Why should I be aware of this?
Remember, by knowing the facts about insomnia, you will have a greater chance of treating your condition effectively. There can be profound effect of insomnia on a person’s life, such as tiredness, impaired concentration, resulting in inability to focus on work or studies. Insomnia can last for months and can ultimately lead to depression or dependency on alcohol or drugs. It is, therefore, necessary to look for immediate remedies for insomnia.
Insomnia and health
Insomnia may have far reaching side effects, ranging from impaired memory, poor concentration to even impotence. Most adults have probably experienced sometime or the other in their lives. Studies show that an estimated thirty to fifty per cent of the general population has been afflicted by sleeplessness at some point, of which ten per cent have chronic insomnia.
There are many reasons why people find it difficult getting a good night’s sleep. We all know that that cup of coffee in the evening, stress at work, too much excitement and too little exercise may all possibly contribute to Insomnia. But what we don’t all know is that Insomnia may be triggered by things far more sinister – like mental illness and heart disease.
What Insomnia Does
The trouble with Insomnia is that it does not simply end with a bad night in bed. Since sleep refreshes both body and mind, that lack of it leads to many other problems, minor and major.
- Chronic insomniacs often end up suffering from depression and mental illnesses.
- They have poor concentration and mental focus.
- They find their memory is not what it used to be.
- Their motor coordination may get impaired. Often, a combination of some of the above factors makes them dangerous drivers – sleep impaired drivers tend to have more accidents too.
- They are irritable and often have impaired social interactions with others.
There is much speculation about factors that may trigger Insomnia, which makes an exhaustive list is impossible. However, an easy classification of these triggers is on the basis of whether they are physical or mental.
Mental triggers of Insomnia include stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, insomnia may also indicate depression. Acute mental illness may also result in Insomnia.
There are several physical conditions that may also trigger Insomnia. Some of these are --
- Indigestion and acid reflux
- Chronic pain syndrome
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease (Often, Insomnia may be so difficult to treat in such cases, that they become likely to be placed in nursing homes).
Other than these factors, there are many situations which make restful sleep impossible. Here are some of them :
- Imagine this – you are all set to drop off into a good sleep, but your bed partner beats you to it. Loud snores, grunts and that awful periodic flinging about of limbs sound funny when stand up comics talk about them – but when you are at the receiving end of it, they are no joke. Many insomniacs find that it is their bed partners who do not allow them to enjoy a good eight hours of shuteye at night.
- Grandma always said not to drink coffee or tea before bedtime, and she was right. Caffeine and nicotine both stimulate the brain, making it difficult for people to drop off to sleep.
- Often, when people can not sleep, they have a couple of drinks as a nightcap – but this is a poor choice. Even if one does manage to sleep after a few nightcaps, remember that alcohol is associated with a sense of non refreshed sleep in the morning.
- People who live in homes which are noisy, or too close to busy roads, may also develop insomnia.
- These days, of course, the biggest trigger of sleeplessness is stress – people having marital troubles or problems at work, often find they are unable to sleep at night.
In modern society, there are some groups of people who are at higher risk for developing insomnia. Especially in outsourcing hubs such as India, where more and more young people are finding jobs in call centres that work on time zones of other countries, Insomnia could well be on its way of reaching epidemic proportions. Here are some such Insomnia-prone groups:
- Travelers who frequently cross time zones.
- Night shift workers (and this includes call centre employees)
- People over sixty
- Adolescent or young adult students under stress
- People with chronic pain, cardiopulmonary disease
- Pregnant women
- Menopausal women
There are also many commonly used medications that affect people’s sleep rhythms. Certain over-the-counter cold and asthma preparations, for example, may contain stimulants which produce sleeplessness. High blood pressure medicines are also sometimes associated with poor sleep.
What can I do about it?
- Grandma’s remedies are often spot on in treating sleeplessness. Warm baths are a great way to relax all those tense muscles before bedtime.
