Defining insomnia isn’t complicated; it means you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Conquering insomnia, however, isn’t quite so easy because it can be traced to a long list of medical or lifestyle causes. Insomnia is a widespread sleep disorder: the National Institutes of Health says 30 percent of American adults experience some sleep disruption on a regular basis.
If you’re not getting the sleep you need for your healthiest and most productive life, the experts at Central Maine Healthcare can help. Our board-certified pulmonologists specialize in diagnosing and treating insomnia, and will work with you to create a personal plan to help put your sleep problems to bed.
The symptoms of insomnia are obvious: you’re tired during the day, you’re irritable and your performance at work or school is suffering.
What most people don’t realize is, there are two types of insomnia:
- Acute insomnia sounds more severe, but the opposite is true; here it means “temporary,” caused by some life circumstance. You’re likely to get acute insomnia, for instance, the night before a big exam or job interview, or when you’ve had an argument with a friend. Acute insomnia resolves itself after a few days without any treatment.
- Chronic insomnia is ongoing—meaning, it happens at least three times a week, for at least three months. It can be caused by a change in your environment (moving to a new house or a different city), working the night shift or split shifts, another illness or medications. It also can be linked to another medical or psychological disorder.
Your Lifestyle Can Affect Your Sleep
You’ve heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” Food and drink, more than any other factor, can keep you from occasionally getting a good night’s sleep:
- Caffeine—no surprise there—can keep you awake. It’s a stimulant that stays active in your system for eight hours, so if you’re an all-day coffee drinker you should consider cutting yourself off after lunch.
- Nicotine is another stimulant. If you smoke, you’re not resting as well as you might otherwise, even though you think smoking is relaxing you.
- Alcohol can make you tired but can also disturb your sleep later, during the night.
- A big meal close to bedtime can interrupt your sleep because heavy foods make it hard for your body to settle down and relax. Also, spicy food can cause heartburn, keeping you awake even longer.
Medical Causes of Insomnia
A large number of ongoing medical disorders can also cause you to lose sleep:
- Nasal and sinus allergies or asthma
- Lower back pain
- Reflux or other gastro problems
- Endocrine disorders
- Arthritis pain
- Other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome
- Chronic anxiety, such as a nightly feeling of being overwhelmed by family or work responsibilities.
Helping You Get the Sleep You Need
There’s currently no clear-cut test for diagnosing insomnia. But, by keeping a sleep log, answering targeted questions and a blood test to rule out issues such as thyroid disorders, you and your team at Central Maine can pinpoint the cause of your insomnia and find the right treatment. We may also recommend an overnight sleep study, offered at our full-service sleep center in Lewiston.
Once we better understand the problem, your treatment plan may include one or a combination of:
- Relaxation training:Breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness training all can help immensely with your overall relaxation, helping you to sleep better at night.
- Stimulus control:If you take your laptop to bed with you, pay bills in the bedroom or even watch TV until you go to bed, you’re stimulating your brain when you should be preparing it for rest. You can exercise stimulus control by following three simple rules: (a) don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy; (b) reserve the bedroom for two activities only—sleep and intimacy; and (c) if you’ve been lying in bed for 20 minutes and still can’t fall asleep, get up and do something else.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT):A therapist trained in CBT can teach you to eliminate unhealthy fears that keep you awake, or to change other thought patterns to help you rest easier. Learn more about our behavioral health services.
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications: A mild sleeping medication might be necessary to get you in the habit of falling asleep on a regular schedule.