Can’t Sleep? Causes of Insomnia and Insomnia Treatment


insomnia_flickrThere are many possible reasons why you can’t sleep. You may suffer any one or more of these. Here we shall discuss the more common causes of insomnia and the insomnia treatment needed to overcome this condition.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition where you either can’t sleep, or don’t get enough sleep to enable you to feel refreshed and properly rested. For some, it takes the form of struggling to get to sleep irrespective of how tired they are. For others, it takes the form of waking during the night and lying awake unable to get back to sleep again. It is quite common, and can lead not only to chronic tiredness and irritability but also to serious problems with your general health.

It is important to understand that the term ‘insomnia’ refers not to how long you sleep for, but for how effective your sleep is in resting you. Insomniacs lack energy, can be very irritable and are unable to function normally throughout the day. There are many possible causes for this, but it can be cured without living on sleeping pills although they can often help if used in moderation.

Symptoms of Insomnia

Before discussing the causes of insomnia, let’s first look at the symptoms. They are not all as obvious as you may believe them to be.

  • Being unable to sleep and you can’t sleep even though you feel tired.
  • Waking too early and being unable to get back to sleep.
  • Still feeling tired in the morning rather than feeling refreshed and ready to go.
  • Having to take sleeping pills before sleeping, or even drinking alcohol to help you sleep (not recommended).
  • Feeling tired and irritable during the day.
  • Feeling drowsy and needing a nap during the day.
  • Being unable to concentrate properly, and losing interest in the job in hand.

Common Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can be temporary, such as if you have a significant worry on your mind you can find it difficult to sleep. This type of insomnia is temporary until the cause of your worry is resolved. It can be due to the temporary stress of an upcoming event, because of a recent event such as a break-up or due to ongoing issues such as financial difficulties. You are usually aware of the issue causing you to lose sleep.

In such cases a helping hand, someone to talk to or even getting assistance from a professional body such as Citizen’s Advice can often help. However, if your insomnia is chronic then it is usually connected with some underlying issue that may need treatment. Here are some causes of chronic insomnia.

Some Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep

Anxiety and Depression

These are the two most causes of insomnia, particularly chronic insomnia that you cannot seem to overcome. Anxiety can have many reasons – worry over upcoming exams for example can keep people awake at night, although this is normally only temporary. Grief can last a long time, and some people never get over the loss of a loved one. Bipolar disorder, anger and trauma are also causes of chronic or long-lasting insomnia.

Treatment: Talk about worries that may be keeping you awake. Discuss them with your partner, a friend or even your doctor or physician. Simply talking about worries can relieve a great deal of stress. Even if your worries and concerns are not cured or dealt with, just talking about them with a person willing to listen without judging you can help you sleep better.

Medical Conditions

Chronic pain is a common cause of insomnia, where you cannot sleep due the pain. An allergy can lead to severe itching which can also keep you awake at night. Acid reflux, hyperthyroidism and asthma are other medical conditions that can lead to chronic sleeplessness.

Treatment: If you have a medical condition that is preventing you from getting restful sleep, that condition may possibly get worse. That is because your body is less able to deal will illnesses and other conditions when it is worn out and tired. Get professional help. Tell your doctor that the condition is affecting your sleep and your mood. There might be professional help available to help you sleep, including suitable sleeping aids – including pills.

Drugs and Medication

Stimulants, anti-depressants and medications for high blood pressure can stop you getting to sleep. Corticosteroids, some oral contraceptives and thyroid hormones can also lead to chronic insomnia. Always read the leaflet that comes with your medication, specifically checking the correct dosage and the potential side effects and potential interactions with other medication you may be taking. Diuretics, some slimming pills and some medication containing caffeine can keep you stimulated and unable to sleep.

Treatment: if you still can’t sleep after following the above advice, again refer to your doctor or physician. They should be able to help you with the side-effects of medication. Perhaps there is an alternative, or you can be given a relaxant to help you sleep and night and stay asleep till morning.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where you stop breathing for a short period. The most common cause is when the soft tissue at the back of your throat temporarily shuts off your windpipe, and your body reacts with a convulsive breath that gets you going again. It is not uncommon, and is a common cause of snoring.

