Everyone is familiar with that feeling of waking up after a bad night’s sleep – but imagine waking up like that every morning. This is what insomniac’s experience. Insomnia is a disorder characterised by the difficulty in falling asleep and then staying asleep. Whilst insomnia is often linked with other conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and asthma (this is known as secondary insomnia); most causes are not directly linked to other health conditions but are instead things like stress and anxiety (primary insomnia) and therefore can affect many people and any stage of their life. Therefore, one of the more obvious ways to help reduce primary insomnia is to reduce the levels of stress and anxiety experienced by the individual -but this is easier said than done. Everyone is affected by stress differently and so everyone will have different methods of coping. Some general tips though are to always try and focus on the positive, try to prioritise tasks to be completed, manage your time effectively and never bottle your feelings up. There are a wide range of other things that can be done to reduce the symptoms of insomnia. Avoiding caffeine later in the day, along with big meals at night can be beneficial. Furthermore, reducing the chances of being woken up in the night by wearing an eye mask and earplugs can also benefit individuals. However, the latter option does have some medical issues tied with it, such as persistent ear infections if used incorrectly. When you do struggle sleeping, which is likely given the pending examinations, it is best to get yourself into a good routine; this will involve going to bed and waking up at similar times to avoid irregular sleeping patterns. Individuals with insomnia have also been shown to benefit from the use of relaxation tools, such as reading, having a bath, listening to music or meditating in order to reduce anxiety and stress before sleep. One of the worst things to do is watch TV or play on an electronic device just before going to sleep. Using electronic devices before going to bed can dramatically reduce your quality of sleep and affect your alertness the following day. Theartificial light emits signals to our brains resulting in us staying awake; this is because light is commonly associated with daytime and our brains process the artificial light from computer screens or other electronic devices to indicate that it is currently daytime. This results in our circadian rhythms (any biological process that has a 24 hour cycle, including sleep) being disrupted and our brain producing smaller amounts of the hormone melatonin which is involved in regulating sleep, and has also been shown to have a role in depression. Insomnia has often been found to be exacerbated by worrying about insomnia (Borkevec, 1982). I expect most people have experienced nights where they know they need to sleep but find that they just can’t get to sleep and the rather paradoxical solution to this can be to give up the pursuit to sleep and instead do something else. Insomnia is a relatively common problem, with 15% of adults complaining of severe or frequent insomnia and another 15% reporting having mild or occasional insomnia (Bootzin et al, 1993). But there are many ways to help yourself out if you are experiencing symptoms associated with insomnia so make sure you don’t just do nothing. Please note that if you suspect you are suffering from insomnia then you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. Further information about insomnia is listed below.
Sleep Foundation: http://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/home