Why We Can’t Sleep Well and How to Change That
You count sheep in bed, wake up in the middle of the night, and can’t fall asleep again. In the morning, you wake up too early and feel yourself tired and exhausted. All of these are symptoms of insomnia. According to data of the research, “Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities”, 26% of elderly people are suffering from sleep disorders.
It is normal to have a sleepless night at times. All of us get nervous, overexcited, or unable to fall asleep because of feeling unwell. But doctors warn us that if we have problems with sleep for more than a week, or if they are recurring more often than 1-2 times per month, we should take steps. It is essential for us to have not less than 7 hours of continuous sleep per day (and sometimes we need 8-9). Otherwise, our health can be irreversibly undermined.
Is It Insomnia or Not?
Many people think that insomnia literally means that someone doesn’t sleep all night. But insomnia has many faces! For example, doctors diagnose insomnia if you have difficulties falling asleep at night, wake suddenly in the middle of the night (except for going to the toilet or waking up because of loud noises outdoor), wake up too early (again, not 5 minutes before the alarm but 2-3 hours earlier than expected), feel exhausted and dizzy despite that you slept all night, feel tired or drowsy in the afternoon, get irritated too often, feel anxiety, distract easily or have difficulty in remembering anything. Insomnia takes many forms, each of which calls for an individual approach. Here are the main of them:
● Short-term insomnia
Short-term, acute, or adaptive insomnia — these are the names for issues with sleep that last no more than three months. Most often, such insomnia develops after serious changes in our lives, including both negative (death of close ones, losing a job) and complimentary (wedding, getting a new job, moving to a new place). Most often, these disorders disappear by themselves after a person adapts to changes. However, if this doesn’t happen after three months, or if insomnia has a severe effect on the quality of life, it’s time to see a doctor.
● Chronic Insomnia
If a person has issues with sleep more often than three nights per week for three months or longer, it can be chronic insomnia. In most cases, the causes for this are stress, taking medicine, problems with psychological health, having too much caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. During the treatment of chronic insomnia, it is essential to use not only medicine but also mental therapy, which helps to improve the hygiene of sleep and decrease anxiety, which prevents falling asleep.
● Comorbid Insomnia
Comorbid or secondary insomnia often develops as a consequence of various physical and psychological diseases. This type of insomnia worsens the patient’s condition and delays recovery since it is more difficult for our body to fight diseases without good quality sleep. Therefore, in the case of comorbid insomnia, doctors always treat sleep disorders for speeding up the recovery, or, at least, for alleviating the symptoms of the underlying disease.
● Psychophysiological Insomnia
This is one of the most common types of chronic insomnia. If you regularly feel very sleepy at night, but sleep escapes you as soon as you get in bed and you cannot fall asleep, then, most likely, you have psychophysiological insomnia. But the good news is that as soon as you change the lifestyle and develop useful night habits, the sleep gets back to normal in most cases.
● Mild Insomnia
Mild or early-stage insomnia is a sleep disorder when you have a hard time falling asleep at night. However, if one falls asleep, he or she sleeps well all night. One of the most commonplace reasons for this type of insomnia is restless leg syndrome and apnea. Unfortunately, this type of insomnia can lead to serious complications, such as anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate during the day, or decrease of libido.
● Supportive Insomnia
If you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall asleep after that, most likely, the reason is supportive insomnia. Similar to psychophysiological insomnia, the most effective method of combating this sleep disorder is building up useful habits and observing sleep hygiene.
● Insomnia during Pregnancy
According to the research of the American Pregnancy Association, “Insomnia During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment“, approximately 78% of pregnant women are suffering from insomnia. The common causes are discomfort from the enlarged belly, back pain, heartburn, repeated urination at night, anxiety about pregnancy or childbirth, hormonal changes, and vivid night dreams.
What Diseases Can Lead to Insomnia?
Sometimes, insomnia is a symptom that often signals about having a serious disorder. We can hardly list all diseases which can lead to insomnia, so here are only the most common of them:
● Heart Diseases
According to the data of the American College of Cardiology, 44% of people who suffer from heart diseases also have various issues with sleep. The doctors assume that the reason behind this is the congestion of bodily fluids which accumulate in lower extremities during the day and are distributed over the whole body during the night. In any case, if you suffer from regular insomnia or wake up often at night, go to see a doctor and do ECG and EKG tests for heart disease diagnosis.
● Thyroid disorders
Hypothyroidism is known as the state of our body when the thyroid produces too much hormone, which speeds up body metabolism. As a result, the affected person feels anxiety, nervousness, and too much energy. At nights, this state prevents us from relaxing and falling asleep.
If you feel anything close to that, and especially if you notice any other symptoms of a thyroid disorder, you should consult an endocrinologist.
