Health A to Z

Insomnia

Desperately seeking sleep? Get tips for how to prevent and treat insomnia now.

Insomnia causes symptoms treatment

Counting the ceiling tiles when you wish you were catching some zzzs? You may have insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you have the condition, you may wake in the middle of the night or awaken too early in the morning and be unable to fall back to sleep. Insomniacs also describe waking up and not feeling refreshed or rested. About 3.3 million Canadians have insomnia. It’s the most common sleep complaint.

Insomnia causes Stress, anxiety and depression are common causes of insomnia, which has also been linked to chronic conditions, such as diabetes and arthritis. Older adults and shift workers are at greater risk for insomnia; being obese may also up the risk of having sleeping troubles. Women lose sleep due to their periods, pregnancy, and menopause. Some medications cause insomnia as a side effect; the condition can also be brought on by smoking, drinking too much caffeineor drinking too much alcohol.

Insomnia symptoms Sleeplessness is common. The condition is considered chronic when a person has trouble falling or staying asleep three or more nights a week, their daytime functioning is affected and the insomnia lasts for more than one month, according to the Canadian Sleep Society. Insomnia can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as stress.

Insomnia diagnosis/tests If you suspect you might be an insomniac, see your doctor who will likely discuss your symptoms, any stressors in your life and take your medical history. Depending on what your doctor learns, she may order blood tests or psychological tests or ask you to keep track of your symptoms by keeping a sleep diary.

Insomnia treatment Medications and behavior therapy are the main treatments for insomnia.

Sleep medications may help alleviate sleep disturbances caused by medical conditions or stress. However, experts say they should only be used for a short period due to the risk of dependency when used on a nightly basis.

Behaviour therapy may help ease tension and improve sleep habits, including relaxation exercises, unwinding slowly before going to sleep, going to bed only when tired, getting out of bed and engage in a quiet activity if sleep is not forthcoming, waking up at the same time each day, avoiding daytime napping, and using the bedroom for sleep and sex only.

Insomnia prevention Making a few lifestyle changes can help prevent sleepless nights:

• Get regular exercise but avoid working out too close to bedtime.

• Spend some time in the sun to regulate your circadian rhythms.

• Avoid nicotine and caffeine.

• Engage in stress-reducing activities, such as meditation and yoga that will calm you.

If you’re still experiencing insomnia, seek help from your physician to tackle the problem before it leads to something more serious, like depression.

More info from Chatelaine

Sleep better tonight!

Outside resources
Canadian Sleep Society
National Sleep Foundation

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