Insomnia: Description, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment

If you encounter problems with falling asleep or staying asleep you are not alone. It was already identified that sleep problems have negative effects on the overall health of the person. Bad quality sleep can lead to a number of brain and body dysfunctions. To be more specific, a lack of proper sleep can affect the mood, emotions, memory, and learning as well as biological functions in a negative way.

It was also determined that poor sleep can lead to a number of other health conditions such as back pain, neck pain and/or shoulder pain. It can also lead to continuous morning headaches. It is extremely important to have a healthy sleep in order to be able to function properly during the day. Nowadays, a lot of people suffer from sleep disorders and insomnia is one of them. In medical terms, this is a sleep disorder that causes difficulties with falling and staying asleep. This condition can be short-term as well as long-term and it can also come and go.

What is insomnia?

As was already mentioned, insomnia is a type of sleep disorder that causes trouble with falling and staying asleep or even both. Generally, people who get exposed to this condition do not feel refreshed when they wake up from sleeping, which, in turn, leads to fatigue. APA, which stands for the American Psychiatric Association claims that insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder. According to APA, approximately one-third of all adults suffer from insomnia symptoms. However, only 6 to 10 adults experience symptoms, which are severe enough for a person to be diagnosed with insomnia disorder.

Specialists will typically conduct a clinical diagnosis if any of the following criteria are met:

  1. A person encounters difficulties with falling or staying asleep for at least three nights a week for a minimum of three months
  2. A person encounters major distress of functional difficulties as a result of sleep problems

What are the causes of insomnia?

According to experts, the type of sleeplessness a person experiences determines the causes of insomnia. Short-term insomnia, which is called acute, can be caused by stress, changes to sleep habits as well as traumatic or upsetting events. Long-term insomnia, which is also called chronic insomnia, generally lasts for at least three months and is normally secondary to another problem or combination of problems including:

  1. Health conditions such as back pain or arthritis
  2. Psychological problems such as depressions or anxiety

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

Doctors typically differentiate between the following symptoms of insomnia:

  1. Waking up too early in the morning
  2. Having difficulties with falling and/or staying asleep
  3. Having unrefreshing sleep

As a result of these symptoms, a person can experience other symptoms, which include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Irritability
  3. Mood changes

In addition to that, a person might also have difficulties with concentration during the day.

What are the risk factors for insomnia?

Specialists say that insomnia is more prone to affect women than men and can occur at any age. NHLBI, which stands for the National Heart, Lund, and Blood Institute, states that there certain risk factors that increase the chance of getting exposed to insomnia and they are as follows:

  1. Too high level of stress
  2. Depression or distress caused by a life event
  3. Low income
  4. Traveling to different time zones
  5. Working night shifts (changes in work hours)

Doctors also add that there are certain health conditions that can lead to insomnia. These include cardiovascular disease and obesity,  for instance. Menopause can also cause a sleep disorder.

What are the ways to treat insomnia?

Treatment of insomnia can be done pharmaceutically and non-pharmaceutically. Before any treatment is prescribed, your doctor will have a thorough consultation with you in order to determine the cause of the problem as it has a huge impact on the treatment approach. It should be also mentioned that different treatments might be necessary before identifying the one that works for you.

ACP, which stands for the American College of Physicians advises cognitive behavioral therapy as a first-line treatment for chronic insomnia in adults. It might also be recommended to implement proper sleep hygiene meaning that you establish a sleeping schedule and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Other recommendations could be:

  1. Eliminating caffeine at least six hours before going to sleep
  2. Eliminating physical activities before going to bed
  3. Eliminating the time spent on the bed when you do not intent to sleep such surfing the web on the phone or watching TV

However, it is also worth mentioning that there are a number of underlying health conditions that can be contributing to insomnia and such cases are typically treated with medications. An example of that could be an over-the-counter medication that can be used for sleep such as an antihistamine. Although, you have to keep in mind that medicine like that has several side effects, especially long-term. Therefore, before making use of any kind of medication it is highly important to consult a doctor first. There are also other medications used to treat insomnia and they are eszopiclone and zolpidem. Experts emphasize the fact that not every sleep medicine is applicable to everyone.

Specialists also claim that mild cases of insomnia can be treated with the use of home remedies including herbal tea, warm milk, and valerian. In addition to that, it might be also necessary to make some modifications to the lifestyle. The first and most common adjustment to the lifestyle recommended by doctors is meditation. It is an easy and natural approach to treating insomnia. It can assist in improving the quality of sleep as well as make the process of falling asleep easier. Medication can also be helpful in treating other conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Another method of treating this sleep disorder is making use of melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body during the sleep cycle and its supplements might be effective for the improvement of sleep. However, it should be also said that there is just a little evidence for melatonin actually helping to treat insomnia. Melatonin supplements are believed to be safe in the short-run, but its safety in the long-run has yet to be discovered. Once again, before making use of any treatment method it is crucial to consult with a doctor first.

Essential oils are another alternative method of treating this sleep disorder. They are generally made from a variety of plants, trees, and flowers. There are a variety of ways essential oils can be used. Some people inhale oils while others massage them into the skin. This practice is called aromatherapy. A list of essential oils that are believed to help sleep better is depicted below:

  1. Cedarwood
  2. Roman chamomile
  3. Lavender
  4. Neroli
  5. Sandalwood

Specialists say that essential oils do not cause side effects when used as mentioned above. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified the majority of essential oils as safe. Although, you have to keep in mind that aromatherapy is not regulated by law in the United States and no licenses are required for practice. Thus, you have to carefully select practitioners and products.

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