compiled by Decision Data
Insomnia affects millions of people. In fact, studies show as many as one in four Americans experience insomnia each year. By definition, insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or fall back asleep after waking up. As a result, those affected are unable to get an adequate amount of sleep each night.
In his recent bestseller, Why We Sleep, the neuroscientist Matthew Walker wrote: “The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity and the education of our children.”
People who experience insomnia may feel tired and have low energy when they are awake. It can make focusing at work or in school challenging, and it can also affect mood and put those afflicted at a higher risk of other health conditions.
Two types of insomnia
There are many different reasons someone may develop insomnia, including:
Recent studies have also shown technology use may be preventing adults, teens and children from getting enough sleep. Electronic gadgets are a constant in our lives (many people even take them into the bedroom at night), and this interaction with smartphones, tablets, video games, televisions and laptops could be contributing to low sleep quality.
Fortunately, there are also a growing number of gadgets and tech solutions available that can help improve sleep.
Causes of Insomnia
The ability to fall asleep and stay asleep is influenced by a variety of things. Lack of sleep makes it harder to concentrate, learn and create memories. Research shows a chronic sleep deficit puts you at higher risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Your brain communicates when your body needs sleep, releases the hormone melatonin, relaxes your muscles and monitors external factors that influence sleep cycles, such as when it’s light or dark outside. When all these things work together, you are able to fall asleep.
“Insomnia is multi-factorial. People who develop it may have a predisposition toward disruptive sleep, such as family history or genetics,” said Dr. Kelly Baron, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Utah Health. “Generally, something triggers insomnia — a stress or some sort of medical illness, or psychiatric causes like depression.”
There are several things that can lead to insomnia, including:
If you’re worried that your medications could be contributing to insomnia, talk to your doctor about trying a different medication or adjusting your dosage. Don’t stop taking your medication or make any changes without consulting your doctor.
Mental health challenges like stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can all make it more difficult to sleep. These types of sleep disturbances could be triggered by specific life events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce or stress at work or school, or they could be the result of ongoing anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.
Older adults are more likely to have medical conditions, such as an overactive bladder, or take medications for other health conditions that disrupt sleep.
How to Relieve Insomnia
While many people do suffer from insomnia at some point, there are things you can do to improve your ability to sleep. The first (and easiest) solution is to examine your sleep habits and practice good sleep hygiene.
“Sleep hygiene refers to recommendations for healthy sleep habits. They are things that are generally good for your sleep,” said Baron.
Good Sleep Hygiene Habits
Medications for Sleep
There are also medications that may help you sleep, but it’s important to talk to your doctor before you take a sleep aid.
Over-the-counter or natural sleep aids can help when you experience short-term insomnia (for example, related to jet lag after traveling, or when you are sick). These include: Prescription sleep medications may be prescribed for short-term or long-term insomnia relief if over-the-counter sleep aids and other non-drug interventions have not worked. These include:
Prescription sleep medications may be prescribed for short-term or long-term insomnia relief if over-the-counter sleep aids and other non-drug interventions have not worked. These include:
Sleep aids, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, may have side effects or interfere with other medications you are taking. Before taking any medications, talk to your doctor.
*Please note that there is an FDA Black Box warning for Non-Benzodiazepine Hypnotics (Ambien, Lunesta and others). Read more here.
Technology That Helps
The Bottom Line
Getting the right amount of restful and restorative sleep is essential for your health. If you experience insomnia, new technologies may offer some assistance in helping you sleep better. Expanded internet research on this topic, as well as joining online support groups can be invaluable, too. In addition to practicing good sleep, hygiene, and working with your doctor for treating insomnia that is related to medical conditions, mental health or medications, these sleep innovations can provide you with the sleep you need to feel healthy and alert throughout the day.
Check out Benita Zahn’s The Healthy Runner column: Sweet Sleep where she stresses the need for runners to have healthy sleeping habits.