What is Insomnia?
Insomnia will probably affect each and every one of us at some stage in our lives and can take many different forms: difficulty getting to sleep, waking early in the morning or frequent waking bouts throughout the night. Over a few nights, and the effects will be temporary and fairly minor, but for those for whom it becomes a chronic condition, the physical and mental effects can be detrimental to their whole life. The consequences can be far-reaching, effecting memory, concentration and co-ordination and causing irritability, lethargy and low mood. This can then lead to the sleep deprived person becoming so desperate for rest that they turn to drink or drugs to gain some relief. It also means that any tasks requiring complete concentration become dangerous, such as driving or operating machinery, for themselves and those around them. It then becomes imperative to determine the root cause of the insomnia in order to allow normality to return to that person's life.
How Much Sleep is ‘Normal’?
Determining what is a ‘normal’ amount of sleep for an individual will vary depending on age, lifestyle and an abundance of other factors. Babies need up to 16 hours a day due to their phenomenal growth and development rates. School age children consistently receiving less than ten hours a night will begin to suffer low levels of concentration and their school performance will be affected. Adults need on average seven to nine hours sleep, however as we reach old age we become lighter sleepers requiring less than six hours per night.
What Causes Insomnia?
The causes are numerous and varied. Quite often underlying physical conditions that cause pain, discomfort or involuntary movements can be at the root of the problem with such conditions as chronic back pain, indigestion, allergic reactions causing itching or sneezing, or restless leg syndrome being just a small sample of the possibilities. Diagnosing the source of the pain is crucial as pain exists as a way of informing us that something is wrong with our body and therefore shouldn’t be ignored.
Changing the mattress on the bed to provide you with more adequate support in the lower or lumbar area of your spine or indeed changing the position that you sleep in entirely can sometimes lessen back pain. Here at Bedsupermarket we offer a superb range of both mattresses and divan sets with ‘tri-zone’ comfort system technology that provide increased support in the body areas that need it most, such as the lower back and neck.
If sleeping in a more upright position allows you to achieve a better quality of sleep try sleeping in a chair or in a more upright position. There are many new models of electrically controlled adjustable divan beds currently on the market, the Silentnight ones we have for sale at The Bedsupermarket offer a support system that targets 7 body zones providing supreme comfort and support with an additional layer of memory foam that responds to the contours of your body where it is needed most. They can be altered by remote control until a more comfortable position is found. Therefore affording you freedom in the position you sleep in but providing you with support and fillings far superior to that you would find in a sofa.
External sources either within your bedroom or invading from outside your house can be a cause for concern: Excessive noise, a streetlight outside your window, over strenuous activities too close to bedtime, or a bed that is too soft or firm, is too small, or causing roll together due to inadequate support can all be contributory factors to insomnia.
Psychological issues can make sleeping difficult and are generally caused by specific events such as bereavement, work related stress or anxiety about relationships or finances.
Mental health problems are intricately linked to sleeping problems, where they can occur as a result of chronic lack of sleep, or depression or anxiety can prevent you sleeping and thus a vicious cycle is entered into.
Alcohol and common over the counter medicines such as decongestants and appetite suppressants can play havoc with both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Even medicines prescribed for insomnia can cause withdrawal problems when they are stopped too quickly and some antidepressants and beta-blocker medication can exacerbate any existing sleeping abnormalities.
Finally there are some specific sleep related disorders, which include walking and talking in your sleep, narcolepsy which causes the sufferer to fall asleep suddenly and with no control which can occur any point in your waking day, and sleep apnoea, which is a disorder where your breathing stops for short irregular periods, depriving your body of oxygen whilst you are asleep, which then results in extreme tiredness during the day.
How is Insomnia Treated?
The first step is to examine any underlying conditions and to treat them first because quite often when that is rectified the sleep problems often resolve themselves. Conditions falling under this umbrella include depression and anxiety.
Treatments that do not require drugs are explored first as many sleeping medications are addictive with undesirable side effects. If the root cause of the insomnia is a stressful event such as bereavement, cognitive behavioural therapy can be very beneficial. Being taught how to use problem-solving techniques, such as making a sleep diary, to put you in control of the situation is another popular technique. Learning relaxation methods or receiving education about lifestyle choices affecting your sleep quality such as avoiding excessive intake of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine and keeping to a routine when preparing for sleep so that your body can use these cues to slow down in readiness, are all common approaches used by Sleep disorder professionals.
If these techniques do not work, or in order to treat more severe cases, or to ease short term insomnia, sleeping tablets may be considered. But as well as being addictive they do not treat the underlying cause and therefore symptoms are likely to reoccur once the medication ceases.
For severe, long-term insomnia the class of drugs known as tranquilizers are used. These work by slowing the body down thus reducing anxiety and encouraging feelings of calmness and relaxation. But all are hypnotic and can lead to a dependency so are only prescribed for short periods of time, e.g.: when aiding sleep during an illness or a period of jet lag, for example.
If you take sleeping tablets regularly real consideration should be given to stopping taking them, but never stop suddenly as withdrawal problems, panic attacks and/or rebound insomnia are all real possibilities. Consider trying herbal remedies such as passionflower or chamomile, which have some reported beneficial effects, but again clinical data on their long-term safety is still to be produced.