- Add a cup of bath salts or baking soda or both, to your hot tub for even better effect.
- Have your partner give you a massage just before bed. If the massage gets you started on some sex, that is even better – studies report people sleep better after sex.
- Some people report feeling relaxed when they listen to some soft, soothing music. Keep the volumes low for best effect. Special albums to promote a good night’s sleep are now available --- some replicate the sound of a heartbeat (to take you back to the comfort of the womb, where all the fetus hears is the steady beating of its mother’s heart). Others simply have sounds of waves rhythmically breaking, whale calls and other nature sounds to enable the listener to relax.
- Chamomile, catnip, anise or fennel teas are supposed to relax and help drinkers to sleep better.
- Studies indicate that foods with large amounts of the feel-good amino acid tryptophan may help us sleep better. So say yes to warm milk, eggs, cottage cheese, chicken, turkey and cashews to get a better night’s rest.
- Stay clear not just of coffee, but also Tea, Chocolate and cola drinks. They also contain caffeine, a natural stimulant.
- The best sleeping conditions in a room are fresh air (even though this is tough in the West where most rooms are practically airtight) and an ambient temperature between 60-65 degrees.
- Choose a firm bed which supports your entire body and especially your spine, well enough for it to relax.
- To relax best, you need to lie flat on your back. This allows all your internal organs to rest properly. If you must sleep on your side, make sure it is on your left side, not right.
- Your body likes regular routines, whether you do or not. So eat at roughly the same time every evening, and try having a fixed bed time too.
How to Cope With Insomnia
- If you’ve counted those blessed sheep and stared at the ceiling for more than thirty minutes without going to sleep, get up. Do something quiet and non-stimulating. When you feel tired again, go back to bed. Never lie in bed when sleep has eluded you for more than thirty minutes.
- Try analyzing your bed habits. Do you routinely read, watch television, talk on the telephone or with your partner, while in bed? Maybe you have mentally come to associate bed with many activities other than sleep, and sex of course. Over the next few days, make a conscious effort to keep your bed only for sleeping, nothing else.
- Dim your lights. Is that pesky streetlight bothering you? Invest in heavier curtains then. Cover that TV LED light with a cloth and turn that illuminated clock away.
- Create a soothing environment. To block off street noise, get your windows double glazed. Remove that television from your bedroom, even if it seems like the hardest thing to do.
- Get some exercise, especially if you have a mentally taxing job or daily routine. People with mentally taxing jobs often find that even when they get to bed, their minds are racing ahead. Even fifteen minutes of exercise a day, provides the body with activity and oxygen that it needs to relax better.
Seeking medical help
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, seek medical attention at once.
- The insomnia has lasted longer than 4 weeks.
- It has begun to interfere with your daytime activities and ability to function in everyday life.
- Worsening pain or increased difficulty breathing at night also may indicate your need to seek emergency medical care.
- If you feel your concentration, motor skills, memory have begun to go on a downslide because of sleeplessness, it's time to seek medical attention.
Sleeping Pills or Sedatives
When all these remedies fail, you might find your sleep disturbance may be resolved only with the use of sleep medications. The easiest sleep medicines to source are the ones available over the counter without prescription. These usually contain Antihistamines – compounds like diphenhydramine hydrochloride, diphenhydramine citrate, or doxylamine succinate which are normally used to treat allergies but also have a sedating effect. These are not, however the best choice for many reasons –
- They are not intended to be used on a long term basis.
- They may also interfere with mental alertness, so people on antihistamines are advised not to drive or perform any tasks that require quick reaction time.
- Worst, antihistamines may actually reduce the quality of your sleep by reducing time you spend in deep sleep.
Short-acting sedative-hypnotics (Non-benzodiazepines) is another class of sleep-inducers which makes users feel sleepy by increasing the normal effects of the brain chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). They are better for long term use – in fact they are so good, they can be addicting. These include pills like Zolpidem (Ambien), Zalepon (Sonata) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).
