People who suffer from insomnia have difficulty falling asleep, wake up during the night, or wake up too early and can't get back to sleep. As a result, the quality and length of their sleep is negatively impacted.
Sleep needs vary greatly from person to person and may decrease with age.
Insomnia is considered a health problem when it occurs several nights a week and affects the person's quality of life.
In such cases, insomnia can give rise to various problems:
- Lack of energy
- Mood swings
- Trouble concentrating
A vicious cycle can also develop where the person becomes anxious at the thought of having insomnia, which affects their ability to fall asleep and, in turn, causes insomnia.
Causes and triggers
Insomnia is often associated with stressful events, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a divorce. It can also be related to medical problems such as depression, anxiety, or pain. Furthermore, women and the elderly are more prone to insomnia.
Several other factors may contribute to insomnia:
- Certain medications
- Stimulants (e.g., coffee, chocolate, energy drinks)
Good sleep habits
Treating insomnia requires understanding the root causes (e.g., stress or pain) and addressing them. Individuals with insomnia should also adopt good sleep habits. Here are a few examples:
- Use relaxation techniques.
- Wake up and go to bed around the same times each day.
- Give yourself time to unwind before bed.
- Sleep in a quiet, dark, cool, and well-ventilated room.
- Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sexual activities. Go somewhere else to do work, watch TV, use your cellphone, etc.
- Only go to bed when you feel tired.
- Don't try to force sleep:
- If you're still awake after about 30 minutes, it's best to get up and relax in a dimly lit room.
- Calming activities, like reading or listening to soft music, can help make you sleepy.
- Avoid stimulating activities (e.g., doing work, answering emails, browsing the internet, playing video games, doing housework) at night.
- Avoid excessive use of stimulants (e.g., coffee, tea, chocolate, nicotine) during the day and refrain from taking them several hours before bed.
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs to fall asleep.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Avoid doing intensive sports late in the evening, as they have a stimulating effect.
- Exercise regularly; it will help you sleep more soundly.
- Don't watch the clock at night, as this only aggravates sleep-related anxiety.
Sleep medication (sleeping pills)
Over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications can help treat insomnia. However, they should only be used if the strategies above prove ineffective. These medications should not be used daily for long periods of time, as they may lose their potency or become addictive. In addition, some sleeping pills cause drowsiness that can last until the following morning and interfere with normal functioning. In the elderly, these medications can disrupt memory and balance.
When should I see a health care professional?
Speak with your health care provider in the following cases:
- You experience insomnia several times a week.
- Your condition is deteriorating and you are in distress.
- You have difficulty carrying out daily tasks.
- You have been using sleeping pills for some time and your insomnia is unresolved.
Canadian Sleep Society