Can’t Sleep? Tips to Avoid Insomnia
Around one in five people have some difficulty in sleeping. Although many of them will not actually consider themselves to be suffering from insomnia, in fact they are, as the simplest definition of insomnia is ‘not getting enough sleep’. Some can experience episodes in which they have only a few nights of poor sleep. This is short-term insomnia can last for up to three weeks. Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, is much longer lasting and can affect individuals for months or years.
A number of factors can lead to a lack of sleep: it might take you a long time to actually fall asleep; you might wake up frequently during the night; you could wake up too early in the morning. However frequent these episodes are, there are some steps that you can take to alleviate insomnia.
Avoid caffeine for at least six hours before trying to sleep, take some exercise and avoid daytime naps, however tired you are. Evening and bedtime routines can be helpful: try relaxing in a warm bath and having a milky drink before going to bed. Also, create a very comfortable bedroom environment, with all sources of light blocked out. If your bed is not as comfortable as it could be, now might be the time to invest in new mattresses and pillows.
There are two main types of insomnia: primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia is the name given to sleep problems that are not associated with any medical, psychiatric or environmental problems. By contrast, secondary insomnia usually arises from medical problems such as arthritis, high blood pressure or allergies. Professionals are usually able to identify the cause of secondary insomnia. It can also be a side effect of medications taken to help control some of these medical problems.
There are also sleep-specific disorders that result in secondary insomnia, including Restless Legs Syndrome, which causes uncomfortable feelings in the legs during the night. Another condition, Sleep Apnoea, is characterised by loud, continuous snoring and then long pauses during which gasping for breath or choking are key symptoms. Secondary insomnia can also be caused by mental health problems, such as depression, or from emotional difficulties resulting from bereavement, for example.
The consequences of insomnia can be very debilitating. In the short term, it leads to exhaustion, an inability to concentrate and irritability. Those who suffer from it over the long term, however, can develop serious health problems such as high blood pressure.
If your sleep problems are starting to have a real impact on your life, then it is time to seek help. Your doctor will look at your medical history and ask questions about your symptoms. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks in which you record information about how long you sleep every night. You will also be questioned about your lifestyle and how it may affect your sleep patterns. There are sleep-disorder specialists available, but usually you will not need to take any particular tests to receive a diagnosis of insomnia, unless there is a specific cause such as Sleep Apnoea.
Concentrating on self-help is probably the key way to try to manage your insomnia. There are some medications available, but these may not always work effectively and are not in any case a good long-term solution. There are psychological therapies available such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which may help you to deal with some of the pressures and stresses in your life better and allow you to finally get a good night’s sleep.