According to a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia's Sleep Disorders Program, approximately 30% of Canadians struggle with falling or staying asleep. Everyone is different when it comes to how much sleep they require, but the Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
Being unable to sleep can be stressful, and not getting enough high-quality sleep can affect many aspects of your life. The good news is that as technology advances and more research about sleep is carried out, we’re learning more about the causes of sleep disorders such as insomnia. In this article, we’ll discuss what insomnia is and what you can do to manage it.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
Those who suffer from insomnia have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep — they may also wake up too early and be unable to fall back asleep. Insomnia sufferers may still feel tired when they wake up after a night’s sleep, and this tiredness may persist throughout the day.
Additionally, those who suffer from insomnia often report feeling irritable, depressed, or anxious. Some struggle to focus on tasks and have difficulty remembering things. Others notice an increase in the amount of errors they make and have ongoing concerns about sleep.
Types of insomnia
Acute insomnia can last from a few days to a few weeks, and it’s the most common type of insomnia. It’s sometimes referred to as “adjustment insomnia,” because it can occur when a person goes through a stressful event.
If someone has problems sleeping for at least three days per week for at least one month, their insomnia is considered chronic.
Primary chronic insomnia (idiopathic insomnia) has no clear cause or underlying medical condition while secondary insomnia (comorbid insomnia) occurs alongside another condition. Secondary insomnia is the more common type of chronic insomnia.
Those who suffer from onset insomnia — which can be short-term or chronic — have difficulty falling asleep. Sufferers of chronic onset insomnia often have another sleep disorder.
Difficulty staying asleep — or waking up too early and being unable to get back to sleep — is known as maintenance insomnia. Sufferers often stress about their lack of sleep which further disrupts their rest.
Behavioral insomnia of childhood
According to a 2011 study, around 25% of children are affected by behavioural insomnia of childhood (BIC), of which there are three subtypes: BIC sleep-onset (caused by negative associations with sleep), BIC limit-setting (linked to a child’s refusal to go to bed), and BIC combined type (when factors from both other subtypes are present).
What are the main causes of insomnia?
Insomnia can be the primary issue, but it can also be linked to other conditions — and different types of insomnia have different causes.
The stress of day-to-day life can keep your mind racing when you’re trying to sleep and traumatic events (such as the loss of a loved one) can also result in insomnia.
Poor sleep hygiene
Not going to bed at the same time each night, taking naps, and doing stimulating activities before bed can all lead to insomnia. Having an uncomfortable sleeping environment — and working from or eating in your bedroom — can also be detrimental to your sleep cycle.
If your schedule changes often due to rotating shifts at work or frequent travel, your body can have difficulty adjusting. This can lead to insomnia.
Eating late at night
It’s okay to have a light snack before bed. However, if you eat too much, you may feel uncomfortable while lying down. Eating late at night can also cause heartburn. Such discomfort can prevent you from falling asleep.
What else causes insomnia?
There are several medical conditions associated with insomnia, including chronic pain, asthma, diabetes, and more. Other sleep-related disorders — such as sleep apnea — can also interfere with your sleep cycle.
Insomnia often occurs in conjunction with mental health disorders, particularly anxiety disorders. Additionally, both prescription drugs (including certain antidepressants) and over-the-counter medications (such as some pain medications) can have a negative impact on sleep.
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and consuming them close to bedtime can prevent you from falling asleep. Although alcohol may help you fall asleep, it stops you from reaching deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.
How is insomnia diagnosed?
There are a few methods your doctor may use to diagnose insomnia:
- A physical examination: your doctor may carry out a physical examination (which sometimes involves a blood test) to search for signs of medical conditions that could be linked to insomnia
- A sleep habits review: your doctor may ask you sleep-related questions, have you complete a sleep questionnaire, or ask you to keep a sleep diary in order to understand your current sleep habits
- A sleep study: these are carried out when the cause of your insomnia is unclear, or you have another sleep disorder. You will spend a night at a sleep centre, where tests that track various body activities are done while you sleep
How can you stop your insomnia?
Always follow the recommendations of your doctor when it comes to managing your insomnia. They may prescribe sleeping pills or recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), amongst a variety of other treatments.
There are several additional changes you can make to achieve better sleep. Keep a consistent bedtime, stay active, limit naps, stay away from stimulating substances, and try not to eat too much late at night.
Find a relaxing bedtime routine — like a nice bath — that works for you. If you’re unable to fall asleep and find yourself tossing and turning, don’t stay in bed. Move into another room and read a book (not on a screen!) then go back to bed when you feel tired. Improving your sleep environment with a high-quality mattress, duvet, and pillow (such as this one) can also help in your journey to good sleep.