What Factors can Lead to Insomnia?
A good night’s rest is essential for a productive and successful day. In fact, the majority of adults require seven to eight hours of sleep a night in order to wake up feeling energized the next morning. Unfortunately, for insomnia sufferers, restful nights are few and far between.
Insomnia is extremely common, with over 3 million cases reported in the US per year. Patients with insomnia have difficulty falling or staying asleep, usually resulting in six or less hours of rest – the consequences of which wreak havoc on their waking lives. The symptoms of insomnia naturally extend far past bedtime, impeding mood, alertness, and concentration throughout the day. This can result in substantial loss of productivity in the workplace, damaged relationships, and increased incidence of accidents on the road or in the home.
Fortunately, the majority of insomnia cases stem from other underlying personal or environmental factors. If you can successfully pinpoint the source of your insomnia, a good night’s rest is well within your reach.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is caused by the brain’s inability to regulate its waking and sleeping cycles, either due to internal (medical or biological) or external (stress and environmental) factors.
Primary insomnia is insomnia that is not actually a symptom or side effect of another underlying condition. However, the majority of cases are of secondary insomnia: meaning that the sleeplessness is the result of another factor, which needs to be accurately identified. Potential sources of insomnia include anything from a medical condition such as asthma or depression, to a medication or substance you are taking which impairs sleep patterns.
It is also important to note whether your insomnia is acute or chronic in nature. Acute insomnia is a short-term condition, usually lasting from one night up to three weeks. Patients suffering from acute insomnia usually do not require treatment, as the condition often resolves on its own. The key is to identify the source of the insomnia, usually stress or some other environmental factor, and strive to resolve it in your waking life. Chronic insomnia is a lasting problem, which plagues the patient for more than three nights a week consistently for over a month. Long-term insomnia is usually the product of a more persistent problem, such as a medical condition or lifestyle habits, and requires commitment to resolve.
Insomnia symptoms extend far beyond the scope of sleep, and can include:
- Difficulty falling asleep (taking 30 minutes or more)
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Waking up often in the middle of the night
- Waking up too early
- Sleepiness, drowsiness, and fatigue during the daytime
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased incidence of accidents
- Tension headaches
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Distress about sleep
Your doctor may request any or all of the following when diagnosing insomnia:
- A physical exam
- A medical history
- A sleep history
- A sleep diary, requiring the patient to meticulously log his/her sleep patterns
- An interview with your bed partner to analyze the patient’s sleeping habits
- Specialized sleep testing conducted at a sleep center
The more detailed information you provide, even if sensitive or private in nature, will help your doctor determine if the origin of your insomnia is emotional or medical in nature.
Insomnia Risk Factors
There are many physical, emotional, and environmental risk factors that may contribute to the onset of insomnia. Any one of these may be enough to spur insomnia on its own, or may work in conjunction with other factors:
Psychiatric and Medical Conditions
- Anxiety: Patients plagued with anxiety struggle with putting the mind to rest, and are kept awake late into the night with endless distress, impeding sleep.
- Depression: Depression and anxiety are often intertwined, with depressive tendencies often worst at night.
- Asthma: Chronic coughing, along with other physical symptoms of asthma, tends to be worst late at night and early in the morning, impairing sleep.
- Obesity: Obesity has been correlated with an increased incidence of sleep disorders, in particular sleep apnea.
- Bipolar Disorder: When in a manic phase, patients with bipolar disorder tend to feel hyperactive and unable to rest.
- Medications: Some medications, such as antidepressants and asthma treatments, are known to interfere with natural sleep patterns.
- Stimulants: Stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and other drugs should be taken in careful moderation, and not past the afternoon hours.
- Poor sleep hygiene: Daily sleep habits, known as sleep hygiene, are essential to your quality of rest. Sleeping and waking erratically, or engaging in stimulating activity before bed, are detrimental to restful sleep.
- Travel: Time zone changes and jetlag can throw your body into chaos, as well as your sleep.
- Scheduling: Those working graveyard or early bird shifts irregularly will struggle establishing good sleeping habits.
- Chronic stress: Stress is detrimental to sleep, and unresolved concerns will keep you up late into the night, even causing chronic nightmares.
- Environment: A poor environment, such as living in a loud complex, can interfere with sleep and cause you to wake up continuously throughout the night.
Once the source of your insomnia is accurately identified, you can begin targeted treatments to remedy the origin of your unrest.
Establishing Good Sleep Hygiene
Good sleeping habits are essential towards making restful sleep the norm, not the exception. Good sleep hygiene includes daily and nightly rituals such as:
- Consistently sleeping and waking at the same times every day
- Engaging in relaxing bedtime rituals, such as reading
- Avoiding the use of electronics before bed, as the light has been shown to impair sleep
- Reserving the bed only for sleeping, and maintaining a relaxing bedroom environment
- Avoiding heavy meals before bedtime
- Avoiding the consumption of stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
- Clearing your mind of stress before bedtime through journaling
- Behavioral therapy: Your doctor may suggest engaging in behavioral therapy to help permanently change poor life habits that are interfering with your sleep.
- Medication: Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to assist in falling and staying asleep, but dependence upon these medications should be avoided.
- Exercise and weight loss: Exercise has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety, but should be done before six hours prior to bedtime. If your insomnia is actually a side effect of sleep apnea, which is caused by obesity, then significant weight loss will work to remedy the situation.
Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Shukla
If restful sleep feels out of your reach, schedule a consultation with esteemed sleep specialist Dr. Mayank Shukla today. Dr. Shukla and his caring staff at the Asthma Allergy Sleep Center of New York will ensure that a good night’s sleep becomes your expectation, not the exception.