Everyone has endured the odd restless night and knows exactly how awful it can make you feel the next day. Still, if you’re dealing with insomnia or a more enduring lack of quality, restorative sleep, then you’ll be nodding your head (and possibly nodding off) when we say it can be a real life ruiner.
Alas, as the most common sleep disorder in the world, insomnia affects one in four people, but shouldn’t be accepted as ‘just something you have to live with’. There are lots of things you can do to treat it and, at Sleep Renewal, that’s our speciality.
So, how bad is it?
There are three types of insomnia. The transient nature is the least serious. It can last from a few days to a couple of weeks and is often triggered by something specific, be it a noisy environment, stress, jet lag or medication.
Acute insomnia is far more distressing. It comes on suddenly and can last for many weeks. While it can be triggered by the same things that cause transient insomnia, it’s often more serious emotional stress that acts as the catalyst, things like a retrenchment or bereavement or ongoing unmanaged stress.
Lastly, there’s the dreadfulness that is chronic insomnia. If you’re unable to get a proper night’s sleep, be it due to not being able to turn off, or being incapable of staying asleep, and this goes on for longer than three months, then it’s time to get help. A long-term lack of sleep can lead to a lowered immune system, depression, anxiety, weight gain and decreased fertility while increasing your risk of developing hypertension, heart conditions and diabetes.
Conventional medicine isn’t always best
If you’re dealing with transient or acute insomnia chances are you’ve been prescribed sleeping tablets or tried an over the counter drug to help put you to bed. While there’s nothing wrong with taking these on occasion or in the short term, you need to be careful of becoming reliant on them. The idea that you can ‘only go to sleep with a pill’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also, a recent study performed by the University of Washington’s school of pharmacy has shown that zolpidem, one of the most popular prescribed drugs used to treat insomnia, has been linked to doubling your risk of causing a car accident in the morning. A lot of this is because the medication can stay in your bloodstream at high levels even in the morning when you wake up.
The over-the-counter tablets you’re taking aren’t any better either. More often than not, you’re taking the antihistamine diphenhydramine for its side effect that is drowsiness. This particular drug belongs to a family referred to as anticholinergics, and recent studies have shown that anyone taking them for a prolonged period will have a higher risk of dementia.
Get some real help
At Sleep Renewal, the insomnia patient we see most often is the chronic sufferer. When it comes to treatment, we have a good success rate as we believe in getting to the root cause of it, of which there are many.
Just a few of the things that could be causing your sleeplessness include a psychological problem; a physical health issue like a hormonal imbalance, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome; taking particular medications or too many stimulants (often without realising it) and craniofacial abnormalities that could cause a narrowed airway.
Run the right tests
To help you get a proper diagnosis, our doctors will perform a full assessment that also requires you to fill in a very detailed questionnaire. They’ll use this to determine whether you should participate in an overnight home sleep study. This allows the doctors to measure certain things that can be indicative of particular health conditions that affect your sleep. For example, measuring your respiratory effort related arousals (RERAS) and respiratory distress index (RDI) is the ideal way to diagnose something like upper airways resistance syndrome (UARS). A common but often undiagnosed sleep disorder, UARS is typified by narrowing or your airway when you fall asleep.
Get real sleep solutions
A health condition likes UARS is just one of many reasons as to why you aren’t getting enough restorative sleep. Sleep Renewal can also help you find solutions should your diagnosis be related to something else. In this case, treatment might involve helping you improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ and implement therapies like sleep restriction or the cognitive-behavioural type.
Sleep hygiene is essentially a list of dos and don’ts that can help improve the quality of your pillow time. For example, limiting stimulants like caffeine and nicotine several hours before bedtime and banishing distracting electronics like your TV, laptop or smartphone from the bedroom.
As far as sleep restriction therapy goes, it involves limiting the amount of time you spend in bed to only what’s necessary. This means no naps and, if you need a certain number of hours to sleep, that’s precisely how much time you’ll be allowed to spend in bed. Initially, you might experience mild sleep deprivation, but the fatigue this creates helps your body readjust. Eventually, you retrain your brain to realise that when you’re in bed, it’s time to sleep.
Lastly, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective option for treating primary insomnia (insomnia not caused by any other conditions) as well as the secondary type. It involves identifying certain beliefs and behaviours that instigate the problem and replacing them with those that are more conducive to helping it.
The bottom line
If you’d like to get to the bottom of why you’re not sleeping, or you have primary insomnia and want to find a solution that doesn’t involve swallowing a pill, make an appointment with one of our doctors at Sleep Renewal. Together, we can help you get more of the deep, restorative sleep you need to improve your overall physical and mental health and have you waking up feeling bright-eyed and ready to take on the world.