If you’re tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep at night, and then hitting the snooze button again and again the following day, you’re not alone. Insomnia and difficulty sleeping are common problems that most people experience at one (or more) time in their lives. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 30-35 percent of adults in the U.S. are afflicted with insomnia.
Although everyone is susceptible, it is more likely to affect older adults—especially women—as well as anyone experiencing stress or suffering from certain health problems. Everyone knows the clichéd way to overcome insomnia: counting sheep. However, there are many more effective insomnia treatments, both medical and natural, but first, you need to learn about insomnia symptoms, and insomnia causes to understand how you can start getting the sleep you need.
A neurologist and sleep medicine physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Amy Amara, M.D., Ph.D., says there are many contributing factors to sleep loss. After treating patients at the UAB’s Sleep/Wake Disorders Center, Amara says the best way to wake up feeling healthy and energized is simply to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, with insomnia, that often feels like an impossible goal.
Amara has a few suggestions to help those suffering from insomnia: “Cooler environments are helpful for promoting sleep. A hot bath just before bedtime may be helpful because the body temperature decreases quickly after getting out of the tub, thus promoting sleep. The best sleep environment is cool, dark, and quiet.” She also recommends regular exercise, going to bed earlier, and keeping all electronic devices away from the bedroom—including your cell phone.
In severe cases of insomnia, patients are often recommended to sleep specialists, who will perform tests that will help you better understand the nature of your sleep patterns and your individual sleep needs. Before seeking professional help, it’s beneficial to learn more about insomnia, so you can try to cure the problem naturally.
What Should You Know about Insomnia
Insomnia is an affliction that can take us by surprise. After many years of successful sleeping habits, we can suddenly find ourselves lying awake at night, unable to sleep, watching the minutes tick by. For some, the sleeping issues might disappear after a few days, but insomnia is persistent and unrelenting for most. It keeps you from falling asleep, staying asleep, and if you do finally manage to fall asleep, insomnia will make it that much more difficult for you to wake up in the morning.
Insomnia is a disorder that causes you to have a poor quality of sleep, regardless of how early you go to bed or how many hours there are until morning. You wake up feeling groggy and sapped of energy. Insomniacs often find themselves having difficulty at work and in social settings; a lack of sleep affects your mood, health, and overall quality of life. Luckily, if you know the causes and symptoms of insomnia, you are more likely to find a successful treatment.
Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors of Insomnia
If you have insomnia, the symptoms are persistent and often easy to spot. They include:
- Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime – it often takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
- Waking up often during the night – and often being unable to fall back asleep
- Waking up much earlier than planned – unable to get more than six hours of sleep
- Feeling restless and unwell in the morning, followed by general tiredness all day
- Becoming easily irritated, anxious, stressed, and often depressed
- Declining ability to focus or complete tasks – and there is an increase in accidents or mistakes
- A decline in health – stomach and intestinal stress, tension headaches
- Constantly worrying about being able to sleep – frustration leading to anxiety
Unfortunately, the causes of insomnia are plentiful and varied. Difficulty sleeping can be attributed to almost anything, from stress at work and diet changes to new medications. A few of the more common causes are:
- Changes in the daily schedule or irregular sleep schedules
- Depression, stress, and anxiety
- Medical conditions and certain medications
- Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
- Eating too late or too close to sleep
- Lack of exercise or a decline in social behavior
- Changes in health or the development of certain ailments
- Aging, which often means less restful sleep, changes in our internal clocks, pain, and arthritis, and increases the frequency of urination
Although everyone can develop insomnia, your risks are greater if you are a woman, are older than 60, have a mental disorder, are often traveling, make frequent changes to your work schedule or if you are under a great deal of stress. If you are suffering from insomnia, there are ways to help you regain your health. There are foods to help you prevent insomnia as well as more natural ways to help you sleep.
Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Meditation not only centers you and helps with concentration, it can also help with sleep patterns. Studies show that regular meditation can significantly improve insomnia if practiced at home over the course of a few months.
Light exposure can play a big role in sleep issues. To help the body with circadian rhythm, it is important to get light exposure first thing in the morning. If you live in an area that doesn’t get enough sun, home light therapy units are available to purchase.
Studies show practicing yoga regularly can help with sleep troubles. A system of relaxation, breathing, and exercise can help calm the mind and help people fall asleep faster.
Both acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to help with insomnia. Health experts believe that by clearing blocked pathways in the body, acupuncture allows energy to flow which can help with sleep patterns.
Regular physical activity doesn’t just make you feel more energetic; it can also help with sleep. Getting at least 30 minutes a day can help your body relax later in the day. Just be careful not to perform any strenuous activity too close to bedtime.
Certain scents can help to calm the mind and get you ready for slumber. English lavender aromatherapy oil has been used for decades as a fold remedy to help people fall asleep. Known as one of the most soothing essential oils, it can be applied to the skin with a carrier oil or placed on a pillow.
There is perhaps nothing more relaxing than a massage which is why it can help with insomnia issues. A recent study has found that people who have a massage regularly can improve sleep quality and daytime dysfunction. It can also help to reduce feelings of pain, depression, and anxiety.
Foods to Help Prevent Insomnia
There are many foods that contain naturally occurring substances that can help you improve your sleep and reduce chances of insomnia. Also, be sure to reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and spicy foods. Foods to add into your pre-sleep diet to help maintain a healthy sleep pattern include:
- Chicken breast – contains tryptophan
- Cherry juice – contains tryptophan
- Almonds – contains magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep
- Dairy products– contains tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that converts to serotonin
- Chickpeas – contains tryptophan
- Turkey – contains calcium which helps to trigger melatonin
- Green leafy vegetables – kale and spinach have high levels of calcium
- Lettuce – contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties
- Tuna and salmon – have high levels of vitamin B6, which helps produce melatonin and serotonin
- Pistachios – high in vitamin B6
- Bananas – high in vitamin B6 and potassium, which also aids sleep
- Raw garlic – high in vitamin B6
- Cereal – it contains carbohydrates and calcium, both aid in sleep
- Chamomile tea – helps to increase glycine, a chemical that acts as a mild sedative and can relax nerves and muscles
- Honey – helps raise insulin levels to allow tryptophan to enter the brain
- Valerian root – often used as a sedative
Insomnia has many causes, and the symptoms often disrupt your sleeping habits as well as your ability to function in daily life. Learning more about insomnia will help you understand prevention and treatment methods. If your insomnia is persistent and you notice a decline in your health and energy, try using the tips suggested above to help you sleep better. If there is no improvement or for severe cases, always consult your doctor to learn more about causes and treatment.