In our high-tech, fast-paced society, many of us use our lack of sleep as a badge of honor, but not getting enough sleep every night can wreak havoc on your health. The National Sleep Foundation describes insomnia as "difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the opportunity to do so."
When you suffer from insomnia, you experience fatigue and lack of energy and often struggle to concentrate on daily tasks. The most extreme mood swings can also be common. Sleep experts at the Mayo Clinic report that "sleeping less than seven hours a night is associated with weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression, among other health risks.
There are two types of insomnia: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is when you have trouble sleeping for a short period of time, while chronic insomnia is when it occurs several nights a week for months.
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According to the Cleveland Clinic, insomnia can also be classified as primary, meaning that it is not related to any health problem or secondary when there is an underlying health problem at its root.
What causes insomnia? There are many things that can contribute to your sleepless nights, including changes in your environment and daily routine, such as moving to a new home or starting a new job, especially shift work. Stress and anxiety about any type of rough patch in your life could also be a cause. Side effects of medications and poor sleep habits are other common culprits.
Most of the time, making some changes in lifestyle can help reduce insomnia episodes. These are some natural ways to improve the quality of your sleep (sources include National Sleep Foundation, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic):
• Pay attention to your nocturnal routine. Do you go to bed at the same time every night? Do you follow certain rituals at bedtime that help you relax in your sleep preparation? Following the same routine every night sends signals to your body and brain that it is time to go to bed.
• Stay active during the day and incorporate some type of exercise at least a few days of the week.
• Resist the temptation to nap during the day. It will only make it much harder to fall asleep at night.
• Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake throughout the day
• Try not to eat or drink anything just before bedtime. If your stomach is really growling, just eat a little snack
• Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga to de-stress.
• Keep your bed only for sleep or for sex. Do not bring the laptop or work to bed with you.
When you have a sleepless night, try not to lie down looking at the clock. Get up and go do something in another room for a while until you feel sleepy. If it's about billing concerns or a large project that keeps you up to date, create a to-do list to handle whatever is bothering you. You will sleep better knowing that you already have a plan for the morning.
However, if the insomnia is persistent and nothing seems to help, talk with your doctor about the available treatment options. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medications such as Eszopiclone (Lunesta) and Zolpidem (Ambien) are often prescribed for patients with chronic insomnia.
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