Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Insomnia or sleeplessness is a sleep disorder in which people have trouble sleeping. People with insomnia may have difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep as long as desired. This is followed by daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability, and a depressed mood. It may also result in an increased risk of motor vehicle collisions, lack of focus and difficulty in learning. Insomnia can be short-term (lasting for a few days or weeks), or long-term (lasting for more than a month).

Insomnia can be a result of psychological stress, chronic pain, heart failure, hyperthyroidism, heartburn, restless leg syndrome, menopause, consumption of certain medications and drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Diagnosis is usually based on sleep habits and an examination which focuses on underlying causes.

Treatment of insomnia includes lifestyle changes, healthy sleep habits, and sometimes cognitive behavioral therapy. Sleeping pills are another alternative treatment but may cause addiction. Approximately more than 10 million cases of insomnia are reported in India every year. People over the age of 65 are affected more often than younger people, and females are affected more often than are males.

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How Does Insomnia Affect Your Body?

Insomnia can affect the body in many ways. Inadequate sleep may make one feel very tired during the day. This can cause irritability, trouble in concentrating, poor memorizing abilities, and headaches. This can also result in stress and anxiety, and can even lead to illness by weakening the immune system.

What Are The Causes of Insomnia?

Insomnia can be of two types; acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing).

  • Acute insomnia is caused by work stress, family pressures, or traumatic events. This usually lasts for a few days or weeks.
  • Chronic insomnia lasts for at least three months. Most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary. This means that it is the symptom or side effect of some other problems, medical conditions, medicines, and other sleep disorders. Substances such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can also be causes of chronic insomnia.
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What Are The Risk Factors of Insomnia?

  • Sex – Women are more affected because of the hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and menopause. During menopause, night sweats and hot flashes often disrupt sleep. Insomnia is also common with pregnancy.
  • Age – Changes in sleep patterns and health increase with age. People over 60 are more affected by insomnia.
  • Health conditions – Mental health disorders or physical health conditions can disrupt sleep patterns and regularity.
  • Stress – Temporary insomnia is a result of stressful situations and long-lasting stress can lead to chronic insomnia.
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What Are The Symptoms of Insomnia?

  • Difficulty in falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a full night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty in paying attention, focusing, or memorizing
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep
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How is Insomnia Diagnosed?

  • Physical exam – If the cause of insomnia is unknown, a physical exam may be done to look for signs of medical problems that may be related to insomnia.
  • Blood test – A blood test may be done to check for thyroid problems or other conditions that may be associated with poor sleep.
  • Sleep study – If the cause of insomnia is not clear, then you may need to spend a night at a sleep center where tests are done to monitor and record a variety of body activities like brain waves, breathing, heartbeat, eye movements, and body movements.
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How to Prevent And Control Insomnia?

  • Following a consistent bedtime and wake-up time on weekdays and weekends
  • Staying active promotes a good night’s sleep
  • Avoiding certain medications which contribute to insomnia
  • Avoiding or limiting nap time
  • Avoiding or limiting nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol (especially 3 hours before bedtime)
  • Avoiding heavy meals and beverages before bedtime
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual like dimming lights, taking a warm bath, reading, or listening to soft music

Treatment of Insomnia – Allopathic Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia – This can help control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep one awake, and is generally recommended as the first line of treatment for those who are suffering from insomnia.

Medications prescribed for a long time include:

  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist)

Other than these, anti-histamines are rarely prescribed as these can cause addiction.

Treatment of Insomnia – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Coffea Cruda – It is considered to be the best homeopathic medicine for sleeplessness which is caused due to the unusual over-activity of the brain.
  • Kali Phos – This medicine treats insomnia which is caused due to stress, anxiety, and worrying.
  • Nux Vomica – This medicine is given to people who have no difficulty in falling asleep but find it difficult to maintain sleep.
  • Pulsatilla – It is the best cure for those who find it difficult to sleep for long hours after retiring to bed.
  • Cina, Chamomilla, and Borax – These medicines are recommended for insomnia in children.

Insomnia – Lifestyle Tips

  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Perform regular exercise and stay active.
  • Avoid in between naps and consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid eating heavy food just before bedtime.
  • Make the bedroom comfortable for sleep by using dim lights.
  • Relax before going to sleep. Resort to reading, hot-water bathing, yoga or breathing exercises.
  • Do not stay in bed for long, if not feeling sleepy.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Insomnia?

  • Yoga
  • Meditation

Insomnia & Pregnancy – Things to Know

  • Insomnia is very common during pregnancy, especially in the first and third trimesters.
  • Fluctuating hormones, nausea and an increased need to urinate, may keep one awake during early pregnancy.
  • Anxiety, cramps and back discomfort may also result in insomnia.
  • Lifestyle changes like staying active, maintaining a healthy diet and others can help to get some relief.
  • Insomnia caused due to pregnancy does not affect the baby’s development.

Common Complications Related to Insomnia

  • Lower performance in life
  • Decreased concentration while driving and a higher risk of accidents
  • Mental health disorders (depression, anxiety disorder or substance abuse)
  • Increased risk and severity of long-term diseases such as high blood pressure and heart diseases

FAQs

Q. What is the medical term for lifelong insomnia?

A. Lifelong insomnia is known as idiopathic insomnia and it is a result of an abnormality in the sleep-wake cycle.

Q. How long does insomnia last?

A. Insomnia can be short-term, long-term, or chronic.

Q. Is insomnia treatable?

A. Insomnia is treatable. However, it can also be an underlying cause for other diseases.

Q. Can insomnia be life-threatening?

A. Insomnia can be life-threatening if it is a secondary symptom to obstructive, central or complex sleep apnea.


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