It’s finally time for bed and you’re grateful. The day has been busy and exhausting, and you can feel the fatigue in your body. You feel a sense of relief when your head hits the pillow and you close your tired eyes. But minutes pass… and more minutes pass… and eventually your eyes crack open again. For some reason, though you still feel worn out, you just can’t seem to fall asleep. If what I just said sounds familiar to you, then my condolences, you might be suffering from insomnia.
What is Insomnia?
The term comes from combining the Latin words “in,” expressing negation, and “somnus,” meaning sleep. Actually, insomnia doesn’t only have one definition. Most people probably know of it as a sleep disorder where you have a hard time falling asleep. That is most certainly an accurate definition, but it can be when you have trouble staying asleep as well.
According to WebMD, there are several types of insomnia. Sleep-onset insomnia is, as previously mentioned, characterized by struggling to fall asleep. Meanwhile, sleep-maintenance insomnia is characterized by struggling to stay asleep or waking up too early compared to when you slept. Mixed insomnia is an unlucky mix of the two.
Insomnia can be either acute, meaning it lasts for a few weeks at most, or chronic, meaning it lasts for at least three months, occurring at least three nights a week throughout.
Insomnia: why does it happen?
If you’re currently going through insomnia, you’re not alone. It’s much more common than you might think. In fact, one research study shows that it affects 33% of the population.
There are many possible causes of insomnia, and they’re separated into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary causes are environmental or circumstantial, such as stressful events or the temperature and lighting of your room, or even your genes. On the other hand, secondary causes are linked to both physical and mental health issues, drug use (including caffeine and nicotine), alcohol consumption, and hormone-changing events like pregnancy, menopause, and PMS.
In turn, the lack of sleep caused by insomnia ends up affecting you throughout the day. For example, your mood may be lower than if you’d had a good night’s sleep, and you might have trouble concentrating during work or school. It could also increase the severity of problems you already have, such as depression and anxiety.
How can you prevent insomnia?
Luckily, there are a few ways to help stop insomnia, depending on the causes. Here are just some of them.
Follow a sleep schedule. Easier said than done, but our bodies do get used to routines. Try setting a regular time range for when to sleep and an alarm to wake up to at the same time every day. If you’re setting the alarm for earlier than you’re used to waking up, taking an afternoon nap might be tempting, but try to resist the urge to be able to fall asleep more easily at night.
Don’t consume alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or a big meal at least a few hours before bed. Setting a bedtime will help you know when to stop smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol and caffeine during the day. A heavy stomach might also prevent you from sleeping comfortably, but going to bed starving isn’t good either. Consider a light snack before bed if you’re feeling hungry.
Stop looking at lit screens at least an hour before bed. The light from your phone, TV, or laptop could be keeping you more awake than usual. Try doing something relaxing that doesn’t involve constantly looking at screens, like reading a book or listening to music.
Make sure you’re comfortable. The room being too hot or cold will always make it harder to fall asleep because of the discomfort you’re feeling. The same can be said if there are too many lights on or too much noise around, so make sure to adjust accordingly. If your discomfort is mental rather than physical (like racing thoughts or general anxiety), try writing in a diary or making a to-do list to get those anxiety-causing thoughts out of your brain and onto something tangible.
It’s important to look into your daily habits and see if there’s anything you can change to help stop insomnia, because nothing is more important than giving your body proper rest. Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep!