Modern life works at a breakneck speed and demands that we bring our best selves to each task each and every day. Our cramped schedules can make sleep seem like a luxury or something to be “taken care of”. An early day at the office, a night spent working on the term paper or preparing for an exam, scrolling through our social media feeds, and binging on our favorite series late into the night — all of these can make us realize the next morning how immensely precious sleep is.
But sometimes, despite going to bed on time, we may find ourselves tossing and turning in bed late into the night, feeling wide awake even though we should be asleep. Or we might wake up early and find it impossible to fall asleep again. What can be even more confounding is when we get a full night’s sleep and yet wake up feeling fatigued.
Usually, the culprit is stress – whether it is about an upcoming event or arising from some turmoil in life. It is natural to have a few sleepless nights during these phases. But a regular pattern of sleepless nights might be an indication of insomnia.
Symptoms of Insomnia
Poor sleep can make it difficult to function during the daytime. It can make us feel irritable and fatigued, and we may find it hard to focus. Poor sleep can also interfere with our ability to remember or recall things and make us prone to making mistakes. This can have an adverse effect on our work or school life, and spill into our social life as well. It is, thus, important to identify the symptoms so the issue can be addressed immediately. Below are some of the typical symptoms of insomnia:
- Difficulty in falling asleep at night even after a tiring day
- Waking up in the night and being unable to fall asleep again
- Difficulty in staying asleep
- Feeling sleepy or groggy during the daytime, taking long naps during the day
- Not feeling rested and refreshed even after a full night’s sleep
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty in remembering or recalling things
In order to alleviate the detrimental effects that insomnia can have on our physical and psychological health, we must first understand the causes behind this affliction.
Causes of Insomnia
Various factors can contribute to the development of insomnia. However, these causes are unique to individuals and vary widely. Some of the common causes of insomnia include:
- Poor sleep habits: An irregular bedtime schedule and daytime naps can disrupt the normal rhythm of the body. Additionally, using smartphones or laptops, or watching TV right before bedtime can increase vigilance and make falling asleep difficult. Working before bedtime or engaging in mentally stimulating activities before bedtime can have the same effect.
- Stress: Nervousness about an upcoming event or worrying about issues at school, work, etc. can stimulate the mind at night and delay the onset of sleep. Major negative life events – bereavement, divorce, loss of a job – can lead to incessant rumination which also interferes with sleep.
- Irregular routine: Our bodies maintain a biological clock – circadian rhythm – that regulates our sleep cycle, metabolism, etc. in relation to the time of day. Working late into the night or working early, frequently traveling across time zones, or frequently changing the sleep-wake time can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause insomnia.
- Medication: Certain medications such as painkillers, antihistamines, decongestants for allergies, medication for blood pressure, etc. can disrupt sleep.
- Consumption of stimulants: Having a cup of coffee in the evening can cause wakefulness that could extend well into the night and keep you from falling asleep. Other caffeinated beverages such as tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks can be equally disruptive to sleep. Tobacco products such as cigarettes produce a relaxing effect in the short term; however, the nicotine in these products – a stimulant – can stay in your body for hours and interfere with sleep.
Insomnia and Mental Health
Insomnia can have debilitating effects on mental health – both in the short and long term. Poor sleep has a direct impact on our cognitive abilities. Insomnia can lead to problems with concentration that can result in poor performance at work and school. It also has a negative impact on executive functioning, our ability to plan for the future, resisting temptations, regulating our behavior, and making well-thought-out decisions.
The impairment of executive functioning can impact all areas of life by causing us to make poor decisions, fail to follow through on our plans, and behave in ways that are not aligned with our personality and self-image. This can culminate in poor self-esteem, extreme doubts regarding one’s capabilities, disappointment at failing to achieve one’s goals, and a bleak outlook on the future. If left untreated, the effects of insomnia can morph into depression.
Insomnia also affects the way we process emotions, especially negative ones. It not only increases irritability but also makes it difficult for us to react appropriately to negative emotions. Slight provocations can cause us to lose our temper and lead to conflicts that could have otherwise been avoided.
Other negative stimuli, such as rejection, can cause us to endlessly ruminate and indulge in unfettered self-criticism. Such emotional distress can keep us up at night, thereby exacerbating insomnia. It can also further erode our confidence and cause us to withdraw, leading to social isolation and feelings of hopelessness.
Another important component of insomnia is its ability to cause or exacerbate anxiety. People with insomnia can be worried about their sleep and may experience intrusive thoughts that only serve to increase their worries. Moreover, the awareness that their sleep deprivation is affecting their cognitive abilities can itself become a cause of deep concern, creating a vicious loop that increases agitation and fear about the future.
Current research also suggests that there exists a bi-directional relationship between insomnia and poor mental health — that is, insomnia can be a symptom of underlying psychological disorders.
Various anxiety disorders are known to cause disruption in sleep, negatively impacting both the duration and the quality of sleep. Frequent disruption of sleep due to nightmares can be an indication of post-traumatic stress disorder, whereas panic attacks during sleep may be the result of untreated panic disorder.
Other mental health disorders, such as depression, can manifest as shorter sleep duration, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, and a persistent feeling of sadness. Other mental disorders that may cause insomnia include ADHD, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and an eating disorder.
In such cases, where you may suspect that an underlying issue might be fueling insomnia, seeking professional help might be a good way forward. Mental health professionals are equipped to unravel the complexities of such cases and can help achieve a faster resolution of the issues.
Treatment of Insomnia
The first step in treating insomnia involves cultivating habits that are conducive to sleep and eliminating the factors that impair a good night’s sleep. Some strategies that you can adopt to combat insomnia include:
- Good sleep hygiene: Maintaining a regular bedtime schedule can help your body get in sync with its circadian rhythm and induce sleep at a regular time. It is also important to eliminate all exposure to screens – TV, laptop, smartphone – at least an hour before bedtime. Avoiding excessive caffeine intake, especially later in the day, can further aid sleep.
- Maintaining a routine: A daily routine that involves physical exercise, proper mealtimes, avoidance of working late at night, and regular exposure to the sun can prove immensely beneficial in promoting healthy sleep.
- Meditation and relaxation techniques: A great way to unwind at the end of the day is to meditate, which is effective in decreasing both physical and mental manifestations of anxiety. Deep breathing and similar relaxation techniques can also help in falling asleep faster.
- Journaling: Maintaining a journal where you write down your worries at the end of the day can help put the distressing thoughts out of your mind and prevent rumination that is disruptive to sleep.
Seeking Professional Help
If you feel that insomnia is severely affecting your life and is persisting despite employing the lifestyle changes mentioned above, it would be wise to talk to a specialist as your insomnia might be indicative of an underlying medical condition.
Interventions involving cognitive-behavioral therapy have shown immense success in treating insomnia related to emotional difficulties. The mental health professional can also evaluate whether an underlying medical condition is causing insomnia and offer appropriate therapeutic treatment that addresses the underlying issues. In certain cases, the professional may also provide you with medication that targets the core mental health issues and promotes healthy sleep.
We Can Help!
MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home. If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.