What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep condition that involves difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Almost everyone goes through bouts of sleeplessness from time to time. But if someone struggles to fall asleep or wakes up at night or early in the morning and finds it difficult to fall back asleep, and this happens at least three times a week for a few months, that person is likely suffering from chronic insomnia.
Short-acting sleeping pills may improve sleep and next-day alertness, but the best way to handle a bout of insomnia is to do nothing; the body’s sleep mechanism tends to right itself if given the chance. The most effective treatments for chronic insomnia are behavioral techniques that eliminate sleep anxiety and allow the body’s own sleep cycle to kick in.
Insomnia may cause daytime fatigue and reduced energy levels. People with insomnia may also experience weakened coping skills, difficulty paying attention and concentrating, memory problems, and trouble performing even routine tasks. But most of all, insomnia affects mood. The chronic sleep disruption of insomnia appears to be a major trigger for depression and irritability.
What Causes Insomnia?
Stress is the primary cause of insomnia, but there are also physical conditions and other factors that can bring it on. A doctor should rule these out first. They include sleep apnea, overactive thyroid, certain medications, and gastrointestinal problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux.
Lack of sufficient physical activity during the day can interfere with the body’s drive for sleep. Substance abuse can also be a major sleep disruptor.
Insomnia is often related to how people handle a bad night or a few bad nights of sleep. One may try to compensate for a brief sleepless period by sleeping later, napping in the afternoon, having a few drinks before bed, or going to bed early. But those actions may only impair the body’s natural sleep drive or cause more early wakefulness.
Some people are at risk of insomnia due to environmental factors such as shift work and jet lag. People who do not get enough exposure to sunlight during the day can also have trouble sleeping. And such factors as drinking too much caffeine or overheating a bedroom can also interfere with sleep.