Sleepless nights: Insomnia

If you've ever experienced a sleepless night, you have a bit of an understanding of the torment and fatigue felt by those with persistent insomnia.

Laying awake hour after hour and looking at the clock-wishing you could fall asleep and knowing your window of sleep opportunity is getting progressively shorter. In the middle of the night it seems like cruel and unusual punishment to be unable to shut down.

Insomnia is one of the most common health problems to affect our society. It can involve being unable get to sleep or having difficulty staying asleep. Some people also struggle with waking early in the morning and being unable to return to sleep.

In all cases, insomnia is disruptive and unsettling. Without a restful sleep, it is difficult to function properly at work or in social situations. Insomniacs frequently feel tired throughout the day, lack needed energy and can often make dangerous mistakes as a result. It is estimated that a person who has not slept in 24 hours has the acuity of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1.

While insomnia often occurs as a condition unto itself with no underlying cause, it can also occur as a secondary effect of another disorder. Mood and anxiety disorders seldom occur without disrupting sleep. In fact, the sleep disturbance is often the first obvious symptom and may be the last to improve as the depression or anxiety episode resolves. Many other disorders as well as some medications can also cause insomnia.

It is important to discern whether insomnia is secondary to another condition or medication. If it is a secondary effect, treating the underlying condition may eliminate the problem. Either way, it is important to treat as it is a significant risk factor for suicide in depression and can interfere with beneficial effects of other treatment if it is not addressed.

Recent studies also suggest a strong link between sleep loss and disease. Men whose sleep was restricted for six nights lost 30% of their ability to secrete insulin, which suggests a link between sleep loss and diabetes. Women with restricted sleep over a 10-year study increased their risk of developing coronary heart disease by 30%.

There are many available treatments for insomnia - both pharmacological and behavioural. Behavioural methods usually include some combination of the following:avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine late in the day; using your bed only as a place to sleep; making your bedroom a relaxing, comfortable place; making your room as dark and quiet as possible; avoiding eating heavy foods right before bed and avoiding strenuous mental or physical activity before bed.

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is also important. While every individual requires a slightly different amount of sleep each night, it is crucial to keep as regular a routine as possible.

Regular daytime exercise and relaxation techniques for reducing stress and worry are also important considerations when attempting to beat insomnia.

Many people can't fall asleep at night because they are overwhelmed with worry or persistent thoughts about upcoming events or the next day's requirements.

For some, writing a 'to do' list before bed is a means of letting go of some of the tasks. Others use meditation or relaxation techniques to dealing with excessive worry.

Unfortunately, these techniques don't work for everyone. If you try and don't succeed, it doesn't necessarily mean that you didn't try hard enough. It is very important to have the problem properly diagnosed as there are many different sleep disorders and possible contributing factors.

Insomnia and other sleep disorders can be quite difficult to treat at times and do sometimes require medication. Don't be afraid to have an assessment and get some advice.

Your family doctor is usually the place to start. If you don't have a family doctor or have already exhausted that resource, Okanagan Clinical Trials has an ongoing clinical study examining a new medication for primary insomnia (i.e. insomnia that is not part of another disorder).

 

Current Studies

 Alzheimer's Disease 

 Parkinson's Disease

 

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