Many lying in bed awake with insomnia with glasses beside him, as if he was just using them.

Do I Have Insomnia?

Definition of Insomnia

The definition of Insomnia, for a particular person, has many facets and requires a close look at their sleep schedule over the short-term and long-term, as well as any stressful or traumatic events that may have triggered the disruption in their normal sleep patterns. Many of us have asked ourselves the question: “Do I Have Insomnia?”. Maybe this scenario sounds familiar:

You fall into bed exhausted. “I’ll sleep tonight,” you say to yourself. And you just know it’ll happen. Then you lay down, close your eyes, get comfortable, and… toss. And turn. Look at the clock. Toss some more. Midnight rolls around, then 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3…

We’ve all had occasional sleepless nights, but when does an occasional night of restlessness turn into a condition you should be worried about?  

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, even if you have ample time and a bedroom environment conducive to restful sleep. An insomnia diagnosis requires these sleep troubles to also cause daytime impairments, such as sleepiness or difficulty concentrating.”Sleep Foundation

Insomnia can come to anyone who’s experienced an especially difficult season of life, from the trauma of a natural disaster to the grief of losing a loved one. It’s not unusual to wrestle with intense emotions that impact our ability to sleep when we’re facing the challenges of life.

But it’s important to know the difference between short-term insomnia, which is more acute and often brought on by those circumstances that are beyond our control, and chronic insomnia, which continues long after a situation has resolved itself. The definition of insomnia takes timetable and life events into account. 

Short-term insomnia, by definition, doesn’t last more than three months and often follows a triggering event. Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, goes beyond three months and significantly impacts someone’s daily life when they experience extreme sleepiness and difficulty with focus. 

Is Insomnia a Mental Illness?

The connection between sleep and mental health is real. Psychology Today calls the relationship between sleep and mental health complex and multifaceted: “Evidence consistently shows that healthy amounts of sleep are associated with better mood, improved productivity, and even heightened satisfaction with life in general.”

When someone’s having trouble sleeping, the opposite is true. They may feel moody or blue, have difficulty concentrating enough to work productively, and find themselves feeling generally dissatisfied with life. A 2018 study showed that 14.1% of participants sleeping less than 6 hours per night had some form of mental distress. When we are sleep deprived, this can bring on stress, because when we’re not thinking clearly, routine decisions can become more challenging and create distress when we’re not sure what to do.

What Causes Insomnia?

As we’ve already mentioned, major life events can trigger insomnia. Cleveland Clinic highlights other common causes:

  • An irregular sleep schedule: Maybe you go to bed at 10 p.m. one night and 1 a.m. the next due to your changing work schedule. Or you stay up all night on weekends binge watching your favorite shows because you know you can sleep until noon the next day. It’s fun to do that once in a while, but when you don’t have a regular bedtime routine, your circadian rhythm gets out of sync, making it harder for you to rest well.
  • Medical conditions: Those who experience considerable daily pain due to an injury or chronic condition may also find sleeping difficult. Anyone struggling with the effects of a stroke, dementia, or other neurological condition could also face long, sleepless nights. Anytime a medical condition affects an individual’s circadian rhythm, sleep is disrupted.  
  • Mental health issues: Anxiety and depression contribute to insomnia and become a negative cycle in which someone who struggles with anxiety or depression has difficulty sleeping, and then the lack of sleep increases the intensity of the anxiety and depression. 
  • Genetics: If your parents, grandparents, siblings or other family members have routinely had to fight insomnia, you’re more likely to struggle with it, too. 

Insomnia Symptoms

Someone describing insomnia may simply say they don’t sleep well, but Mayo Clinic gives us a more in-depth look at symptoms of the disorder:

  • Difficulty with falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Waking up frequently throughout the night
  • Worrying about not being able to sleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Feeling the effects of sleeplessness the next day — not feeling rested, feeling sleepy and tired, having trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Feeling increased anxiety or depression
  • Being more irritable
  • Making more errors or having accidents

How To Know When You Need Help with Insomnia

How do you know when you need help with insomnia? First, review the definition of insomnia and determine how long you have been experiencing sleep disruption. Next, consider the above symptoms and identify which ones, and how often you are experiencing them. Then ask yourself: “Was it after a significant life change”,” Did it begin with a death in the family?” Or perhaps it came on gradually. Try to pinpoint this. This is important information for insomnia treatment.

If the insomnia symptoms have not lasted more than three months, give yourself more time. As you adjust to life after the triggering event, you should also begin to return to normal sleep patterns. If you cannot point to a specific reason or the sleepless pattern has gone on far longer than three months, you may need to get help to get back to restful sleep.

What To Expect When You Reach Out for Help

Counselors have many tools in their toolkits to help those battling insomnia. When you reach out for help, you can expect to find a sympathetic listener who’s ready and able to work with you toward a resolution. Some types of therapy a counselor may use include: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – With CBT for insomnia, counselors help their clients discover and address negative beliefs that may be contributing to their insomnia. They’ll also work with their clients to establish new healthy behaviors conducive to good sleep patterns. 
  • How to treat insomnia without medication – Hopkins Medicine suggests that those who would prefer not to take sleeping pills try drinking warm milk, cherry juice, or a steaming cup of camomile tea before bed to stimulate melatonin production and other helpful sleep chemicals in the brain. 
  • Supplements – Melatonin supplements are available and may help induce sleepiness. Some experts may recommend herbal remedies or aromatherapy as well.
  • Exercise – Getting our bodies moving during the day can help us rest better at night, and your counselor may recommend an exercise routine if you don’t already have one in place.
  • Medication – For some, counselors may recommend medication to get your circadian rhythm back to a healthy pattern for sleeping. 

If you’ve experienced a traumatic event that’s causing sleepless nights, don’t add to the stress by worrying about the restlessness. But if you haven’t been sleeping for months on end, reach out and get the help you need.

The team at Best Day Psychiatry is trained and ready to help you live your best life. Reach out today.