Insomnia is Bad for Your Health. Thankfully, It’s Treatable!
The National Institutes of Health cites insomnia as one of the most common, yet easily treatable health problems in the U.S. Up to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic insomnia and other sleep problems and these frequently go undiagnosed and untreated. Classic symptoms of insomnia include having difficulty falling asleep, waking up often during the night, waking up too early in the morning, or feeling tired, irritable, and sluggish when you wake up.
Health Consequences of Insomnia
Insomnia contributes to health problems like obesity and heart disease, and it's the cause of a large number of accidents and injuries each year. A lack of sleep affects your mood, job performance, well-being, and quality of life, and it can even lead to early mortality.
What Causes Insomnia?
Insomnia can be caused by a range of medical conditions like allergies, acid reflux, arthritis, and asthma. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD also contribute to sleepless nights. Unhealthy sleep habits, such as taking naps, sleeping in, and getting all riled up in the evenings can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and eating heavy meals close to bedtime may also play a role in developing insomnia.
Acute vs. Chronic Insomnia
Insomnia can occur frequently and last for years, or it can come and go.
Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia that may last from one night to a few weeks. It can be caused by factors like stress, illness, medications, jet lag, or environmental factors like extreme temperatures or noise.
Chronic insomnia is long-term and is diagnosed when you have insomnia at least three nights a week for at least a month. It can be caused by factors like anxiety or depression, chronic stress, or pain.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you suffer from chronic insomnia, visit your doctor for an evaluation. Your doctor may perform a physical exam, take your medical history, and interview you about your sleep patterns. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a sleep center for additional tests.
Treating chronic insomnia is a matter of addressing underlying conditions, improving sleep habits, and making lifestyle changes that promote better sleep. In some cases, medication can help you sleep, although over-the-counter sleep medications aren't recommended as a long-term solution.
What You Can Do for Better Sleep
If you have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep, these tips may help.
- Go to bed at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning.
- Avoid taking naps during the day.
- Turn off your devices an hour or so before bedtime. The light from the screen can mimic sunlight and interfere with the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the evenings. These are all stimulants and they can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Exercise a few hours before bedtime. Exercise increases your body temperature and the post-exercise drop in temperature can help you fall asleep. Exercise also reduces feelings of anxiety and depression, which can interfere with sleep.
- Develop a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation and well-being, such as taking a relaxing bath, reading a book, or listening to music.
If you still can't fall asleep, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing, such as reading or writing in a journal, until you feel sleepy, and then go back to bed. Avoid turning on bright lights or reaching for your device, which can further reduce your ability to fall asleep.