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What is insomnia?

Having trouble getting to sleep, or experiencing tiredness and other forms of daytime distress? You are probably looking for an answer to the question “Why can’t I sleep?”. If this looks like a day in your life then chances are you have insomnia.

Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder. Patients suffering from this condition find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. Mostly sufferers also don’t feel refreshed when waking up either.

There are a number of factors that come into play as to why insomnia and chronic insomnia happens. Health professionals point to stress, depression, other medical illnesses, pain and other disorders as the main culprits. Tiredness and fatigue is just the start. For those who have chronic insomnia, the patients may complain about poor brain function, physical complaints and changes in mood. Though these things are not life threatening, the inconveniences are too much and these can affect the lifestyle and the quality of life of the person.

Statistics

If you are suffering from sleeping problems, please don’t feel alone. This is a common health issue in many countries.

Insomnia affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders, but it is slightly more prevalent in men than women.

In fact, in the United States alone, around 30 to 40 percent of the adults have indicated that they have felt the symptoms of this sleeping disorder. And at the same study conducted by the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research, 10 to 15 percent of the adults indicated that they have chronic insomnia. About 42 million Americans have chronic insomnia.

Types of Insomnia

A person can suffer from either 2 types of insomnia:

  • short-term insomnia (acute) persists for a few days or weeks
  • long-term insomnia (chronic) persists for months

Chronic insomnia is typically secondary to a primary condition such as depression or consumption of certain prescription drugs. Acute insomnia is typically primary insomnia, which is insomnia that is not associated with health conditions or problems.

Insomnia Symptoms: what are the signs of insomnia?

The main symptoms of insomnia are the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or a combination of the two problems. Some people may wake up during the night and be unable to return to sleep or awaken too early in the morning. Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling fatigue upon awakening
  • Excessive sleepiness or daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Anxiety about sleeping
  • Poor motor control

Insomnia Causes: what causes insomnia?

Not being able to sleep is a terrible thing to have, there seems to be no apparent reason for you to be up and as every hour goes by you anticipate how tired you are going to be at work the next day. The insomnia cause that has you tossing and turning could be just one thing or it could be a variety of factors.

Understanding what causes insomnia will help you get to sleep faster and find a solution to this problem full time. It will also mean a better night of sleep for your sleeping partner who might be driven to insomnia by yours!

Psychological Causes

Have you ever heard someone say that your insomnia cause is all in your head? Well it might be true. Psychological causes are a big factor in keeping people awake. A lot of the time people don’t learn to turn off and stop thinking about the day’s events when they go home.

Anxiety can be a major insomnia cause. Thinking about what has happened at work and what will happen the next day can keep you up all night. So can being anxious about paying bills, making ends meet and a variety of other things that you have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Stress and stressful situations can also be an insomnia cause. Stressing about things that you can’t change will definitely have you up all night. Often stress is combined with anxiety and when you have both of these things on your plate it can be difficult to sleep at night.

Physical Changes

Although a lot of insomnia is caused by psychological causes there are instances when physical factors come into play. Hormonal changes can be an insomnia cause, particularly in women. Women can experience insomnia during pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. The premenstrual syndrome can also lead to women experiencing insomnia.

Ageing brings lots of physical changes and one of them is insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone that controls sleep. The older you get the less this hormone is secreted into the body. By the time you reach age 60 your melatonin levels will have decreased significantly and you might find yourself not being able to sleep very much.

Breathing problems and allergies can also keep you awake. Not being able to sleep when you experience asthma or allergies is common and understandable as you are experiencing discomfort no matter how tired you may be. Check to see if any of these factors might be your insomnia cause and then see what you can do about it.

Insomnia is a formidable but manageable sleep disorder. Symptoms of insomnia include: loss of sleep, disrupted sleep, irritability and decreased mental focus and clarity. Causes of insomnia in adults vary. While not all causes of insomnia in adults are exclusively for adults, the causes of insomnia in children have some dissimilarity. The differences between adult and child causes of sleep insomnia are in the variety and degree of the causes.

Insomnia Diagnosis: how is insomnia diagnosed?

A doctor or a sleep specialist will ask several questions about your medical history and sleep patterns.

A physical exam is also needed to look for possible underlying conditions. Next to that you might also get a screening for psychiatric disorders and drug and alcohol use.

To get diagnosed with insomnia your sleeping problems should have lasted for more than 1 month. They also should have a negative impact on your well being. They must be causing distress or disturbing your mood or performance.

The doctor or specialist may ask you to keep a sleeping log book to understand your sleeping patterns better.

Other tests may be needed such as a polysomnograph. This is a test that takes place during your sleep to record your sleep patterns. It is possible that actigraphy is conducted. It is working through a small, wrist-worn device called an actigraph to measure your movements and sleep-wake patterns.

Insomnia Treatment: how to treat insomnia?

Treating insomnia effectively will depend a lot on its cause. Sometimes insomnia will go away by itself, particularly if it is caused by temporary problems like jet lag. Other times, you may need to make lifestyle changes such as wearing ear plugs or developing a sleep-friendly bedtime routine to overcome insomnia.

Insomnia treatment options are available, and examples that can be selected include cognitive behavioural therapy, the intake of FDA-approved medications and other natural treatment options like change in lifestyle.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT

One popular chronic insomnia treatment option is through the use of cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. This is considered as a non-medical approach in tackling the sleeping disorder. This treatment option is founded on the belief that the chronic insomnia often happens alongside a number of factors. In this treatment option, the patient will be asked about the sleeping disorder and this is known as the clinical interview. And to effectively treat the disorder, a number of approaches will be considered like sleep restriction, stimulus control and proper sleep hygiene. All these approaches are to be complemented by proper relaxation.

