What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is characterized by trouble sleeping and can be associated with trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or frequent awakenings during the night. Poor quality sleep can decrease your energy during the day and can have deleterious health effects and can negatively impact your mood and cognition.
Sleep is regulated by both circadian rhythms within the body (body clock timed by bright days and dark nights) and by our internal sleep drive. Not getting enough sleep can increase systemic inflammation and contribute to obesity, heart disease and other diseases.
While most people immediately turn to medications for sleep trouble, if you are struggling with insomnia, the place to start is with sleep hygiene.
- Get out of bed at the same time every morning
- Avoid daytime naps
- Only use the bed for sleep and sex
- Avoid caffeine after 2 PM
- Avoid alcohol at night
- Establish a set bedtime routine
- Don’t force sleep and only go to bed when you’re tired
Sleep in pitch darkness. Sleeping with lights on in the bedroom increases the risk of depression and weight gain. Blue lights from screens can block the onset of sleep. White noise or relaxing music helps some people fall asleep faster, as does light aromatherapy but this is very individually different so choose what works for you.
If you go to bed and haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get out of bed and move to a different room. Do a calming activity in a different room until you are tired, keeping the lights low, and once you feel sleepy you can go back to the bed and try again. This keeps you from associating the bed with a struggle to fall asleep.
If these techniques prove ineffective, progress to cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi). It is as effective as sleep medication in the short term and much more effective than medication in the long term. These behavioral therapies are also helpful for people already taking sleep medication and for people who are trying to wean off sleep medications.
Medications are not recommended for the long-term management of insomnia.