Insomnia: Special Report

Have you ever had problems going to sleep? If you have, then you have experienced a tiny taste of what it is like to have insomnia. It’s rough when the clock is ticking off the minutes of the night and you know you have to rise early the next morning. All you want to do is close your eyes but you can’t seem to get them to cooperate.

Everyone needs sleep. Experts make educated assumptions as to the amount of sleep that you need each night but it varies by individual. When your body starts getting less than the required amount of sleep for you, it will become apparent.

Insomnia is a disorder where it is not just one sleepless night, but many. Maybe you are tossing and turning over a problem that has caused anxiety. Insomniacs sleep (or rather don’t sleep), like this, all the time. Continuous nights without sleep can affect your mind as well as your body. This impairs your ability to go about your normal day. It becomes more than a mere inconvenience.

In this report you will learn all about the disorder known as insomnia and how you can go about treating it and return to a night of unbroken rest. If you aren’t sure you have the signs of insomnia you will find out about them here. It’s time to do a little light reading that will hopefully get you off to sleep in the end.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder pure and simple. Your sleep patterns are affected on some level that keeps you from reaching REM (rapid eye movement) or restorative sleep. The body needs this downtime in order to repair itself.

Even if you manage to fall asleep you don’t usually stay asleep during the night. On the other hand, some insomniacs can’t even fall asleep. Either way, you are not rested in the least the next morning. Lack of rest can lead to sluggishness.
What Happens when you sleep?

The body begins to prepare itself for sleep when the sun goes down. We begin to get sleepy as night falls. A small structure in the brain called the pineal gland secretes melatonin. This hormone causes us to get sleepy and also lowers body temperature in preparation for rest. Melatonin tablets are often taken by menopausal women who have trouble sleeping. The brain also shuts off neurotransmitters that cause the brain to be alert like serotonin and norepinephrine.

There are two cycles of sleep: REM and non-REM. REM is deep sleep and occurs for about one-fifth of the time that we are asleep at night. It is believed that our emotional balance and memory are maintained during this time. We also dream during REM sleep.

The majority of the time we are in non-REM sleep. During this time, the body’s cells are working to repair damage done during the day and get us ready for the next day. Our immune system is getting ready then too.

Types of Insomnia

There are basically two ways to look at insomnia: primary or secondary. Primary insomnia is not caused by any type of underlying health problem. If there is a reason for the insomnia it is likely coming from without and not within.

Secondary insomnia occurs when the sleep disorder is associated with something going on in the body. For instance, a person suffering from frequent heartburn may wake many times during the night with a burning sensation in their chest or the taste of acid in their throat or mouth. Fearing that they will aspirate fluid into their lungs, they wake up. This type of insomnia is also associated with breathing issues like sleep apnea and asthma and disease processes like cancer or arthritis.

Insomnia can also be classified as acute or chronic. Acute describes incidents of insomnia that occur for a short time. A mild form of insomnia can last for a few days and then resolve itself. It doesn’t usually affect daily activities.

A moderate form may last several weeks. Now, the lack of sleep is beginning to disrupt daily life but not to the point that you can’t function at all. Even with moderate insomnia you may experience it for a month and then not again for a long time.

Chronic insomnia is the more severe form. A person experiences sleepless nights several times a week for over a month. The condition doesn’t seem to be resolving itself and your ability to function on a daily basis is affected. Many symptoms of insomnia have also developed in your life as the condition progresses.

Signs of Insomnia

Insomnia can seem like just a sleepless night at first but then it progresses into a longer stretch of time without proper rest. If you know how you feel when you don’t get even five or six hours of sleep a night, those feelings are magnified and tripled when it becomes chronic insomnia.

If you suspect that you have insomnia, listen up. Here are a few of the signs that you have a problem:
Irritability – This goes beyond getting upset over little things that seem to compound during your day. You are irritable from the time the alarm sounds because you don’t feel rested at all. Every inconvenience will loom large in your eyes in light of a lack of sleep.

Tiredness – After a busy day, one’s body can feel drained. Tiredness from insomnia begins as soon as you wake. It takes a concerted effort to get out of bed and get moving. You are sluggish all day and just can’t seem to shake it off.

Lack of concentration – Without proper rest, the mind finds it hard to focus. Paying attention takes more effort than it used to. You tend to forget things and can’t hold on to any information. Going through your day reminds you of walking in a fog bank that just won’t clear up.

Dozing off – Those who suffer from sleep apnea experience this as well. Because there is no rest at night, any moment that you are still is fair game for sleeping. Co-workers may notice how easily you nod off during the day. You can’t help it so you keep going, further depleting your energy or drinking coffee in an attempt to stay awake and alert.

If any of these signs point to you, it may be time to see a medical professional and get to the bottom of what it going on. Without intervention the problem won’t get any better.

