Often times most of us experience that frustrating feeling of not being able to sleep. You get into bed after a long, hard day and suddenly you’re wide awake. Or maybe you sleep for a few hours, then wake up in the middle of the night tossing and turning until it’s time to get up. Either way, you are suffering from insomnia (sleeplessness).
Insomnia is defined as having problems getting to sleep and staying asleep or experiencing poor quality sleep that affects daytime activity and impairs your quality of life, according to Professor Kevin Morgan, a Psychologist of Loughborough University. Studies show that insomnia causes daytime sleepiness, but can also result in attention disorders, memory complaints, irritability, higher rates of sickness, a tendency to make more mistakes at work and poor performance at work and relationships with friends and family.
How much sleep do we need?
The assumption that most adults need at least eight hours of sleep is wrong. Everyone’s sleep requirements are different according studies. We sleep less as we age; on average, a baby will sleep 17 hours a day, a teenager 10 hours and a man of 40 years or more no more than 6 hours or there about.
What causes insomnia?
Some people are naturally predisposed to insomnia- they’re often referred to as “poor sleepers” – and this usually apparent by early adulthood; says Professor Morgan. They don’t experience insomnia every night of their lives but they will have recurrent periods of it, usually triggered by circumstances such as disrupted routines, or psychological stress.
However, there are several lifestyle factors and health problems that can cause or lead to insomnia. These include the following:
- Anxiety or stress: People who worry a lot can spend hours trying to sleep. However, panicking about not sleeping generates more anxiety so the problem is self-perpetuating.
- Caffeine, Alcohol or Cigarettes: Caffeine (in coffee, tea, and cola) and nicotine as found in cigarettes are stimulants and keep you awake; some drugs also contain caffeine (like some pain relieving drugs which can affect your sleep negatively. Although alcohol may help you sleep off fast, but it will affect the quality of your sleep during the night.
- Depression: Disturbed sleep and early morning waking are common symptoms in people who are suffering from depression.
- Medical problems: A painful medical condition, such as arthritis or backache etc. can affect sleep and keep you awake.
- Disrupted Routines: Working irregular hours (particularly night shifts) can affect your body clock so it’s often difficult to readjust when you need to sleep.
- Misuse of sleeping pills: Most doctors prescribe short term courses of sleeping pills, but if you stop taking them abruptly, your sleep problem may get worse.
What’s the Treatment of Insomnia?
Most often, it is advisable to allow the sleep problem to right easily itself without any medical intervention. Most importantly try to identify the cause of the insomnia and take necessary action to address it. It is also a good idea not to panic when you are not getting enough sleep as that might make it worse.
Medication is an option to curb insomnia in very severe cases. Sleeping tablets are very effective and safe if used as prescribed by a doctor especially for chronic disabling insomnia.
Drugs such as Barbiturates and Benzodiapines are the usual sleeping pills but must be used according to doctor’s prescription because of its addictive nature. Such drugs as Bromezepam (Talen), Diazepam (Unival), Nitrazepam (Swindon) and Flunitrazepam (Swinol) are often the drugs used to correct sleeping disorders by doctors.
Natural Remedies For Insomnia
Some traditional remedies have been tested in scientific experiments and proven to be effective. Such herbs like valerian root and nutmeg extract have been shown to improve and increase sleep duration.
Smelling lavender oil has also been shown to help elderly insomniacs fall asleep and stay asleep.
Another study has shown that tryptophan, an amino acid found particularly in dairy products, can induce sleepiness-hence the use of milky drinks at bedtime. Tea made from chamomile or lemon balm also help to induce sleep.
—– Healthfact files (Jo Walters)