Insomnia is a persistent disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep or both, despite the opportunity for adequate sleep. With insomnia, you usually awaken feeling unrefreshed, which takes a toll on your ability to function during the day.
Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life. Many adults experience insomnia at some point, but some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that can be the result of insufficient sleep hormones that do not allow the brain to effectively shut down at night.
Common Causes of Insomnia Include:
- Concerns about work, school, health or family can keep your mind active at night with sometimes racing thoughts, making it difficult to sleep.
- Everyday anxieties as well as more-serious anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, may disrupt your asleep. Worry about being able to go to sleep can also make it harder to fall asleep.
- You might either sleep too much or have trouble sleeping if you’re depressed. Insomnia often occurs with other mental health disorders as well.
- Medical conditions. If you have chronic pain, breathing difficulties or a need to urinate frequently, you might develop insomnia.
- Change in your environment or work schedule. Travel or working a late or early shift can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep. Your circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, guiding such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature.
- Poor Sleep Environment. Your bedroom should be a sleep chamber, free from excessive lights and noises. Eliminate the TV from the bedroom as well as any bright LED lights from clocks or radios and insure your curtains and drapes block out all outside lights. Pets can disturb sleep also and they should be kept out of the bedroom or properly trained not to get in the bed.
- Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, stimulants (such as Ritalin), and corticosteroids. Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications — including some pain medication combinations, decongestants and weight-loss products — contain caffeine and other stimulants.
- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Coffee, tea, cola and other caffeine-containing drinks are well-known stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon and later can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can cause insomnia. Alcohol can act like a sedative initially but prevents you from entering the deeper stages of sleep causing you to awaken in the middle of the night.
- Eating too much late in the evening. Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down, making it difficult to get to sleep. Consuming other stimulates and spices such as MSG in the evening meals can also cause you to waken during the night.
Natural Solutions to Improve Quality of Sleep
Here are a few suggestions for natural ways to get a good night’s sleep. Large meals, excessive sugar intake, caffeine, alcohol and vigorous exercise done right before bedtime will probably have the opposite effect and keep you awake all night.
Try following some of these bedtime rituals about a half hour to an hour before your bedtime:
- Drink a small glass of warm milk or herbal tea
- Eat a small snack such as a few bites of a turkey sandwich or a small banana
- Listen to relaxing music – use the timer function on your alarm clock or iPod
- Practice relaxation exercises:
- Write in a journal
- Read a chapter in your latest best seller
- Tai chi
Other ways to get a good night’s sleep include trying to go to bed around the same time each night, using blackout curtains, or heavy shades, to prevent outdoor light from coming in and lowering the temperature at night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees.
If you are still having trouble falling asleep, try creating a sleep friendly environment by removing most electronic devices from your bedroom. Items like cell phones, laptops and digital clocks emit an electronic glow in the dark which can disrupt your natural sleep cycle. In fact, watching TV or checking emails right before bedtime messes with your natural circadian rhythms and cortisol levels and can actually prevent you from falling asleep.
The above recommendations should be used merely as a guide and in no way are meant as actual treatment advice for any condition or disease.