How do you know you have insomnia? If you ever wished before going to bed, “Help me Sleep,” you have insomnia. When you are overjoyed to have nightmares because at least you know you got some sleep, you have insomnia! Before going to bed, I would begin to worry about having another sleepless night and after one year of going through life drained, I knew I needed something to help me sleep. After trying sleeping pills, exercising until I was exhausted, reading boring books, and listening to relaxing music, I still had insomnia. Sure the sleeping pills would put me to sleep, but I would wake up groggy, exhausted and had to contend with two side-affects from the medication – headaches and forgetfulness. Eventually the pill’s effectiveness wore off – the sleeping pill would put me to sleep, but I would wake up in the middle of the night after just 4 hours of sleep pleading, “please help me sleep!” After some research, I learned there are two basic categories of insomnia: primary and secondary, and acute and chronic. Insomnia is characterized by:
- difficulty falling asleep;
- waking throughout the night and being unable to get back to sleep;
- waking up too early in the morning; and
- fatigue after waking.
Primary insomnia symptoms are not directly connected with health conditions or problems. Secondary insomnia defines a sufferer experiencing problems due to other health issues like depression, stress, asthma, cancer; heartburn; pain; substances like alcohol; and medication. Acute insomnia is short term, lasting up to a few weeks. Chronic is long term, meaning the sufferer has bouts multiple nights a week for at least a month or longer. Either of these can come and go. There can be breaks where a person experiences no sleep problems.
- Stress (loss of job; change of job; concern about work, etc.)
- Physical and emotional discomfort
- Interference with sleep cycle (light, noise, extreme temperatures, etc.)
The sleep schedule can be disrupted by things like travel. Time changes and jet lag can put undue stress on the brain and body and affect the sleep cycle. However, that wasn’t the case with me. I couldn’t understand what was causing the insomnia and told that to my doctor. She asked if I was under stress and although I was going through a divorce, going to school and raising a child on my own, I didn’t think that stress was the culprit of my sleepless nights. Why? I thought that if I was under stress, I would not be able to shut my mind off my problems at night. But when night came I didn’t think about my problems, so I couldn’t understand why I was still not sleeping. Stress can be internalized and affects people in different ways. After finding the answer to getting a good nights sleep, I did notice that before I found the answer to sleeping, my stomach was tense, my neck was tight and my back was sore. These are all symptoms that manifest from stress and insomnia was the result. Because insomnia disrupts a sufferer’s normal lifestyle, you can experience fatigue, general weariness and irritability throughout the day. There can also be severe problems with memory and concentration.
It’s always a good idea to have a doctor investigate the problem by performing a physical exam, looking at your medical history and studying sleep history just to rule out any serious medical conditions. The doctor may request you track sleep patterns for a week and monitor how you feel the next day. The doctor may want to query your partner about your sleep patterns. In severe cases, the doctor may suggest a sleep center.
Once diagnosed, treatment will be administered. The doctor will find a proactive and healthy solution. It could include medication, diet, relaxation exercises and therapy. They will suggest you avoid overuse of sleeping pills as they can become addictive and have side effects. Since many of my patients undergoing physical and occupational therapy were undergoing stressful situations, I designed these specific sets of exercises to decrease their stress. Soon they were reporting that the active relaxation exercises and meditation were not only helping manage stress, but helping them sleep. After doing daily vital checks, I discovered their blood pressure was decreasing and their heart health was improving. When I heard one of them say, “I finally slept through the night for the first time in twelve years,” I knew I had to try it myself. It worked and finally I had a reason to celebrate; for it meant no more sleeping pills, no waking up to a pounding headache, no fatigue, no forgetting and going through the day in a brain fog needing 5 cups of coffee. That was my ‘aha’ moment. I was under stress and the only way to overcome it was to accept what stress was doing to my mind and body. Once accepted, you can learn how to manage stress, instead of stress managing you. If you are in a stressful situation, you may not even realize that insomnia may be a direct result of stress. Accepting that stress could be the culprit is the first step of having no more nights staring at your alarm clock.
By Suzanne Andrews If you’ve ever pleaded to yourself, Help Me Sleep, PBS TV’s Suzanne Andrews Help Me Sleep program is therapeutically designed to help you get to sleep and stay asleep. The AM active relaxation program is designed to help decrease stress and anxiety. The PM program includes a relaxing meditation with the Suzanne Andrews doctor recommended method to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Free preview now at http://vimeo.com/ondemand/helpmesleep/79978964
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