Insomnia: A Nocturnal Monster In Our Lives

Insomnia: a nocturnal monster in our lives

Many children are afraid of the dark and the monsters it can hide. Monsters that crawl under the bed, kidnap them while they’re asleep, or they might pop out and scare them if they get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Fortunately, these childhood monsters are fictional. On the contrary, however, there is a real monster that can make its appearance at night in the life of children and, much more often, in that of adults: insomnia.

Insomnia is one of the sleep disorders, which are divided into two large groups: dysomnia and parasomnia. The former include disorders that alter the quantity, quality and time of sleep, while in the case of parasomnia there are + abnormal events associated with sleep, such as nightmares. Insomnia, therefore, falls into the category of dysomnia.

What is insomnia and how it manifests itself

While there are people who naturally have “good” or “bad” sleep and who have different habits (early risers or night owls), there are clear clues as to whether a person is suffering from insomnia. The most evident common point is the malaise that the person comes to feel in his life due to the lack of sleep, which he cannot reconcile due to various factors, often related to his habits.

To distinguish a temporary difficulty in reconciling sleep from a real insomnia, specialists report that the latter must occur for 3 or more nights a week and for a minimum period of 3 months.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that falls into the category of dysomnia, characterized by persistent difficulty or an inability to initiate and / or maintain sleep. People with insomnia also sometimes wake up too early, even if they fell asleep very late.

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How to distinguish insomnia from other sleep problems

As we have said, insomnia is part of dysomnia, so, first of all, your sleep must be “normal”, strange phenomena such as nightmares must not occur, but you must have problems in the quantity, quality and timing of the sleep.

To differentiate primary insomnia from other similar ailments, the first step is to know them. What is certain is that, even if they have common characteristics, they are not caused by the same factors and, therefore, do not need the same treatment. So let’s see what the different sleep disorders are:

  • Disorders related to breathing during sleep, such as apnea or alveolar hypoventilation
  • Primary hypersomnia, such as Kleine-Levin syndrome
  • Narcolepsy
  • Circadian rhythm disturbances (due to delayed sleep, jet lag, shift work)
  • Nonspecific sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or nocturnal myoclonus
  • Disorders due to the consumption of substances that alter the quantity and quality of sleep (caffeine, drugs, drugs)
  • Secondary sleep disturbances resulting from illness or other pathologies

Once all these causes have been ruled out, we can be sure that ours is a primary insomnia, that is to say that it is not due to another organic cause or to another psychological disorder. Sometimes insomnia can appear as a result of depression, for example; in these cases, the treatment will be different than when it occurs in isolation.

How does insomnia affect our life?

Lack of sleep can be really exasperating for those who suffer from it: not only does the person feel tired, but the accumulated fatigue causes apathy, lack of concentration and irritability. Not getting enough sleep directly affects our energy for obvious reasons, and this will have repercussions on our work and relationships as a couple or with friends.

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Lack of sleep also affects our ability to relate, learn and remember. While many famous people refer to themselves as “night owls,” this shouldn’t fool us. It may be that, even if they do not sleep at night, they sleep enough during the day, and this, even if it is not the prevalent habit in the population, cannot be considered insomnia.

We also need to take into account the fact that some jobs have a more flexible schedule; writing is not the same as working as a bus driver. Not sleeping in the first case may be relatively bearable, while in the second case lack of sleep can lead to truly dire consequences.

The best treatments for insomnia

If you are going through a period of severe insomnia, where you feel unable to sleep for days, your primary care physician may prescribe benzodiazepines or hypnotic drugs. The latter are the most suitable in case of insomnia and are cleared from the body within about 5 hours, which causes less dependence.

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However, these medicines are only a temporary help against insomnia, because this problem has as its general causes different environmental and behavioral factors that are specific to each person. For this reason it is advisable to  contact a clinical psychologist with cognitive-behavioral training, who can help you defeat insomnia. The most used techniques in these cases are:

  1. Control of stimuli : control the temperature and noise of the place where you sleep, avoid spending time in the bedroom doing other activities such as studying or watching a movie. While it is recommended that you read before bed, as this is a sleep-inducing activity, it is good to try to do it out of bed.
  2. Sleep restriction : this is a technique invented by Spielman, which consists in reducing the hours of sleep for a few days, until the person falls asleep alone. Be careful, however, not to reduce the hours to less than 4 hours a day.
  3. Paradoxical intention : it consists in contradicting our desire. If we know we need to sleep, we try to think instead that we need to stay awake. It has been shown that this “paradoxical” cognitive struggle ends up inducing drowsiness.
  4. Relaxation techniques such as autogenic training and progressive relaxation.
  5. Sleep hygiene : improve the person’s awareness of habits that promote sleep (decrease the amount of caffeine, play sports, correct nutrition, avoid alcohol).

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