Unpacking Insomnia

Your questions about insomnia, answered.

Unpacking Insomnia
Unpacking Insomnia

By Whiteswan Foundation

We all lose sleep now and then due to stress or other health issues. However, losing sleep on a regular basis can be frustrating, not to mention tiring for the body and mind. In this Q&A, we demystify the signs, causes, and treatment options for insomnia, a disorder where a person has difficulty falling and/or staying asleep.

Q- What is insomnia?

A- Insomnia is the most common sleeping disorder. A person suffering from insomnia finds it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. This, despite having the opportunity to have had adequate time to sleep; it is not because the person slept late or had to wake up early for some reason. Insomnia affects the quality and quantity of sleep. The person feels tired and sluggish during the day. We all have a bad night of sleep from time to time. This does not mean that we are suffering from insomnia. Insomnia is a condition that lasts for a long period of time, and can have an adverse effect on your work performance, relationships, decision-making, and your quality of life. This condition is treatable and the sooner you seek help, the quicker you can recover.

Q- What are the symptoms of insomnia?

A- You may have insomnia if:

  • You have difficulty falling asleep at night.
  • You feel sleepy during the daytime on a regular basis. You also feel tired and sluggish all the time.
  • You have trouble concentrating or paying attention. Sometimes you may start to forget things as well. As a result, you see yourself making errors more often.
  • Your have become irritable and your tolerance level has reduced.
  • You experience regular headache or stomach ache.
  • You start to worry about sleeping a lot.If you know someone who has been exhibiting these symptoms for a significantly long time, speak to them and encourage them to consult a doctor.

Q- What causes insomnia?

A- Insomnia is usually caused by other underlying conditions such as the following:

  • Stress: Stress is a common cause of insomnia. It could be related to everyday problems such as work pressure, concerns about money or health. The stress could also be due to a major event such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or loss of job.
  • Other mental health problems: People suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, as well as other mental health problems, may have difficulty sleeping.
  • Medical conditions: People who experience pain or discomfort due to a physical illness, or have breathing problems such as asthma, can be affected with insomnia. Many other medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease or even simple conditions such as allergies and acid reflux, can cause insomnia.
  • Medication: Insomnia can be the side-effect of many prescription drugs. Many painkillers and over-the-counter medicines for a common cold or congestion, contain caffeine which disrupts your sleep cycle. Antidepressants, blood pressure medication and medicines for heart problems can also cause insomnia.
  • Alcohol and other substances: Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and other narcotic drugs are also known to cause insomnia. Whereas caffeine limits your ability to fall asleep, alcohol and drugs are known to cause frequent awakening during sleep.
  • Poor sleep routine and environment: An irregular sleep routine is not healthy in the long run and can cause insomnia. Also, sleeping in an uncomfortable environment with too much light and noise, decreases the quality of your sleep.
  • Life events: If you work in a night shift, or if you are transferred to a different time zone, your body might not adjust to the change and you may have difficulty in falling asleep.
  • Aging: As people grow older, they are more susceptible to get insomnia. Your sleep patterns may change as you start to get tired earlier in the day. Also, reduced physical activity can reduce the quality of your sleep. You are also more likely to develop medical conditions that disturb your sleep.

Q- Getting treatment for insomnia

A- Insomnia can severely affect the quality of your life but it is treatable. If you have been experiencing trouble with your sleep and it is affecting your daily life, then you should meet a doctor regarding this problem.

Treatment for insomnia usually focuses on identifying the underlying problem that causes insomnia. The doctor may prescribe suitable medication and certain behavioural therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy to treat insomnia.

Q- Caring for someone with insomnia

A- Insomnia can cause severe distress to a person and they are likely to grow irritable and frustrated. It is important that you remain patient with them and try to help them with their problem. Talk to them about their problem; if a worry has been affecting their sleep, talking about it might help them sleep better. If your snoring or alternate sleep routine is causing a disturbance to your partner's sleep, consider sleeping separately for a while. If the problem is severe, you should talk to them about a seeing a doctor.

Q- Coping with insomnia

A- Insomnia can adversely affect your daily life but there are some adjustments you can make to help you get better sleep. Try to exercise and be active during the day. This usually helps you get a deeper sleep so that you are well-rested. Limit your caffeine intake and avoid alcohol and nicotine as they disrupt your sleep. Try to make your sleeping arrangements comfortable and do some relaxation before you go to sleep. If you are not able to manage your daily activities due to a lack of sleep, you should consult a doctor.

This article has been republished with permission from the Other Disorders section of the White Swan Foundation's website.

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