Insomnia means having trouble with the quality or quantity of sleep. It can be caused by difficulties in either falling asleep or staying asleep. Self-reported sleeping problems, dissatisfaction with sleep quality and day time tiredness are the only defining characteristics of insomnia because it is such an individual experience. The concept of ‘a good sleep’ differs widely from person to person. While the average night’s sleep for an adult is around seven or eight hours, some people only need four, while others like up to 10 hours or more. What seems like insomnia to one person might be considered a good sleep by another.
A common complaint
Over one third of people experience insomnia from time to time, but only around five per cent need treatment for the condition. Transient or short term insomnia is typically caused by stressful episodes, jet lag, change in sleeping environments, some acute medical illnesses and stimulant medications. Normal sleeping habits return once the acute event is over. If a person has experienced sleeping difficulties for a month or more, this is called persistent or chronic insomnia. There are many causes of persistent insomnia. They can be divided broadly into:
- Secondary insomnia – due to a range of medical and psychiatric problems and the chronic use of drugs and alcohol.
- Primary sleep disorders – include circadian rhythm disorders, central sleep apnoea-insomnia syndrome, inadequate sleep syndromes and periodic limb movement or restless legs syndromes.
- Idiopathic insomnia – sleeplessness without a known cause, formerly called childhood onset insomnia.
Keep sleep in perspective People who suffer from insomnia are normally frustrated or annoyed by it. Paradoxically, this emotional state contributes to keeping them awake. It helps to stop demanding a set amount of sleep every night. Having less sleep than you’d like doesn’t cause any harm. Allow yourself to fall short of the ideal without getting anxious about it.
Home remedies for transient insomnia
Reducing anxiety and sticking to a day-night routine can improve sleep quality. Suggestions include:
- Don’t nap during the day.
- Cut down on smoking and drinking. (Or better yet cut it out completely)
- Avoid tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks before bed.
- Don’t exercise strenuously before bed time. Do something to relax, such as read or have a warm bath.
- Only go to bed if you feel sleepy.
- Go to bed later.
- Stop playing games on your phone, worrying or watching television in bed and limit your activities in the bedroom to sleeping and sex.
- If you can’t sleep: get up, go to another room and do something else until you feel sleepy again.
- Get up at the same time every morning, regardless of how much sleep you have had.
- Avoid ‘judging’ your sleep on a day-to-day basis.