How to Sleep With Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments to Know
Not getting enough sleep can feel brutal when you need to get up and on with your day. Insomnia can affect how well you function and take a toll on your health. But there are simple actions you can take to help you snooze better. Keep reading to find out how to sleep with insomnia and wake up refreshed.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder worldwide, especially among women and older adults. The sleep disturbance makes it difficult for you to fall or stay asleep. You’re also more likely to wake up way too early, making it hard to hit your internal snooze button again.
These can lead to problems such as excessive daytime drowsiness and oversleeping, which can have harmful effects. For instance, they can raise your risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And if you drive a motor vehicle, these sleep problems can up your chance of getting into an accident.
What Can Cause Insomnia?
Insomnia is usually a symptom of another problem. Common causes include:
- Anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions
- Brain conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
- Illness and other health conditions such as acid reflux, asthma, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and cancer
- Hormone imbalance or changes
- Life stressors such as relationship, family, job and money problems
- Poor lifestyle habits such as eating poorly and using nicotine products
- Medicines (prescribed and over the counter) and recreational or illicit drugs
- Uncomfortable sleep environment
- Other sleep conditions such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea
How to Know If You Have Insomnia
Insomnia symptoms may be short- or long-term (chronic). You may wonder, “Do I have insomnia symptoms?”
Asking yourself certain sleep-related questions may offer helpful clues. For instance, do you often:
- Have trouble falling or staying asleep?
- Have issues getting back to sleep when awakened?
- Wake up several times throughout the night?
- Spend a good portion of your sleep time wide awake?
- Wake up too early and have problems falling asleep again?
- Wake up overly tired instead of refreshed?
- Have a hard time falling asleep despite feeling exhausted?
- Feel dozy, fatigued or irritable during your waking hours?
- Have problems thinking clearly or staying focused during wakeful hours?
- Use sleep medicines or alcohol to help you fall asleep?
Is Insomnia a Symptom of COVID?
Studies have shown a link between COVID-19 and insomnia. Researchers cite higher rates of the sleep disorder in people who have [or have had] the viral illness, especially in those with long COVID. Also known as post-COVID condition, people with long COVID experience new, returning or ongoing COVID symptoms and health problems for a month or more after getting the illness.
Some experts theorize the virus affects the body’s circadian rhythm or levels of melatonin — a hormone the brain makes and releases to signal sleep. Others point to previous studies tying brain inflammation to sleep disturbance.
COVID sleeplessness has also been tied to the stress brought on by the pandemic. Stress can trigger or worsen mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This is because people living with mental health conditions are more likely to feel highly distraught, hopeless and sad. The stress of having or getting COVID-19 can amplify these thoughts and feelings, which can lead to sleep disturbances such as insomnia.
Whatever the theory, researchers have yet to parse out if and how COVID actually causes insomnia.
Is Insomnia a Symptom of Pregnancy?
Insomnia is common during pregnancy. Higher levels of the progesterone hormone during your first trimester can make you feel extra dozy during the daytime.
Sleep issues may be compounded by pregnancy-related discomforts such as:
- Anxiety and stress due to pregnancy issues or concerns about labor
- Vivid dreams that tax the body and mind
- Getting up frequently to urinate
- Nausea or vomiting
A growing belly can also make it hard to find a comfortable sleep position. And back pain, strong fetal movements and labor contractions can add to the lack of quality shuteye.
How Is Insomnia Diagnosed?
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and review your health history and current medicines to better understand your sleep issues and symptoms. You may also need to:
- Get blood work to rule out health conditions that impair sleep. These include thyroid issues or low iron levels.
- Keep a sleep journal for 1 to 2 weeks to document your sleep habits and help pinpoint what may be impeding your sleep.
- Get a sleep study at a sleep lab to monitor your brain and body activity while you sleep.
- Test your level of daytime drowsiness with the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
What’s the Treatment For Insomnia?
In most cases, short-term insomnia gets better on its own. But if your sleep problems persist or get worse, your doctor may recommend 1 or more of these insomnia treatments.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps identify behaviors and thoughts that contribute to your sleep problems. It also helps you replace these with those that promote healthful sleep habits. CBT also helps you get to the root cause of your insomnia and better cope with it.
Long-term sleep improvement is best achieved through behavioral and lifestyle changes. But in certain cases, your doctor may recommend or prescribe a short course of medicine to help with your insomnia.
Are There Home Remedies For Insomnia?
Home remedies for insomnia include:
Sitting quietly and breathing slowly and steadily is the practice of mindfulness meditation. You focus on the rise and fall of your breath, as well as your emotions, thoughts, body sensations and movement. This may help with insomnia by steering your mind away from troublesome thoughts to help your mind and body relax.
Gentle yoga can help you unwind and ease physical and mental tension before bedtime. This helps quell stress, which may improve your sleep quality.
Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and supports restorative sleep. In fact, studies have shown that moderate- to high-intensity exercise can improve sleep quality and prevent insomnia.
The key is to time your workouts for earlier in the day. Working out in the late evening can decrease melatonin levels or delay its release, which can hamper your sleep plans.
Natural Sleep Supplements
Natural sleep aids may also help with insomnia. They include compounds found in foods, plants and herbs. Some come in tablets, capsules or gummies while others are prepared as tinctures, essential oils, teas, extracts or powders.
It’s best to talk with your doctor before taking any of these. Supplements can carry a risk of side effects and may interact with medicines you already take. And they may not be safe for certain people, such as infants, children and pregnant women.
Unlike their drug counterparts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t test or regulate supplements. Therefore, how effective these products are for insomnia or how much of a sleep-inducing compound they actually have can be inconsistent or simply not as claimed on supplement labels.
Some studies have shown that supplements or whole foods with these compounds may support sleep:
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA amino acid and neurotransmitter)
- Glycine (amino acid and neurotransmitter)
- German chamomile
- Tart cherry juice
The cozy pressure of a weighted blanket may help calm your nervous system and ease tension and stress. This can bolster your efforts to get effective shuteye.
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