Dealing with Insomnia


Merriam-Webster defines insomnia as “prolonged and usually abnormal inability to get enough sleep”, simply put, you are unable to sleep but not just for one night. A good sleep is just as important as the air we breathe for maintaining a healthy day to day life. Most adults require six to eight hours of nighttime sleep for proper functioning. Lack of sleep can displace the metabolic and biochemical equilibrium of the body yielding terrible consequences. It is the most common sleep-related disorder and is found that a staggering 30 percent of individuals worldwide suffer from insomnia.

Any risk factors?

It can affect almost any age category but repeated research have summarized a few risk factors.

  • Advanced age (>60 years)
  • Sex : more in elderly females
  • Late night workers
  • Traversing different time zones.
  • Obesity
  • Long distance travel affecting body's circadian rhythm
  • Medications : Stimulants (caffeine) , blood pressure drugs, antidepressants
  • Pre-existing mental problems like depression
  • Illnesses: Chronic bodily pain, arthritis, thyroid abnormalities, asthma etc.

If you have one or more of these factors you must adopt a healthy sleep pattern which can prevent or alleviate sleep disorders.

The two patterns

There are a number of classifications but the one below is customary.

Primary insomnia: That means there is no underlying physical or psychological cause causing sleep disturbance to be found.

Secondary insomnia: There is a diagnosable underlying issue resulting insomnia.

Common features of Insomnia

It is vital to know that insomnia may be mimicking an underlying illness. Insomnia has many faces, including difficulty in falling asleep, inability to stay asleep and early wake up for no reason. However, there are some other unique features which are listed below.

  • Extreme daytime fatigues and loss of energy in the mornings
  • Frequent tension headaches
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Accident prone behavior due to poor coordination
  • Daytime irritability and mood swings
  • Gastrointestinal issues like PUD (peptic ulcer diseases)

These are only a handful of symptoms as any after effect of sleep deprivation probably can be considered.

Confirming insomnia

Confirming insomnia can be done by a doctor or a more specialized sleep physician (sleep specialist) evaluating the physical and medical histories of the patient and with the help of classical ‘Athens insomnia scale' which was discovered by a group of Greek scientists in the year 2000. This brilliant scale assesses eight factors in which the first five are associated with night time sleep and the remaining three with daytime efficiency that is hampered in sleep deprivation.

In certain cases, an overnight sleep study using a polysomnogram may be needed for diagnosis. Though not commonly used, it can exclude other causative factors causing the sleep disturbance.

Dealing with Insomnia

Most important step in treating insomnia is the identification of the underlying cause if present. Once located it can be controlled or treated (Ex, painkillers for a back pain). This can only be done by a health professional and self-diagnosing and treatment are not recommended at all as laboratory tests may be needed for establishing.

However, there are a number of approaches in handling primary (idiopathic) insomnia not complicated by an underlying disorder. Few are mentioned below.

  • Relaxation methods : meditation, yoga, and tai chi can be beneficial.
  • Adopting a good sleep pattern (sleep hygiene) : Not taking caffeine at night, not smoking, regular sleep schedule, not going to bed hungry and daily physical activity.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy : developing alternative ways of thinking in handling problems.
  • Pharmacotherapy : Prescription sleeping pills, melatonin etc.

Pharmacotherapy is considered a last resort and not encouraged due to devastating side effects.

Insomnia is an underappreciated health hazard that should receive more professional attention as it critically affects nearly every aspect of your life. It impairs family relationships and contributes to the financial burden of the country due to loss of productive working hours. So, fight insomnia, be healthy.

Last Reviewed:
January 18, 2017
Last Updated:
October 23, 2017
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