Are you struggling with insomnia? Do you feel tired all day long? Is your mind racing every night?
Sleep deprivation is a serious problem in our society. It affects everyone from college students to CEOs. In fact, 33% of the adult population suffer from chronic insomnia.
But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, there are many simple, natural remedies to help you sleep better.
In this article, we'll discuss what you need to know and how to treat insomnia in a variety of ways to get a more restful sleep at night.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It affects the length of sleep you get and the quality of sleep.
The typical adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. You won't be able to get a good night's sleep if you have trouble falling asleep or regularly waking up earlier than you want.
What are the Insomnia Symptoms?
With insomnia, you may experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping through the night
- Waking up too early
- Feeling tired throughout the day
- Having trouble concentrating throughout the day
- Not being able to fall asleep again
- Depressed or irritable throughout the day
What Types of Insomnia Are There?
There are two main types of insomnia that are based on its duration:
- Short-term insomnia – Lasts for a few days up to a few weeks. This is the most common type.
- Chronic insomnia – You have trouble sleeping for at least three days a week for more than three months.
Another two common types of insomnia that are classified based on a link to other health conditions are:
- Primary insomnia - Your insomnia is not linked to other health conditions or problems.
- Secondary insomnia – Your insomnia is linked to another medical condition such as depression, anxiety, asthma, stress, pain, etc. It can also be linked to substances like alcohol, prescription drugs, or recreational drugs.
It’s important to note that not all people who struggle with insomnia have secondary insomnia.
What Causes Insomnia?
Many factors can contribute to insomnia, including psychological, physical, environmental, and social issues. Some of them include:
- Stress - Stress has been shown to cause insomnia by affecting your body clock. If you're stressed out about health, work, school, finances, relationships, or anything else, it can affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Anxiety - Anxiety makes it harder to relax and fall asleep. When you're anxious, you tend to think about things that make you worry. These thoughts keep you awake at night.
Mental Health Disorders - Depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions can lead to chronic insomnia.
- Travel or Work Schedule - Working long shifts or traveling to different time zones will disrupt your circadian rhythms, the body's internal clock. That will disrupt your sleep-wake schedule.
Substances - Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and certain medications can interfere with your sleep cycle. They can also make it hard to fall asleep and stay awake.
Environmental Conditions - Noisy environments, hot temperatures, bright lights, and polluted air can disrupt your sleep cycle and make it hard to fall and stay asleep.
Chronic Pain - Arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other chronic pains can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep because you may feel too uncomfortable to rest comfortably.
What are the Risks and Consequences of Insomnia?
Insomnia can negatively impact your quality of life in many ways.
- It can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.
- It can also worsen symptoms of other illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD.
- You may feel more irritable, anxious, or stressed.
- It can decrease the immune system's function.
- You may have more difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- You can feel more tired and fatigued throughout the day.
Women will experience insomnia more often than men. In fact, one study found that women were twice as likely to report having insomnia symptoms compared to men. This could be due to hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause.
How to Treat Insomnia
The best way to treat insomnia is to try different solutions and see what works for you.
Staying active and regular exercise helps improve overall physical and mental well being. It can help reduce stress levels that would otherwise contribute to insomnia. Try a low-impact exercise like yoga or walking.
Acupressure is an ancient Chinese practice that involves applying gentle pressure and massage on specific points on the body to balance energy flow and promote healing. You can use acupressure techniques to help relieve tension and calm the mind before bedtime.
See our other articles to learn about how to take advantage of acupressure therapy to help you sleep:
Muscle pains and tension can prevent you from getting to sleep. A massage can release muscle tension and ease pain, so you can get some much needed rest.
4. Relaxation Techniques
When the mind is constantly racing, it’s very difficult to relax and go to sleep. Learn relaxation techniques to help you unwind and let go of stressful thoughts. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, and hypnosis are all effective tools to help you relax and prepare for sleep.
5. Healthy Diet
Unhealthy food and drinks can cause discomfort, which leads to restless nights. Eat healthy foods that provide nutrients to support good health. A healthy diet can help regulate hormones and keep you feeling energized throughout the day.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar after dinner. Also, avoid eating late at night when you're trying to sleep.
6. Remove Stress
If you find yourself waking up several times a night, then you might need to remove sources of stress from your life. Find time each morning to do something relaxing, such as taking a walk, reading, meditating, listening to music, or doing some light stretching.
7. See a Doctor
If none of these methods work, talk with your doctor about medications or alternative treatments. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help you fall asleep or address underlying medical conditions.
Doctors may also recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), sleep restriction, or mindfulness meditation to help you cope with anxiety and depression. CBT teaches patients new ways to think about their problems and develop coping skills.
8. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pills
Some OTC medications that contain antihistamines can help you fall asleep. OTC pills are not a long-term solution though, as you can build up a tolerance to them. There's also the side effect of feeling groggy the next day.
When looking for OTC sleep aids, look for these ingredients:
- Diphenhydramine (Aleve PM, Benadryl)
- Doxylamine succinate (Unisom Sleeptabs)
If you are taking any other medications, be sure to check with your doctor first to avoid negative interactions. They may have suggestions for alternatives that won't have any side effects with your prescribed medication.
Music has been proven to help people fall asleep. Listening to soothing music in the evening can help put you into a relaxed state. Playing soft instrumental music or nature sounds can help create a calming environment.
Pairing the soft music with a bedtime ritual will help prepare your body and mind for sleep.
Insomnia Treatment FAQs
How to Prevent Insomnia?
Having a good bedtime routine and healthy lifestyle habits will help prevent insomnia. Here are some tips to enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.
- Avoid eating before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine after dinner.
- Have a consistent time when you go to bed and wake up, including on the weekends.
- Regular exercise helps improve sleep quality. Try to get 20 minutes of physical activity every day.
Improve your sleep hygiene and create a comfortable sleeping space. Make sure there aren’t too many distractions around the bedroom.
- Avoid using your smartphone, laptop, or TV right before bedtime.
Can Insomnia Cause Other Health Issues?
Insomnia can lead to a lower quality of life and affect you physically and mentally. A lack of sleep can increase your risk of:
- Developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
- Getting sick more often than usual.
Being less productive during the day at work or school.
Becoming depressed, mood disorders, or having anxiety.
- Gaining weight and becoming obese.
How is Insomnia Diagnosed?
The most common way to diagnose insomnia is through self-reporting your sleep history to your doctor. The patient will answer questions about their symptoms and how they feel when they don’t get enough sleep. This information is used to determine symptoms and if there is an underlying condition causing the problem.
For more long-term cases, a sleep expert can conduct a sleep study with you at a sleep center to study why you're experiencing problems falling asleep. During this test, you'll wear sensors to monitor your brain waves, breathing patterns, movement, and heart rate. These sleep pattern tests can help identify what causes your insomnia and suggest solutions.
How Long Can You Live With Insomnia?
There are conflicting studies whether long-term insomnia can be fatal. Some studies say there's no link between insomnia and death. But there are other studies that say sleep deprivation can lead to an earlier death.
Even though it isn’t clear what happens over time, experts agree that if you consistently lack sleep, you could experience other health problems. Those other health issues can then affect how low you live.
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355173
- Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12119-insomnia
- Sleep Foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment
- WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/remedies-for-insomnia
- Stanford Healthcare: https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/sleep/insomnia/treatments.html
- National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353813/
- Yale Medicine: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/women-are-your-hormones-keeping-you-up-at-night