Melatonin receptor agonists are relatively new sleep drugs which work by reducing alertness by acting on the melatonin receptors in the brain. These work when the problem lies in getting to sleep – but are not effective for problems in staying asleep.
Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) slow down the central nervous system to cause drowsiness. They are effective only in short term use, and tend to be habit-forming. Other side effects include hangover like symptoms and impaired memory and movement, and a hangover the next day. For these reasons, they are no longer as frequently prescribed as non-benzodiazepines.
Sedating antidepressants, used primarily to treat depression, also have a sedative effect. These are used only when the Insomnia’s underlying cause is suspected or known to be depression. They have too many serious side effects to be used otherwise.
Earlier, doctors sometimes prescribed barbiturates for insomnia treatment. However, these have a high risk of overdose (when they may be fatal) and also react badly to alcohol and other compounds. They are also highly addictive, and are almost never prescribed these days.
Tips to Bear in Mind with Sleeping Pills
Keep the following tips in mind when having any sleep medications –
- Use them for not more than two weeks at a time. Prolonged use of sleep medications for persistent insomnia can impair natural sleep patterns (i.e., rapid eye movement deprivation) and alter physiologic functions. It may also lead to drug tolerance, psychological and physical dependence, drug intoxication, and drug hangover.
- Never have more than your prescribed dose, even if it does not seem to be helping. Overdose of sleeping pills may result in dangerously lowered blood pressure and even death.
- Some medications may have negative interactions with sleeping pills, so always inform your doctor of other medications that you are taking, when he is prescribing sleeping pills for you.Also inform your doctor of any existing or potential medical conditions to avoid serious risks.
- Pay attention to your body, emotions, and actions to determine if any negative side effects are occurring.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or taking other non-prescription drugs while using sleep medication, as these substances can exacerbate or change the effects of the drug.
- Never drive a car or operate machinery after taking a sleeping pill. Especially when you first start taking a new sleep aid, you may not know how it will affect you, so proceed with caution.
- Ask your doctor for specific instructions for decreasing and/or terminating use.
- Never mix two different varieties of sleeping pills. The combination might prove fatal, as it seems to have done in Heath Ledger’s case.
Bizarre Sleep Remedies
- Sleeping with your feet facing south supposedly aligns your body with the magnetic field of the planet. Some believe you sleep better when your own energies are in harmony with those of the Earth. Try it…you don’t have much to lose!
- Wiggle your toes up and down 12 times, while lying on your back. According to Reflexology, Acupressure and Acupuncture, your feet are a kind of master control panel for the rest of your body. So relaxing them will relax your entire body and help you sleep better.
- Tell yourself you are not allowed to sleep. Imagine it is morning, the alarm is ringing but you're so tired and your eyes so heavy that the only thing you want to do is to snatch those forbidden forty winks? Maybe this will lull you into sleeping.
- Try this meditation technique in bed -- lie on your back with your hands behind your head, fingers interlocked, and your palms cupping the back of your head. Get as relaxed as possible. Then place your thumbs in your ears, pressing the outer flap of your ear and blocking the entrance to the ear canal. Lie quietly and listen for a high-pitched sound that you will gradually hear inside your head. Concentrate on that sound for fifteen to twenty minutes. Then put your arms to your sides and go to sleep…if you can.
- In 1995, a Gallup poll said 7.9% of respondents used alcohol to help them sleep!
- One thing that seems to effectively beat sleeplessness is getting up early. It might sound like torture, but getting up half an hour early when you’ve had a bad night will ensure you are sufficiently tired and more apt to get to sleep the next night!
- A recent study found that the number of 20 to 44 year old Americans using sleeping medications doubled in the short period from 2000 to 2004 and rose by 85 percent in children aged 10 to 19.
- For information on different types of Insomnia, seeInsomnia Information
- Sleeping Pills and Sleep Medications for Insomnia
- When to Seek Medical Care
- For more on medicines that help you sleep, visit the Net Doctor