Use of FDA-approved medications (sleeping pills)

There are a lot of sleep medications that are used and abused by many insomnia patients, and a number of these sleeping pills are considered as over-the-counter medications. But not all of these medications are helpful for insomniacs. According to the 2005 NIH conference on the management of insomnia, only the benzodiazepine receptor agonists are considered to be effective and safe against insomnia. The conference also elaborated on the fact that other sleep medications are backed by insufficient evidence when it comes to efficacy and safety.

Use of natural remedies

Many people are surprised at the type of natural sleep remedies used but all of the solutions mentioned below have a long history of being effective but also safe.

  • Aromatherapy – There are many natural sleep remedies that involve fragrance with aromatherapy being the most popular. When used hundreds of years ago, the delivery system was crude but today, inexpensive devices are sold whereby specific essential oils would be heated with the fragrance filling the air and promoting restful sleep. The most effective essential oils include lavender, sandalwood, chamomile, and rosemary.
  • Calcium and Magnesium – Both of these natural ingredients promote sleep but when combined, level of effectiveness increases significantly. The great thing about this particular remedy is that while a person finally gets the sleep needed, these substances offer health benefits. As an example, calcium strengthens bone density while magnesium prevents cardiovascular disease.
  • Hops – Most people think of beer when they hear the term “hops” but this female flower actually offers a natural calming effect. Interestingly, hops is a gentle sedative that when taken in doses of 30 to 120 milligrams based on the cause and severity of the sleep problem, sleep comes shortly after going to bed.
  • L-theanine – Pure L-theanine is a powerful amino acid that comes from green tea. Most people know that green tea has been used for medicinal purposes over the course of thousands of years so it makes perfect sense that this would be among the best natural sleep remedies. One method of introducing the amino acid to the body would be drinking three cups of green tea daily but along with this, a high quality green tea supplement could be taken. One of the fascinating aspects of L-theanine is that it promotes restful sleep at night yet produces a calm alertness in the daytime.
  • Meditation – Calming the mind and body by using meditation is beneficial for many people who struggle with getting proper sleep. Meditation comes in a variety of forms so an individual could choose the one preferred to include prayer, yoga, visualization, imagery, and so on. For the best results, it is recommended that the chosen form of meditation be used about 10 minutes prior to bedtime.
  • Melatonin – One of the most beneficial of all ingredients used in natural sleep remedies, melatonin is a hormone produced in the body to encourage sleep. However, when a person has a deficiency of this hormone or suffers from a very serious sleep problem, taking melatonin in supplement form would help. One important note is that risk of toxicity, infertility, and depression exists if the dose were too high so it would be imperative for a person to talk to a doctor prior to taking this supplement.
  • Valerian – Of all ingredients used for making natural sleep remedies, Valerian is probably the herb used most often. For most people, valerian promotes deep sleep but also speeds up the time it takes a person to fall asleep and enhances sleep quality.
  • Wild Lettuce – Wild lettuce for natural sleep remedies can be purchased from a whole foods store, local farmer’s market, sometimes in the organic section of larger grocery stores, or if preferred, grown in a home garden. When poor sleep is associated with Restless Leg Syndrome or anxiety, wild lettuce works great in that it produces a calming effect and eases discomfort associated with RLS.

Lifestyle changes

Many people have a problem falling asleep. This sleep disorder affects an estimated 3.5 million Americans each year. Here are a few lifestyle tips that can improve your sleep routine:

  • Set a schedule – when you go to bed early one night and late the next, your body doesn’t know when it’s time to wake up or go to sleep and over a long period of time, you could suffer something similar to chronic jet lag. The cure is simple, set your clock for the same time every night and every morning, including weekends. Of course there will be the occasional exception, but if you go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, this will help you fall asleep better.
  • Exercise – getting some exercise is a great remedy for falling asleep and staying asleep. Exercise can reduce stress and that makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Any kind of aerobic exercise will do the trick; however, avoid exercising three hours before going to bed because that may cause you to be too pumped up to fall asleep.
  • Stimulants – skip the stimulants such as caffeine, coffee is the most obvious but there is enough in soda, chocolate, alcohol, diet drugs and pain relievers. Remedies like herbal teas will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. If you smoke, here is another reason to quit, Nicotine raises blood pressure and pulse rate, both makes it hard to fall asleep.
  • Foods – watch what you eat, anything that upsets your stomach should be taken off the menu. Do not eat anything heavy near bedtime because the process of digestion will keep you awake. You can overcome your hunger near bedtime with a glass of milk and it will help you fall asleep because it is loaded with tryptophan, an amino acid used by the body to produce a brain chemical called serotonin which quiets nerve activity.
  • Forget the sleeping pills – doctors will prescribe sleep aides to the most hardcore insomniacs to break the cycle so they can get some sleep, but it’s best to try natural sleep aids to cure insomnia. The thing with sleeping pills is they can be addictive and hard to walk away from. And, over time, they lose their effectiveness and you end up taking more and more.
  • No worries in the bed – don’t go to bed with worries. Decide on a place and time you will worry about all the things that are bothering you and then don’t take them to bed. You can worry about things in the kitchen or living room, but not in the bedroom. Write them down and put them in a safe place – outside the bedroom – for your worry date. This will help you to fall asleep worry free. It will be difficult at first, but you can do it.
  • Don’t just lie there – if after 15-20 minutes you can’t fall asleep or back to sleep, get up and do something boring. Read a book, meditate, watch television, although nothing to stimulating, until you are ready to fall asleep.
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