Updated: Dec 11, 2020
When was the last time you felt like you got really restful sleep? Hopefully, it was last night. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many adults, who find themselves having trouble falling asleep, not sleeping well, or waking up early. In fact, according to the CDC, over 50 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. If you’ve read my book, 30 Summers More, or if you’ve been following along with my blog, you know that sleeping poorly not only makes you tired during the day but can also contribute to other illnesses and diseases.
Today, I’d like to wrap up this blog mini-series on sleep with a discussion about insomnia—what it is, its symptoms, and how to treat it.
What Is Insomnia and What Causes It?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep (or both). Over one-third of adults report having symptoms of insomnia (according to the American Psychiatric Association/APA), and 6-10% have symptoms severe enough for them to be diagnosed with insomnia disorder.
The condition can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). It may also come and go. Insomnia is considered acute when it lasts a few days to a few weeks. Chronic insomnia is characterized by symptoms that occur at least three times per week for at least three months.
Short-term insomnia may be caused by a number of things, including:
Changes to your sleep habits, like sleeping in a hotel or new home
An upsetting or traumatic event
Any of the following may also cause chronic insomnia:
Medical conditions that make it harder to sleep, such as chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, heart, and lung diseases
Psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder
Substance use, including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs
Insomnia can occur at any age and is more likely to affect women than men. Having certain medical conditions, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, can lead to insomnia. Menopause can lead to insomnia as well.
Common Symptoms of Insomnia
People who experience insomnia usually report at least one of these symptoms:
Trouble falling or staying asleep
Waking too early in the morning
Not feeling refreshed
Not feeling tired or ready for sleep at regular bedtimes
These symptoms of insomnia can lead to other symptoms, including fatigue and malaise, mood changes, irritability, difficulty concentrating on tasks during the day, trouble remembering things, and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and aggression. And, of course, all of these can lead to other more serious health problems if not treated.
For as troublesome as insomnia can be, there are many things you can do to overcome it, including pharmaceutical and all-natural treatments, as well as behavioral changes.
For some people, practicing healthy lifestyle habits can alleviate insomnia symptoms and help them sleep more soundly. So, let’s start with the things you can do to improve your chances of getting a restful night of sleep. Some of these are common sense, and others may make you go “a-ha!”
Avoid caffeinated beverages near bedtime.
Limit or eliminate naps, especially late in the day.
Restrict the use of alcohol and tobacco products in the evening.
Avoid late-night meals.
Limit screen-time before bedtime—or wear blue-blocking glasses.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly during the day.
Avoid exercise near bedtime.
Follow a consistent sleep schedule that includes the same bedtimes and wake-up times every day.
Minimize the time you spend on your bed when you’re not specifically intending to sleep, such as watching TV or surfing the web on your smartphone.
To learn more about how quality sleep can improve your health and increase your longevity, order your copy of my latest bestseller, 30 Summers More.
Pharmaceutical and All-Natural Treatments
There are both pharmaceutical and all-natural treatments for insomnia. Your doctor can talk to you about what treatments might be appropriate. You may need to try several different treatments before finding the one that’s most effective for you.
On the pharmaceutical side of things, there are over-the-counter and prescription medications available to choose from. Again, please consult with your doctor about the over-the-counter options, as you want to make sure they don’t negatively interact with any other medication you might be taking.
On the all-natural side, here are several effective options to choose from:
Natural sleep aids, like herbal tea, warm milk, and valerian, can help you relax and fall asleep easier.
Meditation is a natural, easy, drug-free method for treating insomnia. It can help improve the quality of your sleep and make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation can also help with symptoms of conditions that may contribute to insomnia, including stress, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, and pain.
Melatonin is commonly thought of as an effective supplement to help you fall asleep, but surprisingly, the jury is out on its overall effectiveness. It’s been shown to help some with insomnia fall asleep faster, and it doesn’t have the dependence properties some sleep medications have. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking this, though, as it can interfere with certain types of medications.
Essential oils that are thought to help you sleep better include lavender, Roman chamomile, cedarwood, sandalwood, and neroli (or bitter orange). Essential oils don’t generally cause side effects when used as directed.
Wellness Warriors, I hope these tips will help you overcome your battle with insomnia. Sleep is critical to your overall health, so don’t brush it off. Until next time, Live Well, Live Long!