Insomnia is vicious. It not only deprives you of sleep, it leads to all kinds of other issues, from increased anxiety through difficulty staying awake and functioning effectively in the daytime to irritability, mood swings, and just feeling unwell. Prolonged insomnia may also lead to or aggravate chronic illness. So, how do you know if you have insomnia?
The Signs and Symptoms of Insomnia
A few sleepless nights, or occasional sleepless nights, are not insomnia. The American Psychiatric Association defines Insomnia Disorder (or Chronic Insomnia) as having trouble sleeping at least three nights a week for three months or longer. Less than three months is short-term insomnia. Insomnia means you have experienced each of:
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep at night
- Difficulty staying awake and functioning effectively in the daytime.
- There is no obvious reason for being unable to sleep, such as disturbing noise levels or financial worries.
- You don’t have another sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea.
There are three ways to treat insomnia: Self treatment, medical treatment, and psychological treatment.
You can practise several good sleeping habits from watching what you eat and drink in the evening to following an effective bedtime routine, to creating a calm and relaxing environment in your bedroom- see our blog on Falling Asleep Faster for a range of tips.
We recommend strongly that you do not use sleeping pills, prescribed or over the counter. They can often make your problem worse when you stop taking them and they can cause other dangerous problems. These include impairment (and thus impaired driving, falls and resulting injuries, amnesia, and memory problems, and can even make dementia worse). Sleeping pills may also interact badly with other medications or supplements you are taking. Further, they are habit forming, leading to withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them.
Your doctor can help you determine if there are underlying causes for your sleeplessness and if you are really struggling with insomnia or some other cause. Such causes might be heart problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, asthma, deep apnea, and more. Visit your doctor first so you know what is causing your sleep problems. Your diagnosis will define your treatment and treatment plan. If your doctor diagnoses or suspects a psychological cause, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, we can help. Our psychologists help many people address such illnesses.
If your doctor diagnoses Chronic Insomnia, then we can help you with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi).
CBTi costs less and is more effective for insomnia than taking pills for weeks or even months. Recommended by Dalhousie University’s Sleepwell initiative, CBTi is a form of behavioural therapy specific to insomnia that doesn’t require medication and can not only resolve insomnia but also prevent it occurring again. It is a sub-set of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto describes as short-term and practical therapy that helps you develop strategies, goals, and skills to become and stay healthy. CBTi focuses specifically on addressing sleep problems.
See our blog How CBTi can Help You Beat Insomnia for more information.
Ask your doctor for a referral to Pychsolutions where we have a CBTi-qualified psychologist.
Photo credit: Unsplash, Isabella and Louisa Fischer