Causes of Insomnia

We stated earlier that insomnia can be broken down into two categories: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia includes mild and moderate cases. Chronic is any case that lasts longer than a month and is more frequent than a day or two a week.

Acute Insomnia Causes

Acute causes of insomnia can fall into both primary and secondary types. When it comes to non-health related issues, the big cause is stress. Stress can come from family, work or a combination of the two. We are all capable of dealing with small doses of stress, say new job responsibilities at work or a new baby at home. But, combine them together and the thought may overwhelm us.

When stress is not managed by the body, it starts to manifest itself negatively into our lives. While the stressor is present, insomnia may be as well. Until the issue is resolved or we learn to manage the new higher level of stress, this disorder can cause problems. Dealing with emotional issues like the death of a loved one, a loss of job or even a divorce can bring on insomnia.

Another cause of acute insomnia is related to environmental factors. People who live near elevated trains, busy highways or downtown hotspots know what it is like to have their sleep interrupted. Noise and other distractions can lead to bouts of insomnia. To solve this problem, either you will move or learn to compensate for the din with earplugs, masks or room-darkening shades.

Along the lines of secondary insomnia, taking medications can lead to an acute form of the disorder. Just about all prescription medications have some sort of side effects associated with them. We usually don’t bother to read them because the list is so long. If you are showing the signs of insomnia, you might want to take a few minutes and peruse the literature that accompanied your medication.

Medications for high blood pressure, depression, cold symptoms, flu asthma and a host of other conditions can have insomnia as a side effect. As long as you are taking the medication, this is a possibility. Some side effects only bother you in the beginning until you body gets used to the dosage. If your doctor ups or lowers your dose, you may have to deal with them again until your body adjusts.

Deficiencies of certain hormones, neurotransmitters and vitamins and minerals in the body can lead to insomnia. Imbalances in hormones due to pregnancy or menopause can lead to a bit of sleeplessness. Treatments for diseases like cancer can deplete the body of precious minerals it needs for health.

Chronic Insomnia Causes

These causes also fall within primary and secondary insomnia types. They are mostly the same as for acute insomnia except these conditions have been going on for a longer period of time.

Let’s take stress for instance. Chronic stress is not just about your boss assigning you a last minute project. It is a daily dose of high-level stress that has gotten out of control. Chronic insomnia is not the only sign that you are under too much stress. Your body will have responded in other ways as well.

Untreated illnesses like depression can lead to chronic insomnia. Because there are several depressive disorders, it is important to identify the right one before treatment. Depression can be a symptom of untreated stress. In some cases, depressed persons have also noticed physical discomforts that can contribute to keeping them up at night not just the mental ones.

We mentioned sleep apnea once before. This can fall into the acute or chronic category depending on the cause. When large tonsils are obstructing the airway, surgery can restore your normal sleep patterns. When the cause is sleep apnea, due to a deviated septum or a problem with your palate, it can become chronic without treatment.

Is Insomnia Serious?

The answer to that question depends on how you have been affected by the disorder. With the acute disorder, you are probably bordering on lack of sleep intruding on your daily life. With chronic insomnia, the disorder is compromising you almost at every turn.

Some of the effects that insomnia can have on you and those around you are as follows:
Accidents – Lack of sleep has been the cause of more than one accident. Because you are tired, driving on the road poses a danger to you and everyone else. You can fall asleep at any moment and swerve across the center line. Your reaction time is also slowed just like with people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Insomnia can lead to your death or that of someone else.

Lack capacity to perform your job – When you can’t think straight, it is almost impossible to act. On the job, you can make costly mistakes because you can’t focus. If you have a job, where others depend on you for their very lives (construction, medicine, truck driver), a wrong decision could prove fatal. This mental breakdown can also lead to hallucinations.

Chronic diseases – The additional stress placed on your body from insomnia disorder can lead to other health problems. Remember, the body uses periods of sleep to repair itself. Without this time, you can develop conditions like heart disease.

Depression – We keep coming back to that. Worry over what might be wrong with you can bring on a bout of depression. And, depression can further inhibit proper sleep patterns.

Treating Insomnia

Billions of dollars are spent each year due to insomnia. This includes lost wages and lost productivity. If it usually takes you two hours to complete a report at work, it may take double that time when you suffer from insomnia.

Results of insomnia disorder can increase your medical spending. Accidents, hospital stays and doctor visits can drive up the cost of insurance premiums for both employers and employees. This includes medications to treat conditions resulting from insomnia.

Traditional Medications

Many turn to their doctors for traditional treatments for insomnia. This works but can have side effects from the medications. Insomnia that has other health causes (secondary insomnia) may resolve when the accompanying health condition is dealt with (depression, sleep apnea, arthritis and et cetera). In these cases, traditional medications are being used for conditions other than insomnia.

