Updated 11 February 2021

What is Insomnia?

Patient experiencing insomnia
It is estimated that about one-third of all Australians experience the sleeping problem known as insomnia. Insomnia is a sleeping problem characterised by a difficulty to either fall asleep or to maintain sleep for a sufficient length of time. To maintain a healthy, productive life you are expected to have uninterrupted sleep for at least 6 to 8 hours daily. Insomnia can deprive you of this. Even though insomnia is a fairly common condition, it is estimated that only about 5% of Australians would require some sort of professional assistance in dealing with their insomnia problem. Insomnia can be short lived or can extend for a long time. People have been known to experience insomnia for several months and for years in really extreme cases. While insomnia can affect anyone, the elderly and women are known to be more prone than other demographic groups.  There are different types of insomnia and these include:
  • Short-term or Acute insomnia: this form of insomnia is the most common in Australia and indeed around the world. Short-term insomnia is usually triggered by stress factors and can last for either a few days or in some cases it can last for weeks. People that suffer from acute insomnia tend to recover fully without any medication or psychiatric help.
  • Long-term or Chronic insomnia: chronic insomnia may be due to several causative factors including pregnancy, anxiety, and many other different sleep disorders. This form of insomnia is characterised by a lack of sufficient sleep over a lengthy period of time which may be months or even years.
  • Primary insomnia: primary insomnia is a form of insomnia in which there is no apparent underlying factor responsible for the sleeping problem.
  • Secondary insomnia: with secondary insomnia, a person usually suffers from one or more diagnosed or undiagnosed ailments. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety, are known to trigger this type of insomnia.

What are the Common Symptoms of Insomnia?

Some of the most common symptoms and signs of insomnia include:
  • Difficulty in falling asleep,
  • Difficulty in getting quality sleep,
  • When you wake up in the middle of the night and find it extremely difficult to fall asleep again,
  • When you wake up earlier than normal.
When you have insomnia, this condition can adversely affect and disrupt your day to day activities in the following ways:
  • Feeling sleepy in the daytime especially while at work,
  • General fatigue and tiredness, not feeling rested or refreshed,
  • A drop off in concentration levels which can be dangerous when driving or working with machinery,
  • Poor cognitive ability occasioned by poor decision making, increased mistakes, and forgetfulness,
  • Mood swings,
  • Irritability,
  • Depression,
  • Anxiety,
  • Headaches and migraines,
  • Sleep anxiety - this is where you are constantly worried about sleeping or getting some sleep,
  • Digestive system problems.

What are the Causes of Insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by a host of physical, mental, psychological, and emotional factors, many of whom are still unknown. Some known causes of insomnia particularly in Australians are:
  • Maintaining very poor sleeping habits: it is important to maintain a sleeping routine that works for you.
  • The use of substances: drinking too much caffeine during the day or at night can affect your sleeping pattern and cause insomnia. You should also avoid drinking alcohol before bedtime. Substances like amphetamines, as well as a number of prescription medications can cause you to experience insomnia.
  • Physical and mental stress: both physical and mental stress can cause you to experience symptoms of insomnia. Work-related stress is an all too common cause of insomnia in today's world.
  • Health-related problems: some health conditions can instigate sleeplessness in people, such as; digestive and urinary health issues, chronic pain, respiratory health problems like asthma, and hormonal changes.
  • Mental and psychological issues: insomnia has been identified as a symptom of many mental and psychological health concerns such as depression, anxiety and psychosis.
  • Other sleeping disorders: some other sleeping disorders are known to be a causative factor of insomnia. Some of these sleeping disorders include restless leg syndrome, obstructive sleep apnoea, periodic limb movement, and circadian rhythm disorders.
  • Lifestyle changes: if you were a day worker and you then began working late at night or through the night, this sudden change in sleeping pattern can cause short-term insomnia and your body may need several weeks to properly adjust to the new sleep routine.

Tests & Diagnosis of Insomnia

 If your insomnia does not subside and becomes ongoing, a consultation with your doctor should be arranged. He or she would normally ask some questions usually relating to your lifestyle, diet, work, and home. Your doctor will try to establish causative factor(s) behind your sleeplessness. A physical examination will be conducted to see if there are undiagnosed health issues that could be responsible for your insomnia. Also, your doctor may request blood and urine sample tests to be sure that you are not suffering from an underlying health problem. You may be referred to a clinical psychologist if your doctor feels that your insomnia is caused by mental health problems. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist sleep disorder clinic in Australia for further assessment and tests.
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Treatment Options for Insomnia

 There are several home remedies you can try today to curb your short-term (acute) insomnia problem. Some of these home remedies are designed to help you fall asleep and to improve the quality of your sleep and they include:
  • Maintain a strict daily sleep routine,
  • Avoid taking daytime naps,
  • Quit smoking cigarettes,
  • Reduce your daily consumption of alcoholic beverages,
  • Cut down your daily caffeine (coffee and tea) as well as caffeinated soft drink consumption,
  • Avoid strenuous workouts just before you go to bed,
  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy,
  • Avoid reading a book, listening to music or even watching TV while in bed,
  • Try not to take the worries of the day with you to bed,
  • Before bedtime try to engage in an activity that would help you relax, such as taking a warm bath or meditation,
  • Where you lay in bed and you find it difficult to fall asleep, go to another room and engage in some activity until you find yourself feeling sleepy,
  • Wake up at a regular time every morning whether or not you had sufficient sleep the night before.
A sleep disorder clinic may try out a number of techniques aimed at helping patients with long-term (chronic) insomnia develop a personalised sleep pattern and routine that works for them. These techniques may include:
  • Ensuring that the patient maintains a personalised sleep diary. This will help the patient and the sleep disorder clinic to identify a pattern for the patient's chronic insomnia and find out what triggers it.
  • Sleep disorder clinics may introduce patients to a less intense sleep deprivation program.
  • Behavioural therapy may be advised.
  • Patients may go through a program where they are exposed to natural sunlight or artificially generated bright light early in the morning.
  • Patients may be given one or more medications that will help them establish a fresh sleep pattern or routine.

Recovery from Insomnia

 A full recovery from acute insomnia is possible within a short period of time. But usually patients recover from short-term insomnia after the causative factor(s) behind their acute insomnia has been properly dealt with. Recovery from chronic insomnia may take a much longer time. It may entail several trips to your doctor's office for prescription sleep medication. It may also involve long term treatment at a sleeping disorder clinic. Some chronic insomnia conditions are a lifelong challenge to some people.
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