80% of those who have arthritis also have issues with sleep. And the problem is not about painful sensation: in the case of arthritis, the body suffers from inflammation, which often leads to developing anxiety. If you toss and turn all night and cannot fall asleep, having recurrent thoughts about the unpleasant moments of your life, and worry about the future, you need not only to take anti-anxiety medication but also to go and see a rheumatologist.
● Hormonal Fluctuations
The average age for menopause is 51 years, but sleep disorders caused by changes in hormonal balance can start several years earlier. The thing is that during the whole period of perimenopause, the body produces less progesterone, which is the hormone contributing to good sleep. However, if you are still far away from menopause, but your sleep leaves something to be desired, you may need to see a gynecologist-endocrinologist and have a blood test for sex hormones. Sometimes, interrupted night sleep can be a symptom of developing a polycystic ovary syndrome.
● Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer Disease
Interrupted night sleep can be an early symptom of age-related cognitive impairments such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. Difficulty falling asleep, waking up at night, nightmares, and restless legs syndrome are the reason to visit a neuropathologist and check the state of the central nervous system, just in case.
Insomnia is a constant companion of depression. Three third of those who have this disorder suffer from insomnia. Besides, this is a two-way relationship: the depression can lead to sleep disorders, and lack of rest at night can lead to developing the disorder. Therefore it is essential to control your psychological state and consult a doctor if you feel tired or exhausted, depressed, and other symptoms.
What Are the Other Causes of Sleep Problems?
Our sleep can be negatively affected not only by stress or diseases. Insomnia can be caused by other seemingly innocent factors.
● Unhealthy Diet
Fatty and heavy foods, foods rich in caffeine, high protein foods, which makes our body spend too much energy to digest — all of these can be the reasons for insomnia. Try to eat not later than two hours before sleep, and if you are afraid that you will not be able to sleep, drink warm milk, eat a banana (potassium contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system) or some cherries which are rich in melatonin contributing to good sleep.
We know that alcohol and caffeine negatively affect the quality of our night rest but not so many of us remember that nicotine is also a stimulant. It affects our brain almost in the same way, preventing us from relaxing and falling asleep. So a late-night cigarette is a bad helper if you have insomnia.
● Excessive Fatigue
Is it true that the inability to fall asleep means that you are not tired so much? This is just not the case. The higher is the level of stress and overexertion, the more difficult it is to relax, and the higher is the risks of insomnia. If you are under too heavy pressure during the day, you should find at least half an hour for evening relaxation practices such as walking, meditation, handicrafts, or just a warm bath.
● Gadget addiction
The blue light emitted by most gadgets blocks the production of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone. Besides, being overwhelmed with information after too active reading of news and web surfing can also lead to insomnia. Doctors recommend imposing a “curfew” for smartphones and laptops at least one hour before going to bed.
How to Help Yourself to Sleep
If you have a serious sleep disorder, you should see a doctor. But if you are tossing and turning and cannot relax for the first time, the next simple tips might be of help.
● Don’t Push Yourself to Sleep
Moreover, try to stay awake. Read a book, draw, water the flowers, play with your cat. The more we worry about not sleeping, the less likely it is that we finally fall asleep. Anxiety, being upset, other emotions — all of these prevents us from sleeping. But if you don’t try to fall asleep and don’t focus on this, it is most likely that you will not notice how you fall asleep.
● Warm Up Your Feet
When our feet are warm, the blood vessels expand, and our brain receives the signal to relax and sleep. Therefore try to keep your feet in hot water before sleep or just pull on wool socks.
● Make yourself some banana tea
Bananas are rich in magnesium, which contributes to relaxing and helps to control stress. There is a lot of magnesium in both the fruit and the skin. If you want to improve the quality of sleep, the doctors recommend making the following drink: wash the banana thoroughly, cut off the stem and the tip, cut the fruit in half, and put it into boiling water for three-four minutes. After that, add a little honey and drink it. The magnesium will help to relax while honey will adjust the sugar level in your blood. One of the most common causes for waking up at night is fluctuations of the glucose level, and honey will help control it.
● Blow Up a Balloon
Surprised? Meanwhile, this technique can be very effective since blowing up a balloon makes us breathe deeply, similar to meditation. In addition, you will distract yourself from attempts to sleep, and you will fall asleep quickly and without notice.
● Learn the 4-7-8 Technique
There is another breathing technique which can help to relax and fall asleep. Make a deep breath through your nose for four seconds, then hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. This breathing technique will not only help you relax but will also increase the oxygen level in your blood.
The Hunt for Morpheus
We spend one-third of our life sleeping, and this is one of its most important parts. It is the night’s rest that helps us to preserve our health, support cognitive abilities, fight off depression, and even age-related dementia. Whatever happens during the day, we need to fall asleep quickly and easily at night. And if something goes wrong, we shouldn’t live with this — our sleep is a too precious asset to give it up without a fight!
What to learn more? Read here: