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Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that not only affects sleep but also functioning during the waking hours.1a

Learn here all about insomnia, and how to best to manage your sleep problems.

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To understand insomnia we first must learn about sleep.

Sleep is an important part of your daily routine.2a

1/3 of your time is spent sleeping!2a

Sleep is important to a number of brain functions.2b

  • During sleep brain pathways are formed and maintained that let you learn and create new memories, concentrate and respond quickly.2a
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Types and stages of sleep

During most stages of sleep, the brain becomes quiet, letting you tune out the external world.  But during certain stages of sleep, the brain becomes active, creating images, sounds, and other sensations that fill our dreams.2c 

There are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. You cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep several times during a typical night.2d

Factors that influence your sleep-wake needs include medical conditions, medications, stress, sleep environment, and what you eat and drink.2i 

Perhaps the greatest influence is the exposure to light!  Your eyes process light and tell the brain whether it is day or night. Exposure to light can make it difficult to fall asleep and return to sleep when awakened.2i

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How much sleep do you need?

Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age.2

  • Babies – As much as 18 hours per day, important for boosting growth and development (especially of the brain).2j
  • School-age children and teens – On average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night.
  • Adults – Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, night-time sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings
  • Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep. 
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What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it hard to:1a

  • fall asleep
  • stay asleep
  • get back to sleep after waking

Insomnia can affect your energy levels, mood and also your health, work performance and quality of life.1a

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How do I know if I have insomnia?

At some point, many adults experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which lasts for days or weeks. It is usually the result of stress or a traumatic event.1b

Some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts for a month or more.1b

Symptoms of insomnia include:1c

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

It is important to know that changes in daily habits and some medications can help you sleep and put an end to sleepless nights, thereby improving your functioning in the day. A healthcare professional can help you identify the cause of your sleep problem and how it can be treated.1d,e,3a

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What causes insomnia?

  • Stress
  • Travel or work schedule
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Eating too much late in the evening
  • Medical conditions such as asthma, pain, reflux, overactive thyroid and others
  • Medication such as caffeine or other stimulants (including nicotine or alcohol) can disrupt sleep
  • Mental health disorders
  • Sleep-related disorders, for example sleep apnoea or restless legs syndrome
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Age and insomnia

Sleep often becomes less restful as you age due to:1g

  • Changes in sleep patterns. 
  • Changes in activity. 
  • Changes in health. 
  • More medications. 

Insomnia in children and teens may be a concern for children and teenagers as well however this is usually due to a delayed body clock than any other specific condition.1h

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Who suffers from insomnia?

  • Women – hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and in menopause may play a role in disrupting sleep.
  • Age (over 60 years)- changes in sleep patterns and health means insomnia increases with age.
  • Mental health or physical health condition. Many issues that impact your mental or physical health can disrupt sleep.
  • Stress – temporary or chronic insomnia.
  • You don’t have a regular schedule. For example, changing shifts at work or traveling can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle.
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Treating insomnia

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep2k

Lifestyle changes, including good sleep habits, often help relieve acute (short-term) insomnia. These changes might make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. A type of counselling called cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can also help relieve the anxiety linked to chronic (ongoing) insomnia.4a

  • Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Relax before bed – try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  • Create a room for sleep – avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and don’t watch TV or have a computer in your bedroom
  • Don’t lie in bed awake.  If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired. 
  • See a doctor if you have a problem sleeping or if you feel unusually tired during the day.  Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.
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Medications

Several medicines also can help relieve your insomnia and allow you to re-establish a regular sleep schedule.4a

There are certain types of medicines that can be bought over-the-counter (OTC) to help alleviate insomnia – these are typically related to antihistamines, which as a side effect produce sleepiness.3b,c

Common OTC sleep aids include:3d

  • Doxylamine succinate. A sedating antihistamine.
  • Diphenhydramine. A sedating antihistamine.
  • Melatonin. A typically mild effect to help control the natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Valerian. Supplements made from this plant are sometimes taken as sleep aids.

Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.2k Always ask advice from your pharmacist or doctor on choices, suitability and precautions.3e

Medical References

  1. Mayo clinic. Insomnia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167?p=1 Last accessed October 2020.
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep [August 13, 2019] Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep#8 Last accessed October 2020.
  3. Mayo clinic. Adult Health [October 16, 2019]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep-aids/art-20047860 Last accessed October 2020.
  4. Medline Plus. Insomnia [Last updated 30 April 2020]. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/insomnia.html Last accessed October 2020.
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