At least 15 percent of all Americans report trouble sleeping at night. Insomnia is a catch-all term for various problems and conditions that can make it difficult to sleep at night, whether the problems are physical or mental or both.
“Insomnia is a complex condition often caused by a number of factors,” says Qanta Ahmed, MD, a sleep specialist at the Winthrop-University Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Mineola, N.Y. “Addressing those factors often requires lifestyle and environmental changes.”
True, a lot of what could be termed insomnia results from our life-style choices: Working too hard to get ahead and then bringing both our work and its related stress home with us. Even convincing ourselves that we need to sleep less and keep longer days in order to “keep up with the Joneses” in society. Letting the 24/7 contraptions of our lives (cell phones, TVs, tablets) into our bedrooms, where they can interfere with good sleep hygiene.
What are some of the symptoms of insomnia? The most obvious symptoms are your finding it hard to fall asleep and maybe even hard to stay asleep once you drift off. Then there’s the daytime fatigue and lack of concentration factors. Feeling irritable and out of sorts can also result from insomnia, or other sleep difficulties.
What are some of the causes of insomnia? We’ve already mentioned some obvious ones such as stress from working hard to get ahead in life and the interruptions of our 24/7 life-cycles, where some electronic convenience is blaring at us both night and day.
Other causes can be physical — a medical condition, disease or injury. Medications can interfere with sleep, and alcohol and substance abuse can definitely play a role as well.
If you’re having trouble sleeping and can’t identify — or fix — the causes yourself, then you’ll definitely need to seek professional help. If you suspect a physical problem, then consult with your primary physician to begin with. If you’ve pinpointed the source of your sleep difficulties in your life-style (and bedroom style — where you sleep should be dark and comfortable), you may be able to fix your problem yourself by making a conscious switch to better life and sleep choices.
Ultimately, you may want to get a sleep evaluation. You can start by keeping a daily/nightly log and bringing that with you to discuss with your doctor or a sleep professional. Include everything you eat and do before going to bed, and also what happens during the night (“woke up at 1:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep”). Your sleep professional may then recommend a more comprehensive sleep exam, but that would really depend on whether a treatable sleep disorder such as sleep apnea is suspected.
At any rate, your daily life and success depend on getting refreshing sleep each and every night, so do what you can to make that happen — and enjoy your daytimes to the fullest!