sprinkling some oil on your pillow may assist.
Therapy. If your insomnia is related to depression, talking to a mental health professional (counselor, therapist, social worker, etc.) can help. Research has found that when people with depression have insomnia, talk therapy can help address the causes behind both issues and bring relief.
Natural remedies. Valerian root is considered a non-addictive, sleep-inducing herb that also assists in relieving stress & anxiety. St John’s Wort is another natural product used to treat anxiety, depression, stress & insomnia. Both are available at supermarkets or your local pharmacy. It is important to remember, however, that neither have scientific evidence that supports that these actually work as intended. It’s always a good idea to check with your medical doctor before trying such substances, especially if you are taking other medications. Some people have found success in taking a melatonin supplement before bed, which has far less drug interactions than other natural remedies due to melatonin already being produced in the body.
Medication. If your inability to sleep is disrupting your life, it is advisable to see your doctor. Your doctor may provide medication to assist in rectifying your disrupted sleeping patterns, but be sure you know about the drug before taking it. Many medications can be addictive & cause periods of drowsiness upon waking, which may cause problems if you require alertness for work or school.
Ambien is a prescription sleep aid that has received a lot of publicity. It comes in two forms—AMBIEN which helps you fall asleep and AMBIEN CR which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Each can have serious side effects that can be exacerbated if taken while using alcohol. Side effects can include sleepwalking and eating or driving while not fully awake with memory loss for the event, as well as abnormal behaviors such as being more outgoing or aggressive than normal, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations. If you have depression, it can cause a worsening of depression, including risk of suicide. If your doctor prescribes Ambien in either form, it is important that you discuss possible side effects before beginning the drug.
Other professionals. Your doctor may also treat or refer you to other professionals to address the causes of the insomnia.
Guided meditation and ASMR for sleep
If you’ve never heard of guided meditation or ASMR, you’re in for a treat. Meditation can be hard; clearing your mind of all thoughts, just observing and letting go of the thoughts that do pass through your mind, and doing so without judgement is a feat for most. There’s a lot of pressure with mediation to be silent inside or else you’re not doing it right. Guided mediation takes the pressure off. It puts you in a relaxed state of mind by gently suggesting imagery, breathing patterns, muscle relaxation, or other exercises to relax your body and soothe your mind. Not only is guided meditation good for insomnia or falling asleep, but also for easing anxiety and cultivating mindfulness.
If you’ve never heard of ASMR it stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, which really is a technical description for this intensely pleasurable tingling sensation you get that usually concentrates around the head and neck. Have you gotten your hair done at the salon or barber shop and all the scalp touches and sounds combined gave your a really good chill or feelings all of a sudden? That’s what we’re talking about.
If you haven’t experienced that, you might find listening to some ASMR videos with headphones on and watching the person (or not) could help you find the “triggers” needed to make that feeling happen. Triggers in this context isn’t a bad thing—more like a way of know what sounds give you that tingly sensation. Some videos have soft and soothing talking with positive affirmations (really great if you’re feeling down), various soft sounds like clicking, rubbing, or crinkling, or they have a mixture of both.
Check out a couple of these videos if you’re having trouble sleeping. They may just help!
For more information on insomnia, check out the Mayo Clinic website.
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com