When it comes to primary insomnia sufferers, medications that have been prescribed in the past are: antihistamines and benzodiazepines. This includes Benadryl and also Valium. While these drugs work in the short term, they are not necessarily recommended for long term use because of side effects. Valium can become addictive when used long term. Also, artificial means for controlling sleep throws off normal cycle indicators that signal it is time to sleep to begin.

Over-the-counter medications also fall into this category. Sleeping pills may help you if you have had trouble falling asleep a few times but not for insomnia. Even then, the side effects can be unpleasant. Once you begin taking medication for insomnia, it will take more and more to help you fall asleep if the condition gets worse.

Natural Ways to Treat Insomnia

Natural remedies have many advantages over more traditional medications. First, there are fewer side effects with them. Some have no side effects at all depending on what it is. There is one word of caution though: Before taking any type of herbal remedy or supplement for insomnia disorders, please consult your doctor. If you are taking any medications for other conditions, some herbal remedies are incompatible and can lower the efficacy of your medicines.

Let’s begin with the simple ways you can treat your insomnia. These can work wonders for acute cases of insomnia that have both health related and non-health related causes.

Exercise regularly – Exercise is not a cure-all, but it can restore a balance in your body systems. Exercise releases endorphins which boost mood and clarity. Exercise can also reduce your weight if obesity contributed to insomnia. A good sweaty workout can help you sleep deeper and longer.

Avoid stimulants near bedtime – This mostly refers to caffeine. It is a stimulant and can decrease your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine is not only found in coffee and sodas but also chocolate. Smoking and alcohol (not a stimulant) use can also hinder sleep.

Take a warm bath – Creating a sleep routine can help signal your body that it is time for rest and nothing else. A warm bath can be just the beginning. Dim the lights in your room and close the shades. Reserve your bedroom for sleeping and more romantic ventures. Reading in bed or watching television can send mixed signals to your brain when it’s time for bed.

Stress management techniques – Stress could be the underlying factor for your acute or even chronic insomnia. Learning to deal with stress on the job and at home can lead to a more relaxed state that fosters sleep. You can take a class or a course to teach you what you need to know about limiting stress in your life.

Now we will move on to herbal remedies. Most can be purchased over the counter in health food stores or supermarkets.

Chamomile – This herb is present in tea form in most grocery stores. You can drink a glass of herbal chamomile tea before bed each night to get your body in the mood to sleep. This herb is not recommended for pregnant women.

St. Johns Wort – Mostly used as an herbal treatment for depression, it stabilizes the mood. Neurotransmitters that are related to well-being and also sleep are also affected. St. Johns Wort has contraindications to traditional medications so check with a doctor first.

Valerian – This plant has been used in the past as a sedative. It can help you achieve a restful sleep. Dosage is critical. Using the wrong dose can lead to heart problems and possibly hallucinations.

Passionflower – This herb can help out with insomnia because it is known to be a stress reliever. Your mind will be calmer and go ahead and shut down at night when you are ready to sleep.

Skullcap – This is yet another herb that calms the nerves and can be useful to stop insomnia. It also has other indications relating to epilepsy.

There are other natural remedies that you can also try to get your symptoms of insomnia under control.

Melatonin – We talked about this earlier. It is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that helps with sleep. If you are not secreting enough melatonin, you can increase your levels with supplements.

Tryptophan – It is an amino acid found naturally in the body. You hear about it mostly around Thanksgiving. Turkey meat is a good source of tryptophan and often puts us to sleep in front of the television after dinner. Milk is also another source of tryptophan. Older folks used to prescribe a glass of warm milk before bed when you were having trouble falling asleep.

Minerals – Many times our diets have deficiencies in minerals that we need for proper body function. The body can manufacture certain vitamins but minerals are different. If you are low in iron or even magnesium, you will want to increase your consumption in natural ways to help combat insomnia. Lean beef is high in iron as well as green leafy veggies. For magnesium, eat more nuts, bananas, soy and brown rice.

Vitamins – Deficiencies in vitamin B6 can be seen in people with high levels of stress. Taking a daily multivitamin can provide the recommended daily allowance in addition to what you get from food sources. Lower stress levels can lessen the incidence of insomnia (if it is the cause) and help you get back to sleep.

Talk to your doctor about possible treatment avenues for your insomnia. While more people tend towards natural remedies, some herbal remedies may or may not be for you. Explore all options.

So, are you feeling like sleep is within your grasp now? Good. Insomnia has many causes, both outside and within the body. Learning the cause helps with the diagnosis of an acute or a chronic condition. Also, it can help determine the best path towards satisfactory treatment.

A natural remedy is preferable traditional medications if for no other reason than to reduce side effects. Use the information in this report to educate yourself on your condition as well as give you hope for the future.