Insomnia is characterised by the disturbance of normal sleep patterns – either difficulty in falling asleep or repeatedly awakening for long periods. Real insomnia is habitual sleeplessness, occurring night after night, often lasting for months or years. Long-term sleep disturbances can be very debilitating and affect daily functions leading to problems such as lack of concentration, reduced energy, and difficulty in coping at work and at home.
Experts still don’t really understand the underlying causes of insomnia. A number of psychological problems such as anxiety and depression; medical problems such as hyperthyroidism, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, and hormonal fluctuations of the female monthly cycle, may all lead to insomnia. There may also be a genetic link. Many prescription medications contain caffeine, a side effect of which may lead to transient insomnia. Our need for sleep changes over the life cycle. While an infant needs sixteen or more hours of sleep a day; a typical adult requires around eight hours; and the elderly often only need five or six hours sleep a night to function normally.
A doctor may prescribe sleeping tablets, but these are only suitable for short-term treatment, as they tend to be addictive and become ineffective with prolonged use. In most cases there are preventative steps people can adopt to ease this problem. A regular sleep routine, going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day, is vital. If regular sleep patterns have become disrupted it is crucial they be restored as quickly as possible.
There are many techniques available to ensure a good night’s sleep, which have proven of help to insomniacs. Stop work at least an hour before going to sleep and have a hot bath. Avoid naps during the day or evening. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex, not working or watching television. Do not exercise just before bedtime, take time to relax and wind down. Try reading for half an hour before going to bed. Avoid drinks containing caffeine such as tea, coffee or cola; a warm milky drink may help. Avoid eating a big meal within a couple of hours of bedtime; a light snack may be beneficial. Learn relaxation techniques. Keep the bedroom relatively cool.
Don’t lie in bed worrying if you can’t go to sleep, the harder you try to fall asleep the less likely you are to do so. Never lie in bed tossing and turning. If you are still awake after half an hour get up and try a relaxing activity, maybe reading a newspaper or watching television, then get back into bed. Remember, worrying about insomnia, sometimes to the point of obsession, does more harm to people than does the lack of sleep itself.