Insomnia: An Overview

What exactly is insomnia?

Nearly all of us have spent at least one night wide awake and willing for sleep to come. For others it might be a more of a nightly struggle. Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking early and is a common gripe. In fact, over 30% of us experience occasional insomnia.1 Since there is no “normal” amount of sleep that everyone should get, a diagnosis of insomnia does not depend on the number of hours an individual may sleep.2  It is more about your perception of how much you sleep or how well you sleep and how this affects your daytime functioning. The concept of a good night’s sleep varies widely from person to person, so what may seem like insomnia for you, might be considered a good sleep for someone else.

How will my body feel as a result of insomnia?

The most obvious symptom of insomnia is of course a long and restless night, but it’s the daytime symptoms that can really take their toll. Inadequate or poor quality sleep can result in tiredness, grumpiness, irritability and forgetfulness and may even increase your risk of injury.2  Chronic insomnia can result in a whole host of health problems and impact on work, family life and personal happiness.

What is causing my insomnia?

Insomnia is so common because it has many causes. If you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep it might be because of a stressful life event like new parenthood or work pressure, jet lag which plays havoc with your natural sleep‐wake cycle, shift work, a change in your sleep environment or an acute illness like a cold or flu. Your sleeping habits will usually return back to normal once these acute events are over.

Persistent insomnia could be caused by a range of medical or psychiatric problems and needs professional support.

How can I help manage my insomnia?

With a little persistence and patience, insomnia can be managed by making some changes to your sleeping and lifestyle habits. This could be as simple as developing a sleep routine or ensuring you spend time winding down at night. Nearly all of us could benefit from improved sleeping habits to help keep our nights restful and our days productive.

If your sleeping difficulties have persisted over a number of years, you may need to seek professional support, which could involve visiting a sleep disorder clinic where treatment may include keeping a sleep diary, a specialised sleeping program, medication and/or behavioural therapy.1

References:

  1. Better Health, Sleep‐Insomnia, Reviewed October 2011, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Sleep_problems_insomnia, Accessed April 2013
  2. Harvard Health Publications, Insomnia – Restoring Restful Sleep, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/insomnia-restoring-restful-sleep.htm, Accessed April 2013