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Insomnia (Sleeplessness)

A condition plaguing the lives of far more people than one would think, insomnia can indeed be quite the thorn in one’s side, to say the least.

What is it though, what causes it, and how can you get rid of it? Can one actually die from insomnia? These are some of the questions that we answer below.

Insomnia

What does it mean to have insomnia?

To make it really brief and to-the-point, insomnia is the inability to get a good night’s sleep, for whatever reason.

Unlike snoring and sleep apnea (which can lead to serious complications of their own), insomnia is more than a relatively minor annoyance. It can and will prevent people from functioning optimally in their day-to-day existence.

Insomnia has several symptoms, and there are several types of insomnia.

The inability to fall asleep is its most obvious symptom. A person suffering from insomnia will also wake up several times during the night and find it extremely difficult to go back to sleep.

Feeling tired after waking up in the morning and waking up way too early, are also symptoms of insomnia.

As far as types of insomnia go, there’s straight-up insomnia, which itself is the main problem.

Secondary insomnia on the other hand is caused by some kind of other illness/condition, like heartburn, depression and asthma, and as such, it is more of a symptom, rather than the actual cause of a problem.

Depending on how long it lasts, insomnia can be short-term and long-term. The short-term variant typically lasts from one night to a week, while the long-term version can turn one’s life into hell for months on end.

What is the cause of insomnia?

The causes of this annoying and rather debilitating condition can be physical, psychological or even chemical in nature.

Life stress is one of the main triggers. Insomnia can be triggered by traumatic life events such as job-loss, the death of a family member, or even something much more trivial, such as moving.

Stress does not have to be extreme to result in insomnia though. Even mild physical/emotional discomfort can spark the problem, together with uncomfortable temperatures, noise, lighting-related problems and plain-old jet lag.

Jet lag is indeed a major cause for sleep disorders, as it really turns one’s biorhythm upside down.

As far as medication goes, we are looking at chemicals used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, depression, as well as various allergies and cold.

Regarding long-term insomnia, many of the causes are similar, though long-term stress clearly plays a more prominent role.

How can I stop my insomnia?

Prevention is the best way to altogether avoid insomnia and all the discomfort/suffering that comes with it. Prevention is also quite straightforward, and the good sleeping habits on which it is predicated are beneficial in other areas of life too.

Setting a proper schedule is the first preventive step. Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning, will play right into the body’s own bio-clock.

Taking naps during the day may be tempting, and those suffering from insomnia will indeed often encounter periods of extreme drowsiness in the middle of the day, but it should be avoided at all cost.

Avoiding chemical stimulants is recommended all through the day, but the closer it gets to bedtime, the more strictly this avoidance should be observed.

The stimulant effect of caffeine is well-known and recognized, but late-evening physical exercise can elicit a rather similar effect too. Getting regular exercise at proper times through the day is highly benefic, on the other hand.

Another issue insomnia sufferers should eliminate is using the phone/various other mobile devices that emit light, right before bed. It has been proven that the light hitting the retina confuses one’s organism into “believing” it is not bedtime yet.

How do you get rid of insomnia?

Those who already suffer from the condition have no other choice but to attempt to treat it.

The good news is that short-term/occasional insomnia does not really have to be treated. It will likely “go away” on its own, provided one does indeed observe healthy sleeping habits.

Those who find that even mild forms of insomnia make it impossible for them to function properly during the day, may resort to the use of sleeping pills. Such pills always have to be described by qualified doctors/health care providers, and the rapid-onset, short-acting types are recommended. Such pills make it less likely that the user shall experience drowsiness the following day.

Some cases warrant deeper analysis, performed at a sleep center.

Long-term insomnia is usually linked to an underlying physical condition, and in such cases, this condition needs to be eliminated before considering treatment for the sleep disorder.

Sometimes behavioral therapy may be called upon too, if the sleep disorder persists past the elimination of the underlying health issue. Behavioral therapy will obviously be focused on the promotion of healthy sleeping habits, and it will take the form of sleep restriction therapy and relaxation exercises.

