Takeaway: Although it may feel like it’s hopeless when you have insomnia, there are many things that you can do to help deal with it. To figure out how to cure your insomnia, you need to get to the bottom of WHY you have insomnia. From then on, you can work towards fixing the underlying cause of your irritating sleep disorder.
If you’ve been suffering from terrible sleep problems for a long enough time that it’s starting to be a cause of concern, you may be asking yourself “do I have insomnia?” Don’t worry; if you do, it’s not the end of the world although it may feel like it when you’re sleep deprived. This guide takes you through what insomnia is, what the most common symptoms and forms are, and how you can deal with it.
What Is Insomnia?
The world’s most common sleep disorder, insomnia can be defined as the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or fall back asleep after waking up. Someone suffering from insomnia may experience any combination of these sleep difficulties. Insomnia may disturb your sleep for a brief period of time, or be chronic. Once insomnia becomes chronic, it may adversely affect your relationships, social life, performance at work, and mental and physical health.
Insomnia should not be confused with the sleep disorder hypersomnia. This disorder involves excessive tiredness throughout the day, regardless of how much sleep you get at night. Hypersomnia is actually the opposite of insomnia.
There are many different types of insomnia because there are a variety of causes. Symptoms can range from light and short-term to debilitating and chronic. Below are some of the most common symptoms that you may experience when suffering from insomnia.
- Having a hard time falling asleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Not feeling rested and refreshed after a night’s sleep
- Feeling tired during the day
- Anxiety, irritability, and depression
- Having a hard time paying attention, focussing, or remembering
- More accidents and mistakes than usual
- Prolonged concerns regarding sleep
Weighted Blankets for Anxiety and Insomnia
Recently, one treatment for anxiety and insomnia has rapidly surged in popularity –the weighted blanket. These blankets are comforters that have small pellets or metal chains woven throughout them to distribute an even weight across the body when on top of someone. One 2006 study found that 63% of its participants reported lower anxiety levels after using weighted blankets. A different 2015 study showed an increase in sleep time, a decrease in nighttime movement, and an easier time falling asleep in its patients that used weighted blankets.
Research shows that patients tend to prefer weighted blankets that weigh at least 10% of their body weight. For adults, we recommend the Gravity Blanket, which comes in a 15lb, 20lb and 25lb variant. For teenagers and children, we recommend Melissa’s Weighted Blankets, which have twenty variations from 5lbs to 25lbs.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia comes in many forms depending on how it manifests and what causes it. If you feel you may have insomnia, read through this list of insomnia types and find out exactly what each one means.
This type of insomnia is characterized as a period of difficulty with sleep that lasts less than one week and usually resolves itself without treatment. Symptoms may vary, including the inability to fall asleep, daytime sleepiness, and waking early in the morning. Transient insomnia causes are as follows:
- Jet lag
- Stress and anxiety
- Medication side effects
- Cold or flu
Also referred to as adjustment insomnia, this brief period of insomnia typically lasts less than one month. It’s classified by sleep disruption of at least three nights each week. Acute insomnia is actually surprisingly common, with 20% of people experiencing it each year. Acute insomnia causes are as follows:
- Major life event (moving, job change)
- Stress and anxiety
- Adjustment to a higher altitude
- Third trimester of pregnancy
- Illness or pain after surgery
This type of insomnia often occurs alongside another illness or disorder. Psychiatric issues that comorbid insomnia usually coincides with include anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. When it comes to medical conditions, comorbid insomnia usually occurs in those that cause chronic pain like arthritis, cancer, shingles, migraine headaches, and fibromyalgia.
If you have difficulty with falling asleep at the beginning of the night, you might have onset insomnia. This type of insomnia is extremely common and is classified as a delay in sleep that lasts more than thirty minutes at a time. Onset insomnia can be temporary, acute or chronic, and can occur alone or along with middle and/or late insomnia. Causes of onset insomnia are as follows:
- Stress and anxiety
- Alcohol or caffeine consumption
- Using electronics before bed
Also referred to as sleep offset or terminal insomnia, this type is classified as waking up too early and being unable to go back to sleep. This typically happens between 2:00 am and 4:00 am, but only requires waking up 30 minutes early or more at least three nights a week. Causes of late insomnia are as follows:
- Clinical depression
- Low blood sugar
- Changes in room temperature
- Emotional grief or stress
- Noise or light
This type of insomnia is classified as a period of sleep difficulty lasting less than three months. Short-term insomnia is extremely common, occurring in as many as 20% of people per year. The causes of short-term insomnia are as follows:
- Traumatic event (divorce or death in the family)
- Moving to a new home
- Financial woes
- Medical condition or illness
- Difficulties with employment
- Birth of a child
Also referred to as insomnia disorder, this type of insomnia is a long-term pattern of problematic sleeping that lasts longer than three months for three or more nights each week. Chronic insomnia may develop from the anxiety that’s induced from having acute or short-term insomnia, turning into a lifelong struggle. Insomnia disorder is shockingly common, affecting around 10% of American adults. The causes of chronic insomnia are as follows:
- Negative feelings towards attempts to sleep or the sleep environment
- Head injuries
- Hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system
- Excess release of the stress hormone cortisol
The effects of chronic insomnia can be damaging, including diminished alertness, higher risk of occupational injury, cognitive impairment and mood swings.
