Sleep determines a lot about our individual health. But, picture yourself lying in bed, desperately wanting to sleep but feeling restless and unable to quiet your mind. If you’re one of the many Americans struggling with insomnia, you’re likely familiar with this frustrating situation. Sleeping well is vital for our health and feeling good. But sometimes, we struggle to fall or stay asleep, making us feel tired and irritable. This is called insomnia or sleeplessness. It can happen to anyone and affect our physical and mental well-being.
Insomnia can have different causes, including things happening in our bodies, thoughts and emotions, and the environment. To solve the problem, we need to look at all these factors together and find ways to address them.
Chronic Sleep Disorders
Chronic Sleep Disorders refer to ongoing difficulties with sleep that persist for an extended period. Here are some common issues related to chronic sleep problems:
Chronic Insomnia: Chronic insomnia involves trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or having unrefreshing sleep. It can lead to daytime problems such as fatigue, mood disturbances, and difficulties with concentration.
Sleep Apnea: This sleep disorder causes interruptions in breathing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway becomes blocked. In contrast, central sleep apnea (CSA) is related to a failure of the brain to signal the body to breathe. Sleep apnea can result in snoring, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): RLS causes an intense urge to move the legs, often during periods of rest. It typically occurs in the evening, making it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep. RLS can lead to daytime sleepiness, irritability, and difficulties with concentration.
Narcolepsy: This neurological disorder affects sleep and wakefulness control, causing excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day. Narcolepsy can interfere with daily activities and may be accompanied by sudden muscle weakness triggered by emotions.
These chronic sleep problems can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, affecting their energy levels, mood, cognitive function, and overall well-being. (Cleveland Clinic)
6 Things to Do When You Have Insomnia
When you’re struggling with insomnia and can’t fall asleep, you can try several relaxation techniques. These methods can help calm your mind and body, making it easier to drift off into sleep.
Let’s explore each technique:
- Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Follow a regular sleep schedule by waking up at the same time every day, including weekends. This helps regulate your internal clock and promotes more consistent sleep patterns.
- Incorporate Physical Activity: Make time for regular exercise, as it can contribute to better sleep. Engaging in physical activity during the day can help promote more restful sleep at night.
- Controlled Breathing: Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can count each breath or use Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 method, where you inhale for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts. Controlled breathing helps reduce stress and prepare your brain for sleep.
- Meditation and Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness by focusing on your breath and staying present. You can try body scan meditation, where you pay attention to each part of your body and let them relax. Mindfulness reduces anxiety and rumination, promoting better sleep.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): PMR involves tensing and releasing different muscle groups in your body while breathing deeply. Start with your face, and move to your shoulders, arms, back, and so on. PMR creates a calming effect and has been found helpful for insomnia and physical pain.
- Imagery: Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful scene from your past, such as a quiet natural setting. Focus on the details of this image and engage your senses by recalling its smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. Visual thinkers can benefit from this technique to relax before sleep.
These relaxation techniques can be customized to fit your preferences and practiced for a few minutes before bed. Remember, it may take some time and practice to find what works best for you, but these techniques have been proven to help improve sleep. (Sleep Foundation)
How are sleep disorders treated?
Treating sleep disorders involves a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and, in some cases, medication.
First and foremost, it is essential to establish healthy sleep habits, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. In addition to these habits, various therapies can be employed to address specific sleep disorders, including light therapy, orofacial therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). These therapeutic approaches help reset the sleep-wake cycle, strengthen relevant muscles, and improve relaxation and sleep quality.
In some instances, medications may be prescribed by healthcare providers to aid in sleep regulation. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most effective treatment plan tailored to an individual’s specific sleep disorder and needs. (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute)
Sleep disorders, while not necessarily fatal, can significantly impact your overall well-being and daily functioning. If you face challenges with sleep, it is crucial to consult your healthcare provider and prioritize good sleep hygiene. By addressing sleep issues and following professional guidance, you can improve your sleep quality and, consequently, enhance your overall quality of life.
When to Go to the ER for Insomnia
If your insomnia is occasional, practicing the 6 methods can help. See your doctor if it persists. If you are experiencing chronic insomnia, it can be a mental health emergency that needs immediate attention.
People living with a mental health condition who are diagnosed with a sleep disorder face unique challenges. The symptoms of their mental health condition may be made more severe by sleep disturbances. If you or a loved one are having a mental health crisis combined with insomnia, an emergency room visit can help with short-term relief combined with a mental health referral for continued care.
Sleep Foundation. “What to Do When You Can’t Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 4 May 2023, www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep.
Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic medical. “Sleep Disorders: Conditions That Prevent You from Getting Restful Sleep.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11429-sleep-disorders#:~:text=Long%2Dterm%20or%20chronic%20insomnia,is%20a%20conditioned%20emotional%20response.
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. “Sleep Disorder Treatments.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-disorder-treatments#:~:text=Relaxation%20or%20meditation%20therapy%20teache