As with most health issues though, it needs to be kept in mind that insomnia prevention is cheaper, easier and ultimately more effective than treatment.

What is the best treatment for insomnia?

As said above, the best way to treat insomnia – once onset – is to institute drastic lifestyle changes. Such an approach is most likely to eliminate the underlying causes of the condition, thus directly treating the root of the problem and not its symptoms.

Lifestyle changes cover a wide range of tweaks, from dietary issues, to setting a sleeping schedule, sticking to it and to being more active physically. Taking naps during the day is also a major no-no.

Generally adopting a healthier way of thinking regarding every aspect of life is also a major step in the right direction. Behavioral therapy is said to reduce interrupted sleep.

Medication should be thought of as a last-ditch solution, given the potentially negative implications that it carries. Users can become dependent on sleep medication, and this is true for the elderly as well. This will result in one’s complete inability to fall asleep without the use of sleeping pills.

Besides dedicated sleeping pills, we are also looking at antidepressants here, which have a calming, soothing effect that can promote proper sleep. Nonprescription medication is also an alternative to consider, together with natural sleep remedies. There are also foods out there that cause anxiety and insomnia. Such foods have to be researched and thoroughly avoided.

What are the best foods to help with insomnia?

There are some melatonin-containing foods, which can apparently help people sleep. Melatonin is a sleep regulating hormone, naturally produced in our body.

Melatonin is destroyed when you’re exposed to light, including the light emitted from your computer screen, TV and cellular phone. Therefore, getting melatonin from food may improve sleep.

The best food sources of melatonin include pistachio nuts, goji berries, raspberries, almonds and tart cherries.

Can a person die from insomnia?

The simple answer to that would be: theoretically yes.

The truth is though that no person has been recorded to have ever died from insomnia.

To understand why this is the case, one has to understand the difference between insomnia and sleep deprivation. The two might go hand-in-hand in some cases, but they denote different conditions.

Insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep and getting quality sleep. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is about getting a less than adequate amount of sleep (or, in extreme cases, none at all).

Long story short: the effects on the cognitive system of sleep deprivation are far more radical than those of insomnia.

The bottom line is though that people seem to be able to function relatively unimpeded (from the point of view of an outside observer), even when deprived of sleep for incredibly long periods of time. There is a rare disease, which – when associated with insomnia – can be fatal, but on the whole, on a practical level, it is safe to say that insomnia will not result in death, in and of itself.

How long can you go without sleep until you die?

This question is almost impossible to answer.

Though several experiments were performed in this regard, with the record-holder having logged 11 sleepless days, there is no way to know how long a human can stay awake, because in the case of extreme sleep deprivation, the very concept of “awake” becomes blurred.

A long period of sleep deprivation will induce an altered state of mind in people undergoing such experiments, allowing them to log periods of micro-sleep. Cognitive and motor functions are gradually lost, and past a certain point, people become virtually incapacitated, while remaining “awake.”

In rat studies, however, researchers have found that death would inevitably set in, following about 2 weeks of sleep deprivation. That there is certainly something to bear in mind.

Why do I keep waking up after 4 hours of sleep?

Waking up after about 4 hours of sleep is characteristic of middle-of-the-night insomnia. This type of sleep problem leaves sufferers unable to go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. It usually results in next-day exhaustion, and impaired cognitive functions.

The causes behind this type of insomnia can be numerous. One of them is sleep-apnea, which can be a serious and even life-threatening condition in some cases.

Anxiety, pain, pregnancy, working in shifts, erratic sleeping patterns and the need to urinate can also be triggers for this type of sleep disorder.

Why is it so hard to go back to sleep after waking up?

Your organism is somehow tricked into becoming alert, by a series of psychological/physical/chemical triggers, as specified above. There is not much you can do about it when it occurs, other than to learn a few techniques to deal with the situation.

To remedy the problem, most specialists recommend getting out of bed and forgetting about staring at the clock. Making sure it is not too bright and getting relaxed is the next step. Progressive muscle relaxation and even bio-feedback can help accomplish that.

For more suggestions to improve your sleep, check out the Sleep Hygiene checklist or hire a Sleep Coach.

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