Insomnia is defined as the difficulty of falling asleep or the inability to stay asleep. It can be short-term (acute) and usually related to specific circumstances or it can be chronic, occurring 3 nights a week for at least 3 months in a row.
Most of us don’t realize just how important sleep is to practically every aspect of our lives. Just like air, food and water, sleep is essential to the overall mental and physical health of humans. While we can cope without sleep for a period of time when necessary, going without sleep for too long will start to take a toll on one’s physical, mental and emotional health.
While experts continue to debate on the exact role and function of sleep, most can agree that sleep restores both the mind and body. The average adult sleeps about 6-8 hours of sleep. The amount of time an individual needs for a restful, restorative sleep, varies but not far from this average. People who do not suffer from frequent interruptions of sleep regularly enjoy better health, mood, concentration, work performance, relationships and rebound from illness better than those who struggle with insomnia or sleep disturbances.
What Effects Can Insomnia Have?
When insomnia becomes chronic it can significantly affect one’s life in various ways. Some effects of insomnia include:
Irritability and other emotional instability
Decreased reaction time
Slower healing times
High blood pressure
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders
How is Insomnia Treated?
Although medications can be used to treat insomnia, they are best used only for the short-term as they can easily lead to dependence and tolerance, meaning more and more are needed to achieve the same effect.
Many mood disorders or other mental health conditions can contribute to insomnia. Therapy with a trained therapist can unroot sources of insomnia and discover ways to treat the underlying factors.
The best way to manage and treat insomnia for the long haul is to establish good sleep habits or sleep hygiene.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
The term “sleep hygiene” describes the practice of habits that help you get good sleep. Sleep hygiene has been well studied and certain habits have consistently produced long-term solutions for insomnia and other sleeping difficulties.
Sleep Hygiene Tips include:
Establish a routine - Our bodies like routine and one of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Sleep when Sleepy - Go to bed only when tired so that you don’t spend too much time awake in bed.
Bed is for Sleeping - Use your bed for only sleep and sex. Avoid working, studying, paying bills, etc… while in bed. If 20 minutes go by and you are still awake, get out of bed and do something calming like sitting quietly on the couch with lights off. Avoid bright lights as they will tell your brain it’s time to wake up.
Avoid blue light - Yes, that means your phone, T.V. and computer need to be shut off a good 20-30 minutes before bedtime if you want a chance at a good night’s rest. While any light can mess with your brain about sleepy time, blue light seems to be the most disruptive.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine - Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all interfere with one’s sleep and it is best to avoid all of them 4-6 hours before bedtime.
Avoid napping - If you absolutely need a nap try to make it before 3 pm and keep it short.
Create a sleep ritual - Many people create a routine of activities to prepare their mind for sleep. Examples include stretching, breathing exercises, sitting calmly with a cup of caffeine-free tea for 15 minutes or so.
Take a hot shower or bath - A warm relaxing bath or shower can relax the body and raise body temperature. Raising your body temperature can also cause you to feel sleepy as it starts to go back down.
Put the clock out of sight - Checking the clock too often can cause frustration and anxiety to build up as you realize you’re not still sleeping. This just makes sleeping more difficult.