Why Can’t I Sleep?
Insufficient or poor sleep can accelerate signs of aging… just look in the mirror after a bad night’s sleep. That “tired looking face” soon crystallizes to a permanent state: dark rings under puffy eyes, fine lines that deepen, and a dull skin. But there’s more … sleepiness
- causes accidents
- reduces our capacity to learn (sleep is important to consolidate memories)
- reduces our capacity to remain sharp and make effective judgements
- adversely affects one’s libido (sex drive).
- Insufficient sleep (chronic) can lead to serious health problems and
- weight gain and
- can lead to depression
Do you often awaken during the night and can’t get back to sleep? The typical “always wake up at 3.33am” then stay awake for too long? Reach for a single Stress & Tension pilule, dissolve it under the toungue and doze back to sleep the required time till morning …
What is insomnia? … a regular difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep all night. Some people fall asleep then awaken and cannot fall back to sleep again. The result: tiredness during the day.
We’re supposed to fall asleep at night, sleep as long as our body needs (approx 8 hours but reducing as we age), to awaken refreshed and ready the seize the day!
What are the causes?
Most of us could recite a pretty accurate list ourselves:
- too much coffee / caffeine – a stimulant
- death of a loved one
But there are other causes:
- some medications
- alcohol (stimulant)
- smoking close to bedtime (nicotine is a stimulant)
- a heavy meal close to bedtime
the above three can be remedied by yourself
- no clear cause and this is referred to as primary insomnia
- another sleep problem:
- snoring (gets worse with age and weight gain)
- obstructive sleep apnea (can be caused by a narrow and floppy throat. Weight loss, cutting back on alcohol or using a physical device are helpful options)
- sleep hypoventilation (we autonomically breathe when asleep, but if those muscles are weak or excessively loaded due to excess weight or from severe lung disorders, one may not be able to breathe deeply enough during sleep. This can be a very serious condition).
- restless legs (some people feel discomfort in their legs and moving them tends to relieve it; whilst it may be manageable during the day with all the distractions, it presents severe discomfort at night as it tends to be worse during evening and early hours of the morning. Naturally, this disrupts normal sleep. There are medications for it and sometimes an iron deficiency brings it on)
- grinding the teeth (bruxism) (a dental guard can be used to prevent dental damage and jaw discomfort)
- narcolepsy (this serious condition involves the unstable switching between being awake and asleep. It occurs to 1 in 2000 people and needs treatment which apparently work well)
- sleep walking (sleep walking and sleep talking is more common with children and can disappear in adulthood. This condition, which occurs when the person is just partially awakened, can persevere into adulthood and can be accompanied by more complex behaviours (eg binge eating). Treatments are available.
- nightmares (again, occurs when the person is just partially awake, and more common in children [and by the way for Guardians of the Animal Kingdom, cockatiels can experienced this when young!] Naturally, this is disturbing and frightening for the sufferer which can lead to increased anxiety about bedtime. Again, there is treatment in the form of counseling and/or medication)
- REM behaviour disorder (we dream during the REM phase of sleep [Rapid Eye Movement]. During the REM phase, our limb muscles are relaxed and whilst we dream, we are quite still. But these muscles are active during this sleep phase for those with this disorder and they can act out their dreams with violent movements and lashing out being a physical threat to both themselves and their sleep partner. Again, fortunately there are treatments).
How does insomnia differ to sleep apnea?
With sleep apnea, a person’s airway is partly or totally blocked whilst they sleep and naturally their oxygen levels drop. This causes the person to wake briefly, they breathe again, then sleep with this cycle repeatedly occurring through the night, many dozens of times. People with this condition often report that they are unable to sleep – insomnia.
Who is prone to insomnia?
Most of us will have this unpleasant experience at some time in our life and often we can identify the cause ourselves, and it will remedy when the situation resolves, eg: worry over our job or finances or an emotional issue. Statistically about 10% of people have mild insomnia at any one time so we are not alone.
Gender-wise, women are effected more than men (twice the rate in fact) and this, according to data, may be related to anxiety and depression.
Shift-workers with unnatural sleep schedules are at risk;
And older people with poor health … all these risk factors can be quite reasonably understood.
So what are we to do?
That is going to be determined by the cause, so one needs to be self-aware and honest with ourselves to recognise if our insomnia is being brought on by our own behaviours, in which case, we need to address them…
If caffeine intake is the cause, of course we can choose to reduce it and perhaps cease caffeine intake from midday.
If we are depressed or anxious, we might need some expert therapy who can assist bring in coping strategies if we can’t remove the cause/s.
Sleeping medication may be prescribed for certain cases (such as immediately after the loss of a loved one) but we must be mindful that long-term, sleeping tablets became less effective, and addictive.
Some alternatives are available such as homoeopathic remedies including Stress and Tension (insomnia).
The calcium in milk can make one drowsy so for mild and occasional insomnia, getting out of bed for a cup of a hot milk drink may do the trick.
A really nice dark bedroom can help – this is my favourite … cover any light sources, even standby lights on TVs etc. This is the melatonin link … at night, our body temperature drops, our metabolism slows and our melatonin levels increases dramatically. By sunrise, our melatonin levels are falling and we wake up. We need brightness in our day so the contrast between a bright day and dark night needs to be present for this natural circadian rhythm to work as it should. It’s the sun’s day/night cycle and we have evolved with it for millions of years. So being in a dull environment during the day, and a too-bright environment at night weakens this light/dark contrast. You can easily change this. Those who are blind are sometimes given melatonin at regular times to help them maintain this natural rhythm despite lacking the visual cues that most of us have.
Whilst a short nap (approx 20mins) mid afternoon can be beneficial according to studies, too long a sleep may interfere with our night sleep.
And the “old wives tale” … an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight … can anyone comment on this?
Daily exercise irrespective of time has been strongly linked to improved sleep.
A warm bath an hour or so before bed increases ones core body temperature which then decreases when one gets out of the bath. This temperature reduction signals the body it is time to sleep … this reminds me of my Mum telling me that her Mum suggested to get out of bed if unable to sleep, get a bit cool, then head back to bed again. Seems to be the same principal! So, wherever you are at with your sleeping situation, if you are not awakening refreshed, perhaps you can take steps to improve that.
And if you need more help from Australian professionals, try http://www.sleep.org.au/information/sleep-services-directory
We are not healthcare or medical professionals and the information contained here is not to be taken as medical advice. It is recommended that you consult you healthcare professional prior to taking any supplements and always read the label, use only as directed, and if symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional.