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Insomnia: Causes and Treatment

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Asmau Mohammed
I am a medical student and I love discussing all things health related. I also love being a health or lifestyle coach.

Insomnia means difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It could also be the perception of poor quality or amount of sleep, that is, not feeling well rested. Insomnia occurs among all age groups but occurs mostly among adults, especially women. Insomnia is generally divided into three types based on the duration of which it remains.

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  1. Transient insomnia: this is when the symptoms last for just less than a week.
  2. Short term insomnia: when the symptoms last between 1-3 weeks.
  3. Chronic insomnia: these are when the symptoms last for over three weeks.

Insomnia is common among those in lower working groups, long time alcoholics, people diagnosed with mental health illness, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia may be caused by various things. Some causes are based on normal situational habits, some may be due to the environment in which one tries to sleep, that is external factors, some causes are as a result of underlying illnesses while some are due to medications. Stress triggers short term insomnia, but it becomes chronic if ignored.

Insomnia has been linked to depression and anxiety although the relationship isn’t quite understood yet but it may be as a result of changes in hormone levels. The major causes of transient and short term insomnia include:

  • Unpleasant or loud noises
  • Stress: stress that may be as a result of upcoming exams, loss of a loved one, family crisis, financial difficulty, unemployment, etc.
  • Withdrawal from hard drugs, sedatives, alcohol, etc
  • High altitudes
  • Jet lag
  • Disruption of patterns such as changes in schedule at work, school, etc
  • Uncomfortable room temperature
  • Physical inconveniences such as cough, pain, headaches, fever, diarrhea, etc.

The major causes of chronic insomnia are usually as a result of underlying medical conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress
  • Anxiety

Some physical health problems such as:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Acid reflux disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Chronic pain syndromes
  • Nocturnal angina
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke
  • Nightly asthma

As side effects of some medications such as:

  • Asthma treatment medication
  • Steroid medications for inflammation
  • Prescription for upper respiratory congestion
  • Depression, anxiety medications

Others:

  • Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine: intake of these stimulants, not only at night, but also during the day may contribute to insomnia
  • Alcohol intake
  • Up close noise such as snoring from bed partner
  • Discomfort such as the temperature, type of clothes worn to sleep, the place one sleeps, etc
  • Attention demands from raising a newborn: the constant crying of a new born disrupts the sleep of the family
  • Fear and paranoia

Some of the people at risk of having insomnia are:

  • Travelers
  • Pregnant women
  • New mothers
  • Menopausal women
  • Adolescents or young adults
  • Shift workers
  • People that abuse drugs
  • Alcoholics

Sleeping Disorders

Some conditions are associated with insomnia with the absence of underlying conditions. These are termed primary sleeping disorders in which the sleep disorder is the main cause of insomnia. They generally cause chronic insomnia. Some of them are

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  • Idiopathic insomnia: these may run in the family. It starts in early stages of life and could result in life long sleeping disorders.
  • Restless leg syndrome: in this case, the individual feels a weird uncomfortable sensation in the legs that may hinder sleeping
  • Periodic limb movement disorder: in this case, the leg moves on its own during sleep without the control of the individual
  • Insufficient sleep syndrome: when the individual is not getting enough sleep due environmental situations
  • Central sleep apnea: this is a complex sleep disorder. It may be caused by other conditions such as high altitude, hypoxia, heart failure, etc.
  • Poor sleep hygiene: in which case the person has poor sleeping preparation habits.

Treatment

Treatment of insomnia is mainly by removing the underlying problems such as:

  • sleeping in a quite environment
  • getting a night time nurse to care for the new baby
  • sleeping in comfortable clothing
  • reducing intake of stimulants like caffeine
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Adapting to new schedules and patterns

Insomnia may also be cured by doing specific things that induce sleep such as:

  • Night time yoga
  • Using prescribed sleep aids, although this should come as a last resort
  • Therapy

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