Insomnia is generally understood as being unable to sleep at night, but the condition is a complex one and goes beyond this simple evaluation. It can involve waking up early, waking regularly during the night and often takes sufferers a very long time to actually fall asleep. There are different grades of insomnia, from transient (generally lasting less than a week), through short term (roughly one to three weeks) to chronic which is on-going.
Most adults experience insomnia at some point during their lives and it is more common amongst women. A small percentage of insomniacs suffer on a long term, chronic level, which can have a detrimental impact on day-to-day living. Due to the lack of quality sleep at night, insomnia sufferers often do not feel rested upon waking up in the morning and are tired during the day. This is often referred to as excessive daytime sleepiness and there is a test which can be taken to determine if levels of tiredness are indicative of a sleep disorder or related condition.
However, some insomniacs even struggle to sleep in the daytime, the condition affecting their ability to nap. An overnight stay in a sleep centre is often incorporated into the diagnostic process and insomnia is sometimes linked to other sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnoea.
Other Symptoms and Causes of Insomnia
In addition to tiredness, there are a range of other symptoms associated with insomnia, including feelings of irritability, depression and anxiety, as well as headaches, short attention span and trouble focusing, stress, poor memory, lack of coordination and even gastrointestinal problems.
Certain situations and lifestyles can contribute to the onset of insomnia, which particularly affects travellers (jet lag), teens and students, the elderly, shift workers and pregnant or menopausal women. In many of these instances, the insomnia will pass once these causes have been removed or overcome. Other contributory factors include some medications, illnesses, pain and the intake of caffeine and nicotine.
Chronic insomnia is most often linked to psychiatric problems such as stress, depression and anxiety, as well as associated issues, particularly alcoholism. Stress, depression and anxiety are potential causes as well as a symptoms, so can be self-perpetuating, stress being the most commonly recognised contributor to non-chronic insomnia.
Treatment Options for Insomnia
Addressing the underlying cause of insomnia is vital to dealing with the condition and its associated symptoms. For many sufferers, the bed and bedroom can become intrinsically linked with the problem, as they are associated with feelings of stress and lying awake at night. As such, making adjustments in this area can be key to addressing the problem so redecorating, rearranging existing furniture and purchasing new items can all help. It is important to have a comfortable and supportive bed and mattress to encourage a good night's sleep.
Psychiatric help may be required to help in cases of chronic insomnia and medical advice should be sought with regard to medications such as sleeping tablets. GPs can also provide information to help with alcoholism and similar contributory causes, as well as identifying insomnia from many of the symptoms mentioned above.