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02 Jul 2010
blackmores naturopath

Blackmores

Insomnia

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Insomnia is difficulty in falling or staying asleep . Insomnia can affect almost anyone at some stage in life.

Symptoms

  • Inability to fall asleep   
  • Waking up throughout the night and not being able to get back to sleep   
  • Waking up too early   
  • Symptoms including tiredness, irritability, mood swings and lack of concentration are commonly experienced during the day due to lack of sleep  

Causes

Occasional and temporary disturbance of one's regular sleeping pattern is normal and not cause for concern – stress, worry or excitement are common causes, and generally normal sleeping habits return when the cause is resolved.

Sleeping patterns may also be disrupted by changes in routine – for example international travel, changes in working hours, or sleeping in a different environment to the one you’re used to.

Environmental factors such as noise, light or poor ventilation may also contribute to insomnia.

Amongst the many physical ailments that can interfere with your sleep are disorders of the cardiovascular, respiratory, urinary, digestive, endocrine and nervous systems.  It is also common for conditions associated with chronic pain to cause insomnia.

The sleep disorder sleep apnoea may cause disturbed sleep by obstructing the airways, forcing you to wake up repeatedly during the night in order to obtain enough oxygen. Sleep apnoea is associated with being overweight, drinking alcohol, taking sleeping tablets, and having nasal or sinus problems. It may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems, so if you are concerned that you or your partner may be affected, it is important that you talk to your doctor.

Insomnia, sometimes in conjunction with night sweats, can also be one of the symptoms of menopause. In men, it may occur if benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) causes the need for frequent night-time urination. 

Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and certain drugs may also increase the likelihood of developing insomnia. Examples include some blood pressure medications, nasal decongestants  and certain recreational drugs.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Avoid alcohol and stimulants such as cigarettes and caffeine containing beverages after 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Instead, try relaxing herbal teas such as chamomile, which is traditionally used to aid sleep. 
  • Getting regular exercise can help to improve your sleeping patterns, but avoid exercising less than two hours before bedtime, as this may energise you rather than relax you. Similarly, avoid stimulating books and television before bed as these may make it more difficult to get to sleep.
  • A glass of warm milk at bedtime may help to induce sleep, as may a warm bath containing relaxing essential oils such as lavender or chamomile.   
  • Overcoming bad sleeping habits takes time. Try to set a new routine of going to bed at the same time every night, as this helps to re-set the circadian rhythms. It’s a good idea to get up at the same time every morning for the same reason.
  • Remember, a few nights of poor sleep do no long-term harm. Even if you toss and turn trying to get to sleep, or if you wake up feeling unrefreshed, you are probably getting more sleep than you think. 
  • Ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark and well ventilated. Earplugs and eyeshades may help to reduce noise and light, and are particularly valuable for shift workers.

Important notes

  • Consult your healthcare professional if you never seem to get enough sleep, or if your prescribed sleeping medication is no longer effective.
  • If you are concerned that your sleep problems may be adverse effects of your prescribed medicines, talk to your doctor. Do not cease taking your medication abruptly, as to do so may cause adverse effects.
  • Insomnia may be a symptom of depression, anxiety or sleep apnoea , conditions that require professional treatment; consult your healthcare professional for more information.

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