The term “idiopathic insomnia” has been historically used to refer to insomnia that has no apparent cause. However, recent research has found that idiopathic insomnia is likely caused by a hyperarousal of the central nervous system, creating an excess production of stress hormones. This could be due to the body’s response to stress being dysfunctional, making it remain in a hypervigilant state and continuing to release stress hormones like cortisol.
Insomnia During Pregnancy
As previously discussed, one of acute insomnia’s most common causes is being in the third trimester of pregnancy. But, precisely what about pregnancy causes this insomnia?
- Larger abdomen causing discomfort
- Back pain
- Frequent urination throughout the night
- Anxiety and Stress
- Thinking about giving birth
- Frequent vivid dreams and nightmares
- Changes in hormones
Of course, many of these causes are unavoidable when it comes to pregnancy. When you’re with child, you’re supposed to accept that your body will be taking a lot of damage from the effects your pregnancy has on it. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to counteract the things that cause pregnancy insomnia. Here are some things that you can do to help you get more sleep while pregnant.
- Try different sleeping positions. Since you have a lot of new weight in your body, a different position might be more comfortable for an 8-hour rest.
- Before bed, try taking a warm bath. This will relax the muscles and lower your body temperature when you get out, helping to trigger your circadian rhythm.
- Set the mood. Make sure that your thermostat has been set to a comfortable sleeping temperature. If relaxing music or natural sounds help you sleep, put those on in the background.
- Try some relaxation techniques to get your mind ready to relax and fall asleep. One of the best ways to do this is through meditation; there’s actually meditation specifically made for pregnant women!
- If you’re having trouble getting to sleep at the beginning of the night, stop trying to force it. Instead, take a break by reading a book, eating a snack or drinking something warm (and caffeine free) to get your mind off trying to sleep and your body towards feeling sleepy.
- Try to exercise regularly throughout the day. This may be easier said than done, especially if you’ve got a lot of new weight to carry around, but trying to use your body more throughout the day will help it feel tired once nighttime rolls around.
- If you’re losing sleep at night and you have the opportunity to get some rest during the day, then take it. Just keep your naps short, around 20 minutes in length. Anything longer will further disrupt your sleep schedule.
Often also referred to as middle insomnia, this type is classified as difficulty staying asleep. If you often find yourself waking up once or more during the night with trouble getting back to sleep, you might have sleep-maintenance insomnia.
There are many causes for sleep-maintenance insomnia, but the most common ones are as follows:
- Alcohol use
- Disorders that cause chronic pain
- Babies who wake up in the middle of the night to be fed
One interesting cause of sleep-maintenance insomnia is menopause, which is the time in a woman’s life when her menstruation stops because her ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Because estrogen assists in the proper function of essential neurotransmitters that are involved in sleep, a sharp decline in estrogen levels may disturb circadian rhythms.
Sleep-maintenance insomnia also often occurs in conjunction with other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and REM sleep behavior disorder.
How to Deal With Insomnia
Medical professionals all come to the same consensus when discussing how to treat insomnia. To cure your insomnia, you must understand the underlying reason why it’s occurring. This is most often anxiety and stress caused by something in your life that’s creating those feelings. By then fixing those underlying issues, you’ll begin to see a change in the insomnia you’re experiencing. However, if taking that step is a little too ambitious or unrealistic, here are a few smaller things you can do to help facilitate better sleep:
- Maintain a healthy sleep routine. If you have insomnia, it’s important to wake up at the same time every day in order to train your body to wake itself at a consistent time naturally. It may be tempting to sleep in on the weekends, but you must resist!
- Take away alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. If you have insomnia, coffee may not be a good idea. One of the biggest ingestible culprits when messing with sleep is caffeine, which can affect your body for up to 24 hours after drinking. Alcohol and nicotine are also great at messing up your sleep schedule, sedating you and stimulating you in large quantities at the wrong times.
- Don’t take naps. Or, try to take as little naps as possible. If you nap too long during the daytime, you won’t be tired enough when night comes around for your body to naturally go to sleep. Only take power naps that last less than 20 minutes so as to not interfere with your sleep schedule.
Essential Oils for Insomnia
If you’d like to treat your insomnia the natural way, and without any over-the-counter sleep aids that may do more harm than good, consider using essential oils.
This powerful flower’s oil is able to calm the nervous system down by lowering your blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature. Coincidentally, all of these things happen during the body’s natural circadian rhythm to initiate sleep, making lavender a great supplement to help you fall asleep. Research has shown that lavender essential oil can alleviate mild insomnia and reduce anxious thoughts by changing your brain waves, which puts you into a more relaxed state. We recommend Healing Solutions’ Therapeutic Grade Lavender Essential Oil.
The essential oil derived from this perennial herb has been shown to have relaxing and sleep-inducing effects. This may be because it contains several chemical compounds that have been shown to aid in sleep, as well as its ability to relax the muscles and calm emotions. Research shows that sweet marjoram has a powerful calming and sedating effect on the nervous system, which helps to lower blood pressure, ease nervous tension and decrease hyperactivity. We recommend Eden’s Garden Good Night Essential Oil Synergy Blend, which includes lavender, sweet marjoram, and Roman chamomile oil.
An ancient herb with sedative and relaxing properties, Roman chamomile has been historically used to treat insomnia. One study showed that the inhalation of chamomile essential oil vapor reduced the level of stress hormone levels, like cortisol, in the blood’s plasma. We recommend Sun Organic’s Roman Chamomile Essential Oil.