Back to Basics: Starting with Sleep

What is insomnia and how do I know if I have it?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder affecting millions of people worldwide. Individuals with insomnia typically experience a variety of sleep disturbances, such as trouble falling asleep, frequent waking throughout the night, difficulty falling back asleep during the night, and waking up too early in the morning. Other signs and symptoms of disturbed sleep include fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and feeling anxious around bedtime. 

Insomnia is classified into 3 categories based on the duration of poor sleep patterns: 

  • Transient insomnia: sleep disturbances lasting fewer than 4 weeks. 
  • Acute or short-term insomnia: inability to sleep well for a period of 4 weeks to 6 months. 
  • Chronic insomnia: poor sleep patterns on most nights lasting longer than 6 months. 

We all know that losing a night’s sleep can leave us feeling unrefreshed on waking, but aside from that daytime grogginess, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a whole slew of health concerns. 

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is a basic function that is absolutely essential to our overall health. Sleep is one of the most critical times for healing and allows our bodies time to repair and rejuvenate. Although occasional restless nights are often normal, prolonged sleep deprivation can contribute to hormone imbalances, mood disorders, and a weakened immune system.  Losing sleep can impair concentration, memory, judgment and reaction time. It also impedes learning and affects our ability to make decisions. This is because during sleep our brains are processing information, consolidating memories, clearing out waste and recharging their energy stores. Research demonstrates that sleep also helps regulate appetite-stimulating and appetite-suppressing hormones. Therefore, a lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain. If poor sleep continues it can ultimately lead to deterioration in the brain, as well as increase the risk of developing a number of health problems. Research suggests that adults should ideally get an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night, although sleep needs may vary. It is important to remember that quality counts too. Reaching deep stages of sleep is vital to the restorative rest that will allow our bodies and minds to function optimally.

What causes Insomnia?

As with many disorders, the cause of insomnia varies between individuals. Sleep disturbances often result from an underlying medical or psychological condition such as sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, menopause, pregnancy, depression, and chronic pain conditions. Various medications can also disrupt sleep. Excessive stress and certain lifestyle choices may contribute to sleep issues as well. Specifically, excessive caffeine intake, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking before bed, and frequent or excessive napping can cause insufficient sleep. Lastly, it is important to consider the influence of environmental factors like noise, temperature changes, or disruptions to the regular sleep pattern caused by shift-work or jet lag. For optimal treatment, it is important to properly assess the cause of sleeping problems. 

10 Commandments for a Better Sleep

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
  • Establish a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine
  • Avoid your intake of caffeine in coffee, tea and soft drinks 
  • Don’t eat large meals late in the evening
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking before bed
  • Use your bedroom for sleeping only (not working, watching TV, etc.)
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature
  • Avoid daytime naps
  • Get some exercise every day - but not in the late evening
  • If you can't sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading, deep breathing, or meditation