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Insomnia is a condition characterized by sleep disturbances or difficulty in initiating and/or maintaining sleep. Insomnia may develop alone or be a symptom of a larger problem. Insomnia is not a disorder, it is a symptom. Insomnia is a term that is used often to indicate any and all stages and types of sleep loss.
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Although it is not unusual for people to occasionally have difficulty sleeping, insomnia is when these sleep disturbances become frequent and affects the person in their day to day lives. This often takes shape in problems falling asleep, waking often during the night and being unable to re-establish sleep and awaking too early in the mornings.
Sleep deficit often affects the body and the mind. A lack of sleep often causes irritability, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.
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Insomnia can be disastrous to work, school life, marital life or social standing. Lapsed concentration and constant sleepiness can result in tardiness, lower productivity and poor grades. A lack of sleep also suppresses the immune system and can make the body more prone to disease. Irritability and fatigue harm social lives and let hobbies fall to the wayside.
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Stress is often implicated in cases of insomnia. Life changes such as the loss of a loved one, work difficulties can leave people unable to sleep as they contemplate their dilemmas. Environmental factors such as light, noise and extreme high or low temperatures can often cause insomnia when present. Illnesses and their symptoms can also result in difficulty sleeping, as can time disturbances such as jet lag or a switch in waking hours resulting from a change in job shift.
There are different kinds of insomnia and causation is usually evident:
- Toxin-Related Insomnia: Persons that are poisoned or those who develop high serum levels of certain organic toxins or heavy metals can develop insomnia or long periods of sleepiness.
- Environmental Insomnia: People react differently to the environment. For example some are very uncomfortable in windy climatic conditions and are simply unable to sleep comfortably during such periods. Some find winter weather and the snow or excessive rain problematic and they tend to fall into a pattern of little sleep or excessive sleepiness.
- Periodic Insomnia: Some will experience a chronic condition where each day, they can only fall asleep one or two hours later than they did the day before. They do not follow a 24 hour pattern. This can seriously affect the individual’s ability to report to work on time and honor family or social commitments.
- Sleep Onset Insomnia: Basically the person cannot not fall sleep at the desired time or has difficulty waking up on time.
- Food Allergy Insomnia: Some people respond to food allergens by being unable to fall sleep or stay asleep. Usually this type of insomnia begins when a person begins taking a new food or drug or beverage.
- Idiopathic Insomnia: A small number of people suffer from abnormal neurological control of the sleep-wake system This renders them unable to get enough sleep and the situation is long-standing or even life long.
- Altitude Insomnia: Some people who climb to high altitude areas - as a sport, while traveling or when they relocate - develop temporary insomnia. Other symptoms that normally accompany altitude insomnia include light-headedness, headaches, fatigue and loss of appetite.
- Psycho-physiological Insomnia: This is when a person feels physical symptoms of anxiety and is unable to sleep because of worries, fears, stress and anxiety. The patient becomes sleep deprived and displays moodiness, anger, and inability to think or act as well as they did before the onset of insomnia.
- Transitory Insomnia: This type of insomnia or sleep disturbance is a temporary condition usually resulting from anxiety and stress, conflict at work or in the home, financial worries or other similar causes.
- Alcohol-Dependent Insomnia: Alcohol can help a person go to sleep but one can become dependant on alcohol to reach a restful state of sleep and often, the individual develops an inability to fall asleep unless they can consume alcohol first.
- Hypnotic-Dependency Insomnia: Patients who are prescribed hypnotic medications can sometimes develop insomnia or demand excessive sleep if they are unable to tolerate the medication or have withdrawal complications.
- Stimulant-Dependent Sleep Disorder: Patients who are given central stimulants or certain types of drugs, sometimes develop insomnia following withdrawal or quitting usage.
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There are treatments for insomnia. Most rely on changing sleeping conditions and habits. Drug treatments and sleeping pills are only used in severe cases now, as they may have side effects that mimic the symptoms of insomnia (grogginess, drowsiness) and could cause dependence and addiction.
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Home care is the most effective option for cases of insomnia. Some natural supplements can help people sleep
Melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the body to induce sleep. The vast majority of people who have used melatonin supplements (80%) have reported experiencing more easily obtained and more restful sleep.
Valerian Root is an herb that is well-known for its effects as a mild, all-natural tranquilizer. It causes drowsiness and should not be used by pregnant or nursing women.
Folic acid supplementation may help control restless leg syndrome associated with insomnia. It also has a calming and relaxing effect similar to B vitamins.
DHEA is a hormone that works in conjunction with cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress and insomnia are often very closely linked. If cortisol levels are too high, illness may result. DHEA counteracts the effects of cortisol and promotes a feeling of physical and psychological well-being.
Many believe that calcium, when used in conjunction with magnesium has a calming effect on the body and mind. B complex vitamins (B5 in particular) may also be helpful as they are linked with reducing stress in many people who take them. It is recommended that Vitamin Bs not be taken too near or immediately before sleep time.
Promoting good sleeping habits within your own life can overcome this problem and allow for a restful night’s sleep.
- Standardize your sleeping schedule with set times to go to bed and wake. Your body will get used to the routine and you will have little trouble sleeping once you get used to it. Avoid naps as they will make you less tired in the evening.
- Stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine will disrupt your ability to fall asleep; they should be avoided in the evening.
- Alcohol, although a depressant will harm the quality of your rest and may result in late-night awakenings.
- Exercise is important in maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. However, avoid exercise 3 hours before going to bed as it may stimulate you and result in difficulties sleeping
- Do not eat heavy meals before sleeping, although light snacks may help if you are hungry.
- Sleeping environments should be comfortable. Appropriate bedclothes should be provided depending on the weather, and light and sound should be kept to a minimum. Some researchers have suggested that anything less than total darkness will lead to weakened immune systems. For noisy areas, earplugs or a white noise machine can drown out unwanted sounds.
- Following a routine before bedtime can be helpful. Reading, taking a bath or other relaxing activities can help the body “wind down” in preparation for sleep.
- Avoid doing anything else in bed besides sleeping, romance or sex. Laptop computers and televisions are best kept outside of the bedroom.
- If you are having a hard time sleeping, get up and out of bed. Do a low impact, non-stimulating activity such as watching television or reading. Return to bed when you begin feeling tired.
- Controlling the mind: everyone has challenges and problems in life. If you are facing such difficulties and anguish, don’t allow it to occupy your entire day. Schedule a time for that difficulty and invite it to come in at a set time. Then set a predetermined time slot for dealing with it. For example say to yourself: “I lost my loved one. I am going to spend everyday from 8:00 - 8:30 thinking about that loss and grieve or find a solution to help myself.” If that worry or thought comes to you at any other time than the appointed hour (8:00 am), you must tell the thought to go away and come back at 8:00 am. On the strike of 8:30, you must then stop thinking about it and move on to deal with other matters of your life
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