You open your eyes and the light of day streams in through the bedroom window. It feels like you have just closed your eyes and opened them again but 8 hours have passed and you didn’t stir. One of the most powerful and pleasurable things in life is a solid nights sleep. The contrast for many of you is lying awake for hours staring at the clock watching the number of hours between now and having to get up dwindle as your anxiety escalates. This is insomnia.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is more than just a couple of nights of poor sleep, it is defined as habitual sleeplessness. That is a regularity of not getting adequate sleep. But sleep issues can be more than just not getting enough. Additional considerations are quality of sleep, depth of sleep and restlessness throughout the night.
What are the causes?
Insomnia can be caused by a wide range of issues including:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Overstimulated nervous system
- Adrenal fatigue
- Alcohol consumption
- Excess caffeine intake
- Side effects from medication
What are some additional symptoms?
But sleep is much more than a matter of pleasure and pain, it can have a significant impact on your health. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause:
- Decreased cognitive function – this can affect your ability to carry out both simple and complex tasks both physically and mentally leading to increased risk of accidents.
- Poor memory
- Hypertension – the increased stress on your system required to function can have a significant impact on cardiovascular health increasing the risks of stroke and heart attack.
- Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, ADD, OCD etc.
- Poor digestive function
- Lowered immunity
- Obesity or weight loss
What is Sleep Hygiene?
I know it just sounds wrong doesn’t it? In essence it’s all about creating habits that improve the duration and quality of sleep not spraying your bedroom with antibacterial solution and sleeping in a hazmat suit. Here’s the lowdown:
- Body clock – when you’re feeling snoozy, bed down. If you aren’t tired then work on some relaxation techniques to calm your nervous system but don’t try to sleep if you are not there as you will increase anxiety, not the friend of sleep.
- Drugs (including cigarettes, alcohol and sleeping tablets) – Whilst these might have desired effects they will create a pattern of reliance and are known to contribute to poor quality sleep.
- Stimulants – Can’t wake up in the morning? Coffee or stimulant drinks will sort that out. But they also contribute to long term sleep disturbance forming a vicious cycle.
- Sugar – can stimulate your nervous system preventing sleep so sweet things close to bed are best to avoid. Also eating close to bed time can keep you awake so eating at a reasonable hour is your best bet.
- Electronic equipment – As screens stimulate brain activity they will affect your ability to fall asleep (5). Avoiding screens for at least one hour before bed has been shown to significantly improve sleep.
- Calming techniques – Meditative techniques are a great way to calm the nervous system overall. There are heaps of apps that can be used if you are a stranger to mediation. Check out Headspace and Buddify as two options we recommend.
- Exercise – For many of us today the physical activity part of our day is very low. A regular exercise routine can help promote healthy physical and mental balance improving the quality of sleep dramatically
How can insomnia be treated?
- Cognitive and behavioural therapy
As the body runs very much on patterns and habits sometimes working with pattern change techniques can greatly assist to return sleep patterns to normal.
Providing greater calming techniques can help reduce the overall excitability of the nervous system meaning by the time you go to bed your system is already prepared for sleep.
- Sleep Hygiene
Adjusting the diet to remove overstimulating foods as well as habits of eating can help to improve the ability to sleep and sleep quality
- Herbal medicine
There are some very powerful sleep aids used in herbal medicine that don’t tend to have the same issues with side effects as more conventional medication.
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