When it comes to sleep, the most important thing is its quality, more than its quantity. How you feel during waking hours depends a lot on how well you sleep. Similarly, remedies for a restful sleep can often be found in your daily routine.
Should I see a doctor if I can’t sleep?
Almost everyone has an occasional sleepless night, but if you have more problems with sleep, go see your doctor. If you feel tired and cannot complete your duties for a 2–3-week period, you may have a sleep problem. Identifying and treating any underlying cause can help you have a better sleep.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting at least 30% of people at some point in their lifetime. The two main aspects of insomnia are the repeated difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep and the disorders of sleep quality: a sleep delay over 30 minutes, sleep under 6 hours, at least 3 awakenings per night, unsatisfactory sleep.
The need for sleep varies from person to person; on average, one adult sleeps 7 to 8 hours per night. Women, medium-age adults, and elderly people, people working in shifts, patients with medical and psychiatric disorders are the most predisposed for insomnia.
After pain, insomnia is the most common reason for making an appointment with the doctor. Insomnia is a possible risk factor for a number of other conditions.
Considered one of the most widespread, untreated modern conditions, insomnia can affect the cardiovascular system, decrease concentration power and increase the risk of obesity.
What causes insomnia?
On one hand, most of the time, stress is the main cause of insomnia. On the other hand, several days in a row with insufficient sleep can lead to even more stress, thus creating a vicious circle. Below are the most common causes of insomnia:
- The existence of physical or mental illness – muscular or joint problems, urinary incontinence, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous leg syndrome, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. manifests itself in insomnia. If insomnia occurs as a symptom of another disease, by treating the original cause, sleep problems will also be alleviated.
- Some medicines – taking medication can contribute to the emergence of insomnia. Thus, some antidepressants, epilepsy medication, hypertension medicines, or ADHD treatments may cause insomnia.
- Hormonal disorders – the overactive thyroid gland or hyperthyroidism may cause insomnia.
- The consumption of caffeine or alcohol before bedtime.
- Extreme temperatures – if the temperature is too high or too low, insomnia may occur. Experts recommend a temperature of 18-19 degrees Celsius for the bedroom.
- Changing the circadian rhythm – business trips, especially in areas with different time zones, can lead to insomnia. Also, the shift work, alternating day and night hours, can overturn sleep.
Many people face sleep problems from time to time, but there is a greater risk of insomnia for:
- Women – hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, in pregnancy, or later in menopause, can play a role in the emergence of insomnia.
- People over 60 years of age – changing daily routine, as well as a higher risk of chronic conditions, can lead to insomnia among the elderly.
- Persons exposed to continuous stress – if stressful periods cause temporary insomnia, the professional activity that includes prolonged exposure to stress may lead to the occurrence of chronic insomnia.
- People who do not have a routine of sleep – chaotic and irregular evenings can have an increased risk of insomnia.
Insomnia usually means lack of sleep, but there are other symptoms of this disease:
- Difficulty in going to sleep;
- Night wake-up, sometimes more than once;
- Restless sleep;
- Concentration problems;
- General fatigue;
- Gastrointestinal problems – people with insomnia often face irritable intestine syndrome, gastric burns, or indigestion.
Types of insomnia
Insomnia may be classified according to duration and cause. Thus, depending on its duration, insomnia may be:
- Temporary (passing) – has a maximum duration of three nights in a row;
- Acute (short-term) – may last for several weeks,
- Chronic – it spreads over several months or years. In general, it is caused by other medical problems.
Depending on the cause, insomnia may be:
- Caused by the ingestion of medicines or other substances – is encountered in the case of chronic patients, who are undergoing certain medicinal treatments, but also in those who consume energy drinks, coffee or alcohol in large quantities.
- Caused by some medical conditions – for example, arthritis, apnea in sleep, joint pain or mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Without a specific cause – insomnia can be caused by external factors such as loud noise, stressful work hours, or using mobile devices before bedtime.
Sleep stages during the night
The brain is not “asleep” during the night. It works to restore the body, and rest is essential in this process. Sleep is divided into several stages, one after another: Steps 1, 2, 3, which represent non-REM sleep, and then REM sleep.
Stage 1 – the first stage of sleep is a superficial one, in which a person keeps their eyes closed, but any noise can wake them up. It lasts 5 to 10 minutes.
Step 2 – Body temperature and heart rate decrease to fall in the deep sleep.
Step 3 – the deep sleep is installed, from which the person can be hardly woken up.
REM Sleep – occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep, and the first phase takes about 10 minutes. After that, each stage becomes longer and longer, the last one being up to 60 minutes. This stage is where dreams are happening.
The need for sleep by age
In general, night sleep time varies according to age. According to sleep experts, it is good to keep in mind the following standards:
- Newborn babies – 14-17 hours per day;
- Children under 5 years of age – 10-13 hours per day;
- Children between 6 and 13 years of age – 9-11 hours per day,
- Children between 14 and 17 years of age – 8-10 hours per day,
- Adults – 7-9 hours per day;
- People over 65 years old – 7-8 hours per day.
Diagnosis of insomnia
In order to have a diagnosis, the doctor will carry out several investigations. The following are the most commonly used:
Physical examination – the doctor will perform a physical examination to find out whether there are any signs of medical problems that could cause insomnia. Blood tests are sometimes needed to see if the patient has any thyroid or other problems.
A quiz about sleep – the doctor will ask the patient about the quality of sleep, as well as the effects of the lack of sleep on the daily state. Sometimes the patient is advised to keep a sleep log for 1-2 weeks. As a general rule, it should contain information about the bedtime and awakening hour and the level of fatigue.
Polynomiograph testing – this is a device that records the reactions of the body during sleep. In order to achieve this, the person has to spend one night at the hospital or at the clinic. The device will monitor cerebral waves, respiration, pulse, and eye and body movements. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided at least 3-4 hours before the test is carried out.
