What you need to know about insomnia

By Jane Babirye
On 20 October 2023 at 12:59

When it comes to sleep, the saying "easier said than done" applies to most of us. Despite being advised to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep each day, many of us struggle to do so. Insomnia is often the culprit behind this challenge.

Understanding Insomnia

Often referred to as "the thief of sleep," insomnia is a widespread sleep disorder affecting millions worldwide. According to a report by the Cleveland Clinic published on February 13, 2023, approximately one in three adults worldwide exhibits insomnia symptoms, with about 10% meeting the criteria for insomnia disorder.

Recognizing Insomnia

Insomnia disrupts the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve restorative sleep. This disruption can lead to various physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and trouble concentrating. People with insomnia often report dissatisfaction with their sleep quality and experience daytime impairments such as fatigue, irritability, and reduced cognitive function.

Types of Insomnia

Stanford Medicine Health Care classifies insomnia based on its duration, with transient insomnia lasting for one month, acute/short-term insomnia lasting between one and six months, and chronic insomnia lasting for six months or more. Insomnia can also be categorized as primary (without co-existing conditions) or secondary (associated with another medical or psychiatric condition).

Common Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can result from a complex interplay of factors, including:

Stress and Anxiety: Everyday stressors, anxiety, and unresolved emotional issues can lead to racing thoughts, making it challenging to fall asleep.

Poor Sleep Habits: Irregular sleep schedules, excessive napping, and the use of electronic devices before bedtime can disrupt the body’s internal clock, leading to insomnia.

Medical Conditions: Conditions like chronic pain, asthma, acid reflux, or menopause can interfere with the ability to sleep.

Medications: Some medications, particularly those affecting the central nervous system, can cause sleep disturbances.

Caffeine and Alcohol: Excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol, especially in the evening, can disrupt sleep.

Noisy Environments: Noisy surroundings can make sleep uncomfortable, leading to decreased well-being and performance.

Preventing Insomnia

To prevent insomnia, consider adopting good sleep practices and addressing lifestyle factors that contribute to sleep disturbances:

Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily can help prevent insomnia.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Engage in calming activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime.

Limit Screen Exposure: Reduce screen time before bed to avoid the interference of blue light with melatonin production.

Diet and Lifestyle: Avoid heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime, limit caffeine and alcohol intake in the evening, and engage in regular physical activity, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.

Treating Insomnia

If you’re already experiencing insomnia, treatment options include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach focuses on changing thought patterns and behaviors contributing to sleep difficulties and is highly effective.

Medications: In some cases, doctors may prescribe sleep medications, usually as a short-term solution due to the risk of dependence.

Lifestyle Changes: Address underlying lifestyle factors such as stress, poor sleep habits, or unhealthy diet choices.

Relaxation Techniques: Practicing techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and promote sleep.

Remember, if you struggle with chronic or severe insomnia, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for tailored guidance and support.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily can help prevent insomnia.