Insomnia Cures, Causes, and Symptoms

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia WomanMillions of people suffer from insomnia, a common sleep disorder. Some insomnia sufferers struggle to fall asleep no matter how exhausted they are. Others fall asleep only to wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall asleep again for hours. Some have trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep.

If these symptoms describe your nights, you are not alone.

Insomnia affects your mood, energy and ability to function during the day. Insomnia that becomes chronic can contribute to serious health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Fortunately, some simple lifestyle changes can bring an end to sleepless nights without the need for specialists or medication. This is good news for those seeking insomnia cures.

Understanding Insomnia

Insomnia is a disorder that causes difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or both. When you suffer from insomnia, you are unable to get enough sleep. This lack of sleep prevents you from feeling rested and refreshed when you wake.

Because every individual needs a different amount of sleep, insomnia is not defined by the number of hours you sleep, but the diagnosis of insomnia is based on the quality of your sleep and how you feel during the day. If you spend eight hours in bed each night but suffer from drowsiness and fatigue during the day, you may suffer from insomnia.

Although it is the most common complaint related to sleep, insomnia is usually a symptom of another problem. The underlying cause of insomnia varies among individuals.

Identifying Causes of Insomnia

The first step in choosing the right insomnia cures is to identify all possible causes. In over half of cases, insomnia is caused by an emotional issue such as stress, anxiety and depression. Your daytime habits, bedtime routines and physical health may also contribute to insomnia. Accurate identification of insomnia causes will allow you to discover the most effective treatment. Consider the following questions:

  • Are you experiencing too much stress?
  • Are you experiencing symptoms of depression, such as feeling sad or hopeless?
  • Do you frequently worry or experience feelings of anxiety?
  • Have you recently had a traumatic experience?
  • Do you take medications that might affect your sleep?
  • Do you have health problems that might be interfering with sleep?
  • Is your sleep environment comfortable, quiet and dark?
  • Are you exposed to enough sunlight during the day?
  • Do you spend enough time in darkness at night?
  • Do you go to bed and get up at the same time every day?

Keep a Sleep Diary

Tracking the details of your daily habits, sleep routine and symptoms is vital to pinpointing which habits contribute to your insomnia. Many habits that cause or worsen insomnia are easy to overlook. Each day, record what you eat and drink, when and where you fall asleep, when you wake up and any stressful events. Doing so will help you identify which habits to change and which treatments to pursue.

Psychological and Physical Causes

Insomnia may last only a few days before disappearing on its own. This is especially true when insomnia occurs due to temporary causes such as jet lag, stress over a specific event or a painful loss. At other times, insomnia may persist for longer periods of time. Ongoing insomnia is often tied to underlying physical or mental health issues. Most people seeking insomnia cures suffer from chronic insomnia.

  • Psychological problems that lead to insomnia may include chronic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Sleep deprivation caused by insomnia may worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Some medications that may cause insomnia include antidepressants, cold medications, medications containing caffeine, and high blood pressure medications.
  • The use of substances such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine may contribute to insomnia.
  • Medical conditions related to insomnia may include asthma, allergies, acid reflux, hyperthyroidism, chronic pain or cancer. Other conditions may also contribute to insomnia.

Habits Contributing to Insomnia

Many daily habits can contribute to insomnia. Identifying problematic habits is a good first step in finding effective insomnia cures. Below are some habits commonly associated with insomnia:

  • Drinking excessive caffeine. While drinking caffeinated beverages may help you get through the day, caffeine intake may make falling asleep at night more difficult.
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking before bed.
  • Frequently using sleeping pills to fall asleep.
  • Taking naps during the day.
  • Keeping an irregular sleep schedule.
  • Watching television or surfing the Internet late at night.

How Light Affects Sleep

To help regulate the sleep-wake cycle, the brain produces a hormone called melatonin. Because melatonin production is controlled by exposure to light, you may feel sleepy when you are not exposed to enough natural light during the day. Exposure to too much artificial light at night can suppress melatonin, leading to difficulty falling asleep.

Insomnia Cures and Treatments

Treating Underlying Disorders

When insomnia is caused by psychological problems, medical problems, medications or other substances, addressing these issues is vital. Insomnia cures depend on first treating any underlying disorders or eliminating the effects of substances.

Changing Habits

Changing habits that contribute to sleeplessness is often enough to end insomnia. It may take a few days for your body to adapt to changes, but sticking to new habits will help you achieve better sleep.