The treatment of insomnia depends on the cause. The doctor may recommend both psychotherapy and medication such as:
- Sleeping pills – are recommended especially in severe cases of insomnia and only for a short term.
- Antidepressants – are especially indicated if insomnia has occurred on the background of undiagnosed depression. These should never be taken without the doctor’s recommendation, as they could have adverse effects.
- Melatonin – is particularly recommended for people over 60 and can calm down light insomnia, helping to regulate the sleep cycle.
- Antihistamines – provide a state of somnolence, although they are not considered sleeping pills. They can speed up sleep, but increase the risk of sleep during the day. They must only be taken after a discussion with the doctor.
On the other hand, if insomnia is caused by a chronic disease not detected previously, its treatment may also lead to improved sleep.
As insomnia frequently occurs on a stress background, besides medicines, complementary therapies can be tested. Breathing exercises or even meditation can help to complete the classic treatment for insomnia. These relaxation techniques help to reduce stress, and regular practice can help to reduce insomnia.
You can also try aromatherapy, acupuncture, and reflexology for treating insomnia. Although there are no substantial studies in this field, such activities help you to relax. Inhaling the steam of essential diluted oil in water, as well as massage with a mixture of essential oil and olive oil, helps the body to release itself and can provide a good condition, perfect before bedtime. The effect is similar in the case of acupuncture or other complementary forms that help relax the body and mind.
Recommendations for a good sleep
The sleep schedule, the bedtime routine, and the choice of a daily lifestyle can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep during the night. The following tips will help you optimize your sleep so that you could be very productive, emotionally balanced, and full of energy throughout the day.
- Make a well-established sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same hour every day, even on weekends or holidays. Being consistent by consolidating a sleep cycle for your body, will help you sleep better at night. There is, however, a warning. If you cannot fall asleep in about 15 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing. You return to bed when you feel you are really tired.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Don’t go to bed if you’re hungry or full. Your discomfort may keep you awake. Also, set a limit on drinks before bedtime to prevent the need to go to the toilet. Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol must be carefully treated. The effects of nicotine and caffeine stimulation can take a few hours and may cause sleep-quality problems.
- Create a sleep routine. Do the same things every night to tell your body when it’s time to go to sleep. This ritual could include a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to relaxing music. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by facilitating the transition between being awake and sleep. Stop watching TV or other electronic devices as part of the bed routine. Some research suggests that the time spent in front of the screen before sleep interferes with sleep.
- Get a state of comfort. Create a room that is ideal to sleep in. Often, this means that the place is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using dark shades, using earplugs, a fan, or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs. The mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep. Since good bed linen characteristics are subjective, choose what makes you feel comfortable. If you have children or pets, try to set limits on how to sleep.
- Include physical activities in your daily routine. Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, so it will help you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is very important, however. If you exercise near your sleep hour, you may be full of energy and you will not be able to sleep. If this seems to be a problem for you, exercise earlier than your bedtime hour.
- Manage the stress – when you have too much to do and think only about those problems, it is likely that your sleep will get to suffer. To help restore your well-being, consider various healthy ways to manage stress. Start with basic elements such as organization, prioritization, and task delegation. Take a break when you need it or share a smile, a good joke with a friend. Before bedtime, note what is in your mind.
Food that helps you sleep better
Nothing is more unpleasant than insomnia, and the evidence gathered shows that sleep is essential for good health. Although the research into the types of food you need for better sleep is not yet conclusive, various evidence suggests that some foods consumed just before sleep are more likely to be “sleep promoters” while others may “steal sleep”.
You may have pleasant memories about the glass of hot milk that helped you sleep. The milk contains tryptophan amino acid, which is a precursor of serotonin, a chemical substance from the brain. Although the issue is controversial, some people believe that tryptophan and serotonin can help you sleep in peace. A glass of milk helps you calm down and sleep.
Jasmine rice has a very important place in terms of the glycemic index, which means that the organism is digesting it slowly, gradually releasing glucose into the blood. A study found that this type of Jasmine rice consumed four hours before bedtime considerably reduces the amount of time needed to fall asleep.
Carbohydrates are generally good for sleep, but it is not a good idea to consume a lot of such foods before bedtime (or at any time of day). Instead, try a small bowl of wheat-containing complex carbohydrates. Moreover, cereals are better consumed with milk, which has its own features that help to improve the quality of sleep. Other complex carbohydrates are quinoa, barley, or buckwheat.
Bananas help improve sleep, as they contain natural magnesium and potassium that help to relax muscles. Besides these, they also contain carbohydrates, which help for a qualitative sleep. In fact, bananas are health promoters, so a certain amount of potassium helps promote cardiovascular health and good cognitive function.
Like milk, turkey meat contains tryptophan, a chemical substance that can cause people to fall asleep in front of the TV after dinner. If you are an insomniac, a turkey-meat table or a glass of milk will not help much. Some doctors say you should drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of turkey meat in order to have a major effect on your sleep.
Sweet potatoes are recommended to be consumed by people who don’t sleep well. Not only do they offer a complex of carbohydrates that promote sleep, but they also contain myorelaxant potassium. Other good sources of potassium include regular consumption of beans and papaya.
Valerian root has been demonstrated in some studies to accelerate the onset of sleep and improve the quality of sleep. Some specialists claim that valerian tea, together with chamomile, will help you sleep well.
Insomnia is, without a doubt, a disease of modern people. It is caused by stress, technology, social relations, and problems of all kinds. Maybe the evolution of man is not as spectacular as that of technology, but we have the capacity to adapt to all the changes taking place in our life. Not only can insomnia be treated, but it can also be “educated”. Sleep will always be a necessity for a healthy and challenging life.