Sleeping is like a reset button between days. Sleeping gives the body and mind time to unplug and recharge, so the next day can be tackled anew. If you’re not sleeping well, your sense of well being can deteriorate very quickly. Without adequate sleep, most people are irritable, less alert and even more prone to weakened immune systems.
It’s a common belief that worry and stress can cause insomnia, but there are many other possible reasons behind a night spent tossing and turning. A good grasp of what’s keeping you up at night is the first step to finding a solution.
Could the following be causing your insomnia?
1. Nothing. Often, people only think they have insomnia, when actually they are sleeping just fine. How can you test this? Put a notebook beside your bed. Every half hour, make a mark in the notebook if you are awake. You may be surprised to find that in the morning you have made just a single mark or none at all. In a sleepy state, one’s sense of time can become warped and a person may feel that they are tossing and turning for hours when in reality it’s only been ten minutes.
2. Poor sleep hygiene. Bad sleep habits can sabotage a night’s rest for even the soundest sleepers. Drinking alcohol right before bed can get you off to sleep quickly, bit will usually have you waking up again in the small hours. Coffee and excessive exercise can have the same effect. If it’s a screen, kick it out of the bedroom – this means no laptops, glowing phones or TVs before you sleep.
3. Sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can range from night terrors, nightmare disorder, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy. If you suspect one of these disorders is behind your insomnia, ask your GP about visiting a sleep clinic to get to the bottom of it.
4. Napping. If the body is given all the sleep it needs, it simply will stay awake for the rest of the time. A three hour daytime nap can knock three hours off your evening sleep. For all but the very young or very active, daytime naps should be thought of as unnecessary or an occasional indulgence.
5. Sleeping pills. Ironically, taking sleeping pills can be the first step on the journey to truly stubborn insomnia. The body quickly becomes psychologically dependent and soon relies on sleeping pills to fall asleep. Pills should be a last resort and taken for only a few days at a time.
6. Aging. As people get older, they require less sleep. This is not so much insomnia as coming to terms with a new sleeping schedule. If you’re functioning well on only five or six hours, there’s no need to try force yourself to sleep more.
7. Medical illness. Many conditions can become worse at night, including those that make it difficult to lie down for extended periods, or breathing problems. Speak to your doctor about a mild sedative to help overcome any irritation and side effects of a medical condition that interferes with your normal sleep.
8. Bad sleep environment. The best environment for sleep is one that is just the right temperature with adequate air flow, minimal light and comfortable bedding and sleep clothes. Try getting “black out” curtains and making sure the room is quiet and the right temperature. Clean, comfortable bedding is also important, and ban any devices that have glowing red lights or clocks that tick very loudly.
9. Worry. If you’re feeling guilty, overwhelmed or generally stressed, your mind will not turn off far enough to allow sleep. The most common cause of insomnia but also the easiest to solve, worry can be alleviated with meditation, a hot bath before bed, counseling or dealing directly with whatever issue is keeping you up.
10. Psychiatric illness. Insomnia is one of those symptoms that occurs with many mental disorders, including anxiety and depression. Speak to a mental health professional if your insomnia co-occurs with other symptoms such as changes in mood or appetite.
Along with changes in libido, appetite or general mood, changes in sleep can be a very important and illuminating symptom. Obviously insomnia around the time of a particularly exciting or momentous time is expected. But consecutive nights of impaired sleeping or an inability to fall asleep are cause for attention, especially if lack of sleep is affecting your daily activities.
Resist the urge to take a sleeping pill or other substance. These ultimately make insomnia worse. Try to get to the root of the problem first. Most insomnia resolves itself eventually, and a few people naturally require much less sleep than others.