Insomnia & Sleeping Difficulties

problems falling asleep?
awakening after being asleep?
not able to sleep through the night?

insomnia is one of the most common sleeping disorders, so you're definitely not alone if you experience any of these symptoms

What is insomnia?

Insomnia has been defined quite simply as “sleeplessness.” But there is nothing simple about the inconvenience that at some point insomnia causes in many people’s lives. No one is completely certain why humans require sleep, but the fact that sleep deprivation has many serious impacts upon our lives demonstrates its importance.

The amount of sleep that is necessary for individuals varies. It is approximated that most people require 7 hours of sleep each night, with 8% satisfied with 5 hours or less and 4% requiring 10 hours or more. It depends entirely on the individual. It becomes obvious that you are not receiving the amount of sleep your body requires if you begin to experience adverse effects on your life.

What are some of the causes of insomnia and other sleep difficulties?

Although causes may vary from individual to individual, some common causes include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trauma (major or minor)
  • Overeating just before bed
  • Stimulants in the bloodstream like caffeine and nicotine (e.g., coffee, chocolate, cola and cigarettes)
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Conditions that don’t encourage sleep (noise or light)
  • Concerns about work or school
  • Concerns about daily living (money, violence, transportation, job, relationships)
  • Illness
  • Jet lag
  • Decongestants and pain and cold relievers
  • Asthma and other breathing disorders

What are the consequences of insomnia and other sleep difficulties?

The symptoms of insomnia can be extremely mild to serious. If symptoms of insomnia are affecting your ability to function effectively you will need to consider seeking help.

Some consequences may include:

  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Decreased concentration
  • Lowered mental alertness
  • Drowsiness or falling asleep at every opportunity
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Decrease in efficiency
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability & anger
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling depressed or down
  • Fatigue and lowered physical performance

Body Hacks & Methods to Manage Insomnia

Find a Routine

Try to go to bed and wake at the same time on a daily basis. This helps your body get into a rhythm and makes sleeping feel more natural. This also goes for any nightly or morning rituals you have that help get your mind in the state or waking up or going to bed. 

Limit Your Bed For Sleeping Only

Try not to study, watch TV, read (unless you’re trying to fall asleep), or eat in bed. When your mind and body associate your bed only for sleep, you’re more likely to relax and fall asleep when you’re lying down in it. 

Exercise or Move Your Body More

Exercising during the day is a great way to increase your need for sleep. When you work out, your body is tearing muscle fibers and needs to recover. The best way for our bodies to recover is through rest, so try incorporating some more movement in your day to see if that helps. 

Relax Before Bed

Time to set the mood! Have a warm bath, drink some tea or another warm beverage, listen to soothing music, use deep breathing techniques, yoga, tai chi, etc. Taking some time to meditate or list all the things you’re grateful for in your life as you wind down in bed is a great way to end the day. Check out our article on relaxation techniques for more ideas.

Minimize Anxiety

Try not to tackle anything that may cause stress & anxiety just before bedtime. Some find it helpful to process the day’s thoughts and feelings by writing down any worries or to make a list of things you need to do the next day so it’s not swimming around in their mind as they try to sleep.

You may also want to try avoiding using your phone right before you go to bed. Consuming news (especially if it stresses you out), watching stimulating TikToks or shows, or having stressful conversations before bed should be avoided so you can be present with yourself and give yourself the care you deserve so you can fall asleep easier.

Avoid Napping

Napping during the day may minimize your ability to sleep at night and can throw off your sleeping routines. If you can hold off on napping, you’ll likely be more tired at night when it’s time to go to bed. 

Lay Off The Caffiene Past Noon

If you can, try to avoid having caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, cola) or cigarettes before bed. Stimulants like caffeine and cigarettes pick up our energy and can make it difficult to settle down.

[Note: Alcohol (a depressant) may make you drowsy but can disrupt sleeping patterns.]

Aromatherapy

Scents affect us more than we think! Lavender is considered a natural sedative and can help us reach a deeper sleep. Ways you can use lavender oil to help you sleep:

  • Putting dried lavender in a cloth bag and putting that in your pillow or next to you as you sleep
  • Adding lavender oil to a diffuser that runs while you sleep
  • Using a lavender spray on your pillow before bed (check out this DIY spray)
  • Using lavender-scented bath bombs or bath salts
  • Add lavender essential oil to a carrier oil like jojoba oil, almond oil, or coconut oil and rub that on your chest or neck. Do not apply the oil directly to your skin without adding it to another oil first, as this can be irritating.

Talk to a Therapist

If your insomnia is related to depression, talking to a mental health professional (counselor, therapist, social worker, etc.) can help. Research has found that when people with depression have insomnia, talk therapy can help address the causes behind both issues and bring relief.

Natural Remedies

Valerian root is considered a non-addictive, sleep-inducing herb that also assists in relieving stress & anxiety. St John’s Wort is another natural product used to treat anxiety, depression, stress & insomnia. Both are available at supermarkets or your local pharmacy.

It’s always a good idea to check with your medical doctor before trying such substances, especially if you are taking other medications. Because it’s a depressant, this could amplify the effects of alcohol, narcotics, or benzodiazepines. 

Some people have found success in taking a melatonin supplement before bed, which has far fewer drug interactions than other natural remedies due to melatonin already being produced in the body. This can also be found over the counter at most pharmacies or supermarkets.

Medication

If your inability to sleep is disrupting your life, it is advisable to see your doctor. Your doctor may provide medication to help correct your disrupted sleeping patterns, but be sure you know about the drug before taking it. Many medications can be addictive & cause periods of drowsiness upon waking, which may cause problems if you need to be alert for work or school.

Ambien is a prescription sleep aid that has received a lot of publicity. It comes in two forms—AMBIEN which helps you fall asleep and AMBIEN CR which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Each can have serious side effects that can be exacerbated if taken while using alcohol.

Side effects of Ambien can include

  • Sleepwalking
  • Eating, interacting with others or driving while not fully awake and with memory loss for the event
  • Abnormal behaviors such as being more outgoing or aggressive than normal, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations
  • If you have depression, it can cause a worsening of depression, including the risk of suicide

If your doctor prescribes Ambien in either form, it is important that you discuss possible side effects before beginning the drug.

Other Professionals

Your doctor may also treat or refer you to other professionals to address the causes of the insomnia you’re experiencing. It might be helpful to request a referral to a sleep study in case there are biological factors that could be causing your insomnia.

For more information on insomnia, check out the Mayo Clinic website.

About Youth Era

Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.

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