Are you sick of miracle cures and magic potions that promise to help you sleep?
Really now, aren’t you freaking tired of being told to “Relax” as if you’d never heard of the word?
Yesterday, I sat on a plane for almost 7 hours…headed home after a two-week family visit. You’d think 14 days with 3 grandchildren under the age of 6, and a 7 hr plane ride would do the job, be the magic formula, wouldn’t you?
The body begged me to sleep, the brain…not so much. You see, I’ve been an insomniac since about the age of 9. NHS Heroes online pharmacy in the UK You might wonder how I’m still standing (well, sitting right now…). The answer is…are you ready for this?
I don’t have a clue.
Insomnia or sleeplessness is a debilitating condition that can affect every aspect of our lives. It makes it difficult for kids to concentrate at school and adults to do well at work.
Those who suffer from chronic insomnia may never reach their potential in life…after all, they’ll be too tired. It can also be dangerous, especially if our jobs requires a lot of driving or operating dangerous equipment (does my computer count? Maybe I can get disability!)
And it’s not just about the lack of sleep. Quality matters. For some people, just falling asleep is an effort, and once they manage, they wake many times during the night and lie awake for a long time.
For others waking up way too early in the morning, still feeling tired but unable to sleep any more, is the norm.
People suffering from insomnia are often called “moody” or “difficult” (that shoe’s a little tight on me…but hey, if it fits…).
Obviously, a lack of sleep, combined with accusations from those who just don’t get it, can have a serious effect on relationships.
Other issues stemming from insomnia affect judgment, decision-making, discipline and just plain contentment with life.
Depression, anxiety and stress are three such issues. Sometimes they are the cause of the insomnia, but just as often, they are the results.
It’s what’s commonly called a “vicious cycle.” Insomnia can cause stress (It’s hard to be pleasant when you don’t get any sleep); It can create anxiety (worrying about whether you’ll ever be able to sleep, and what will happen if you don’t!) and it can lead to depression (ever try being “pleasant” or “cheerful” on 2 hours of sleep)?
I’m all about dispelling myths, so let me clear up a common one right now. Older people don’t need less sleep. They need just as much sleep as everyone else. What is true, however, is that older people are more likely to suffer with insomnia, which is the reason so many of them (us) are such early risers!
Insomnia may be acute (short-term) or chronic (lasting more than a month). Either form can result from medical or environmental causes.
Acute insomnia often has an obvious cause: It might be something like back pain, stress over a particular event, or moving to a new environment that is noisier than you are used to.
In these cases the insomnia will settle naturally when the underlying cause is resolved (unless you live in San Francisco, where the noise never ends), and the way to handle it in the meantime is to deal with the cause. Sleeping pills or muscle relaxants work for some.
Insomnia becomes more of a problem when it is persistent or chronic.
Studies have found that people suffering from chronic insomnia have higher levels of stress hormones. People generally believe that stress and anxiety cause insomnia, and certainly this can be true. However, the reverse often applies…insomnia may be the cause of the stress.
Insomnia may also be a symptom of something else. Some people may be affected by the following:
- The use of stimulants, including some recreational drugs, but also common ones like caffeine (found in coffee, tea and some cola drinks).
- Drinking more than the recommended amounts of alcohol on a regular basis.
- Hormonal factors, especially in women, who may suffer from insomnia at certain points in the menstrual cycle as well as during pregnancy and menopause.
- Withdrawal from some antidepressant medications. If this is your cause, your insomnia should pass as your body adjusts.
- Excessive physical exercise. Athletes in training often suffer from insomnia for this reason. The body seems to find it hard to ‘switch off’.
- Some psychological and neurological conditions including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), dementia, brain injury.
- Some medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and hyperthyroidism, as well as any condition that causes pain.
- Disturbance of the circadian rhythms (body clock), such as with shift working or jet lag.
- Chronic stress, including grief.
Insomnia is, or may become an unwanted influence in your present life and future decisions and actions. If it’s gotten to the point of affecting your life negatively, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor.
Even if you don’t want to take sleep medication (and many people do not), your doctor may be able to find and treat an underlying cause which will resolve the issue. And if not, let’s work on it together, since we’re not sleeping anyway!