New Habits That Help Sleep

  • Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool. Noise, light and excessive heat can interfere with sleep. To mask outside noise, use a white-noise machine or earplugs. Open a window or use a fan to keep the room cool. Blackout curtains or an eye mask can block excess light.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate your biological clock. Maintain this schedule even on weekends. Get up at your usual time every morning even if you’re tired.
  • Avoid naps. Daytime napping can make falling asleep at night more difficult. If you must nap, do so before 3 p.m and sleep for no more than 30 minutes.
  • Avoid stress and stimulating activities before bedtime. Do not engage in vigorous exercise near bedtime. Avoid television, computer or video game use late in the evening.
  • Limit the use of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Consider quitting smoking. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least eight hours before you go to bed. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages in the evening.
  • Increase exposure to sunlight during the day. Take breaks outdoors to soak up some sunlight, removing sunglasses when it is safe to do so. Keep blinds and curtains open during the day.
  • Limit artificial light at night. Use low-wattage bulbs in light fixtures. Cover windows and electrical displays in the bedroom. Avoid bright light, and turn off television and computer screens at least one hour before going to bed. Try wearing an eye mask if your bedroom is not dark enough.

Reducing Sleep-Related Anxiety

You may find that the more you struggle with sleep, the more you worry about it. Worrying about falling asleep or how tired you will be in the morning only keeps you awake by flooding your body with adrenaline.

Following some simple strategies can help reduce anxiety and worry that interfere with your ability to relax at night. The goal of these strategies is to train your body to associate your bed with sleep rather than with frustration and anxiety.

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Engage in quiet, soothing activities such as reading, knitting or listening to soft music. Keep the lights dim.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex. Do not read, watch television or use the computer in the bedroom. Associating the bedroom with sleep alone trains your brain and body to fall asleep when you get in bed.
  • Get out of bed when you can’t fall asleep. Trying to force yourself to sleep only increases anxiety and frustration. Instead, get up and leave the bedroom. Do something relaxing then return to bed when you feel sleepy.
  • Hide bedroom clocks. Watching the clock when you can’t sleep only worsens insomnia. Use an alarm if needed, but turn clocks around or move them out of view.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Struggling with chronic insomnia can cause you to develop negative thoughts and attitudes about sleep. These thoughts and attitudes can worsen insomnia. Learning to recognize these thoughts and replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts can help promote sleep. Below are some common self-defeating thought patterns:

  • Let go of unrealistic expectations, such as the belief that you should be able to sleep well every night. Instead, remind yourself that many people occasionally struggle with sleep and that sleep will come with practice.
  • Avoid the trap of exaggeration. For example, you may think that you sleep poorly every night. Try replacing this exaggerated thought with a reminder that some nights bring better sleep than others.
  • Catastrophizing is a way of focusing on the worst possible outcome. For example, you may dwell on how a lack of sleep will result in poor performance in the morning. Instead, try reminding yourself that you will get through the day even if you’re tired. Focus on resting and relaxing even if you can’t sleep.
  • Hopelessness leads to thoughts such as the certainty that you will never be able to sleep. Let go of these thoughts. Remind yourself that insomnia can be cured and that focusing on positive solutions will help.
  • Fortune telling is another way of thinking that produces anxiety. For example, you may predict that it will take you hours to fall asleep. Remind yourself that you do not know what will happen at bedtime. Newly learned habits and strategies may help you fall asleep quickly.

Changing your thought patterns takes time, practice and patience. Try writing down some of your negative thoughts along with positive thoughts to replace them.

Learn the Relaxation Response

Learning some relaxation techniques can help you unwind and let go of stress. Relaxation techniques harness the body’s natural relaxation response to bring about a state of restfulness. These techniques quiet the mind, relieve physical tension and help you fall asleep more quickly.

Relaxation techniques that can help trigger the relaxation response include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, and yoga. Learning these techniques takes regular practice but brings powerful benefits. Practice relaxation techniques as part of your evening bedtime routine, in bed as you prepare to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night. Below are some simple techniques that reduce stress and promote deep relaxation:

  • Try abdominal breathing. Most people don’t breathe as deeply as they should. Breathing deeply and fully can engage the parasympathetic nervous system to promote relaxation. Close your eyes. Take deep, slow breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Make each breath a little deeper than the last, and try to make each exhale a little longer than each inhale.
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Begin with your feet. Tense your muscles as tightly as you can while counting to ten, then relax. Repeat this process for each muscle group, working your way from your feet to the top of your head.

Supplements and Medications

Many dietary and herbal supplements claim to promote sleep. While these products are described as natural and safe, some can cause side effects or interfere with other medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using any supplements.

Melatonin and valerian are the two supplements shown to be most effective in treating insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body at night and available as an over-the-counter supplement. Melatonin supplements don’t work for everyone, but are helpful for some. Valerian is an herb with mild sedative effects. While valerian may help you sleep, the quality of these supplements varies widely.

Prescription sleep medications can provide temporary relief of insomnia, but they are not a cure. Sleep medications can actually worsen insomnia when not used properly. Evidence shows that lifestyle and behavioral changes are more effective than medications in treating insomnia, leading to lasting improvements. Sleep medications are best used on a limited basis and only when other treatments fail.

Insomnia DoctorWhen to Seek Medical Treatment

Consult a doctor if insomnia does not improve, gets worse or causes problems at work, home or school. If you experience symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, call your doctor. Stubborn insomnia may require the help of a doctor or sleep specialist.

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