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Home / Insomnia

Insomnia

Causes, Symptoms & Treatments of Insomnia

Insomnia is an unpleasant and often recurring condition that can massively impact a sufferer’s quality of life. Thankfully, there are several treatment options available, including lifestyle changes, therapy and medication. Read on to learn how to combat the condition and order medication.

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What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition where sufferers struggle to fall asleep, consistently wake up, or find their quality of sleep is inadequate. Though they may be able to sleep for long periods, individuals with this condition may be unable to reach deeper levels of REM sleep.

You need sufficient sleep in order to function mentally. If left untreated, insomnia can have a detrimental effect on health, leading to other complications (such as mental health issues), and impacting the ability to work and overall quality of life. A lack of sleep can also place you at risk when driving or operating heavy machinery.

It is estimated that one third of us will suffer from this condition at some point in our lives.

Despite the fact the condition may be temporary - you should seek treatment if you feel it is affecting your life negatively.

Please note, insomnia can be linked to underlying conditions and psychological concerns. You should consult a doctor if you do not know what is causing your insomnia.

What are the different types?

There are several classifications of insomnia, defined by how long it lasts and cause:

Acute insomnia - generally lasts less than a month. This is the most common presentation and is normally caused by a stressful or emotional event in your life (e.g. starting a new job, death of a loved one, etc.). Alternatively, an uncomfortable sleeping environment or pain can be a trigger.

Chronic insomnia - this is where you have problems sleeping for three days or more, for at least a period of one month. Sufferers of chronic insomnia can expect to have experienced sleep problems in the past. Medical conditions, such as diabetes or sleep apnea, as well as psychological conditions, such as anxiety and depression are common causes.

Onset- this form of insomnia is characterised by difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night and can be either acute or chronic. Onset insomnia is generally associated with another sleeping disorder.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

The most obvious and characteristic symptom of the condition is an inability or difficulty to fall asleep or remain asleep. However, there are other symptoms that may not be as initially apparent:

  • waking periodically throughout the night
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • mood changes
  • irritability

It is important to always visit a doctor and be diagnosed if you experience any unexplained symptoms. The above list can also be indicative of other underlying conditions.

What causes insomnia?

There are many conditions and factors that can cause and influence insomnia. Some causes are less distressing and can be resolved by simply changing aspects of your lifestyle:

  • stress
  • poor sleeping conditions
  • poor diet (overuse of stimulants)
  • alcohol/drug-use

There are many day-to-day techniques that can be employed to treat the above causes. For example, avoiding caffeine, limiting naps during the day, and limiting the use of screens at night.

A healthy diet and reducing alcohol consumption and recreational drug use will also benefit your sleep hygiene greatly. Experimenting with meditation and mindfulness as well as reducing triggers of stress in your life will also prove beneficial.

Other than these, some causes can be more serious and require supervised treatment:

  • anxiety and depression
  • medical conditions (e.g. alzheimer’s)
  • sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea)
  • chronic pain
  • ageing
  • menopause

The most common cause of chronic insomnia is poor psychological health, including (but not limited to) anxiety and depression. A lack of sleep can compound these conditions, creating a vicious cycle.

You should consult a doctor if you believe this may be the cause of your sleeplessness - they will be able to advise the best course of action.

What treatments are available?

Always consult your doctor before beginning any new treatment regime - especially medications.

It is sensible to first start by examining your bedroom routine to see if there are any changes you can make. For example, going to bed at a consistent time and only when you are tired, and minimising any background noise while you sleep. You may find these types of changes drastically improve the quality of your sleep. For a complete list of tips you can try, please consult a doctor or sleep specialist.

If simple behavioural changes prove to have no effect on your insomnia, your doctor may present different options, depending on the suspected cause of your insomnia.

One option is therapy - for example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This form of therapy involves identifying and fixing negative thought-patterns. A therapist will teach you techniques to help you deal with stressful and anxiety-inducing situations. These can be applied to reduce anxiety and frustration surrounding sleep.

Alternatively, they may prescribe medication. Medication may include antidepressants or benzodiazepines - intended to reduce anxiety and relax your body, such as at bedtime. That being said, GPs tend to avoid prescribing potent sleeping pills, as they may not treat the underlying issue. However, if your insomnia is particularly bad and has not responded to other treatments, medication should be used.

Another medication that is less restricted is melatonin (sold at HealthExpress). Unlike the above medications, melatonin is a hormone that helps to reset your circadian rhythm, which is the subconscious ‘body clock’ that dictates when you feel awake and drowsy. Your body naturally produces melatonin. However, its production declines as you age.

The advantage of this treatment is that it is less addictive and can also be used to treat other related conditions, such as jet-lag. Its disadvantage is that it will only work if your sleep issue is the result of a nighttime melatonin deficit.

You should speak with a doctor to determine what treatment is appropriate for you.

Can I buy insomnia medication online from HealthExpress?

HealthExpress currently only offers the medication Melatonin.

Melatonin is only licenced for use by those over the age of 55. However it is still available as an off-label medication for anyone younger.

Evidence suggests that it is less effective for those younger than 55, as the cause of their insomnia is generally not a lack of melatonin. Nonetheless, it can still be purchased online from HealthExpress.

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