Sleep apnea can waken you for a short time and lead to only a light sleep, rather than the deep sleep you need to refresh your body and brain. You might not be aware it is happening, but when you wake up you feel tired and can be very irritable during the day. This condition can lead to depression and other disorders. You may never know about it unless your partner complains about you snoring. You will likely claim that you do not snore, but you do – even if only for 20 -30 seconds each episode.

Treatment: There is a lot you can do yourself, such as keep off caffeine and alcohol for 2-3 hours before bedtime. Sleeping on your side often helps, by preventing the soft tissues from blocking your windpipe. Some people find this effective, and sew a pocket into the back of their nightwear to hold a tennis ball. When they turn in the night, the tennis ball causes their body to turn round to the side again.

If your sleep apnea persists in spite of all you have tried, refer to a physician. You may find a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure) device will cure your condition. This is small air-pump fed mask that covers your mouth and nose, and keeps your air passages open while you sleep.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Most common in women and both genders over 50, restless leg syndrome is characterized with an uncomfortable feeling in the legs that forces you to keep moving them. It affects about 10% of the population, and some feel compelled to stand up and walk around. This helps, but the condition returns when they lie down and try to sleep again. Some experts believe it is due to a lack of iron in the brain or a dopamine imbalance. Sleep apnea can also be a cause.

Treatment: Take a vitamin pill containing iron, magnesium, Vitamin D and folic acid. These have all been found to help the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Exercise, particularly exercising and stretching the various leg muscles, can also help reduce the effects of this syndrome. Reduce brain stimulants such as computer and smartphone screens for about 2 hours before you sleep. Some people find sleeping with a pillow between their legs helps. Ultimately, visit your doctor. You will likely get a blood test for minerals and your physician will probably check over your lifestyle and sleeping habits.

Other Causes of Insomnia

Here are some miscellaneous causes of insomnia over which you have some personal control:

  • Drinking tea or coffee before bed: these drinks contain high levels of caffeine that can keep you awake.
  • Over-stimulation before bed: too much TV, video games or phone scrolling can lead to insomnia as your grain takes time to settle down.
  • Drinking alcohol: Alcohol depresses the brain so you fall asleep. However, it is not a deep refreshing sleep and when you awake you find it difficult to sleep again. You can feel edgy and irritable next morning.
  • Bright lights in the bedroom: Keep lighting down or even off in the bedroom. Cut down noise, though some find ‘white noise’ to be an effective soporific.
  • Exercising too soon before bedtime: This can keep you awake for sufficient time to get you anxious – then you cannot sleep.

Insomnia Treatment: General Comments on Treating Insomnia

woman-asleepIn addition to the above insomnia treatments, is should be stated that, because there are so many different causes of insomnia, there are no specific treatments to cure it. If you can identify what is causing your inability to sleep, then you possibly arrive at a treatment that works for you. The whole insomnia cure idea rests upon knowing the likely causes of your inability to sleep properly and eliminating them.

In general, try to get into a sleeping routine. Here are some general tips:

  • Going to bet and rising at around the same time each day helps your biological clock to predict when you should be sleeping.
  • Drink no caffeine or alcohol for around 4 hours before bedtime – some go as far as to suggest 8 hours, and how far you want to persist with this depends on how serious the sleeplessness is to you.
  • Take no naps after at least 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Stay calm before bedtime – no excessive stimulation such as studying, playing video games, arguments, exercising for at least an hour or two before bedtime. Reading is good as is listening to soft music. Adele is better than Iron Maiden in this respect!
  • No rich fatty or spicy foods before bedtime. Up to 2 hours before might be OK, but no later.
  • A white noise sound machine will help you block out interfering noises, and a new-age recording of breaking waves and other natural sounds also helps promote sleep. Many who can’t sleep have found this approach to be an effective insomnia treatment.
  • Avoid thinking of your problems, issues and anxieties in bed. Some find reading helps them achieve this by focusing their mind on something else. Once you feel tired, lights out and if you must think of anything, focus on the good things in your life.

Causes of Insomnia and Insomnia Treatment: Conclusion

There are many different causes of insomnia. If you can’t sleep, you should try to identify with one or more of the causes outlined above. Professional insomnia treatment often helps, but so too does simply unloading your problems on a friendly ear. Unlike most medical conditions, there is no specific treatment, pill or even advice that can meet the needs of all types of insomnia.

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