Have you ever struggled to fall asleep? To stay asleep? Or did you feel well rested after a night of sleep? Insomnia is common in up to one out of three adults struggling at least once a week to get a good night's sleep.
A total of 6-15% of adults suffer from insomnia disorder, i.e. poor quality or quantity of sleep, on average three nights a week, for a period of at least three months. This is associated with impaired daytime functioning due to sleepiness, mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression), heart disease, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and even an increased risk of cancer. Chronic insomnia can decrease your quality of life!
Certain genes and family history of insomnia may increase your risk to develop problems. However, insomnia is always triggered by a precipitating event or stressor - even if we are not aware of it! This cause various neuro-biological abnormalities in the sleep/wake pathways, which result in hyper-arousal on both a brain level (e.g. disturbed electrical activity) and on a psychological and behavioural level (i.e. you are now hyper focused on the sleep problems you experience, become more anxious about it, ant then engage in counterproductive activities).
The treatment of insomnia is holistic. Regular exercise, avoiding substances (alcohol, drugs and certain pain medication) and a healthy diet are important.
A combination of sleep medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) optimizes results. sleep medication is indicated for short-term insomnia and in the initial treatment phase of chronic insomnia. It should always be used for a short period only (preferably no more than four weeks), and if possible, medication should not be used every evening.
Most of these medications do have long term side-effects, such as problems with concentration and memory, and it can be habit forming. Alternative products such as melatonin, magnesium and valerian are also available.
CBT targets psychological and behavioural factors that perpetuate sleep disturbances and produces more sustained results over the long run. It is a brief, sleep-focused, structured, multi-factorial and problem-solving therapeutic approach consisting of two elements. The cognitive component assists the person in recognizing, challenging and changing destructive sleep cognitions or thoughts that exacerbate insomnia. The behavioural components consists of modified sleep restriction, stimulus control and relaxation techniques (e.g. muscle relaxation, breathing and mental focusing) that are practised prior to bedtime.
Sleeping doesn't have to be a nightmare - it can be a beautiful friend who improves your life.