Mary was 8 months pregnant and had trouble sleeping. Being her first pregnancy, she was finding the experience new and overwhelming. In the first trimester, she encountered sleep problems which went away. She had assumed this would pass too. If anything, sleep eluded her even more and nights were spent in restlessness. Finally, she consulted her doctor who informed her that she was suffering from pregnancy insomnia and provided some helpful tips.
What is Insomnia?
Experts define insomnia as a sleep disorder causing patients to experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep for the period desired or getting back to sleep after waking up. This insomnia definition includes both sleep quality and quantity. You are most likely to suffer from sleep problems if you:
- Are a woman since menstrual cycle and menopause causes hormonal shifts affecting sleep
- Have stress due to events or circumstances
- Are over 60 years
- Have an irregular work or traveling schedule
- Are physically or mentally sick
3 Types of Insomnia
If you suffer from the disorder, it may be manifesting in any of these 3 forms;
- Transient: is temporary and lasts a period of days to a few weeks
- Acute: may continue for several weeks or alternate with periods when you have sleep problems and others where you do not.
- Chronic: may persist for months or years. Sleep problems are chronic when you experience them three nights a week minimum for a month or longer
It can also be further categorized into two categories; primary insomnia if the condition is not directly linked to another health problem or secondary; where the sleep problems are either associated to: chronic pain, diseases like heart failure, medication side effects, or substances like alcohol and caffeine.
What Causes It?
Insomnia causes are many and differ from one individual to the next. They are;
- Chronic stress originating from finances, divorce, death of a loved one or failing health
- Major changes in the environment, work or travel schedules programs e.g. night to day shifts or temperature extremes.
- Unhealthy sleeping habits such as irregular bedtimes, using electronic gadgets in bed, unpleasant sleeping conditions and working from your bed.
- Lingering Pain or discomfort from diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or cancer and conditions like hyperthyroidism or GERD
- Disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. Apnea regularly interrupts breathing while RLS causes a compelling need to move legs.
- Nicotine, alcohol and caffeine because they stimulate your body while alcohol hinders deep sleep.
- Psychological issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders and anxiety disorders.
- Medications for pain, cold and allergy including prescribed medicines like blood pressure and asthma medication, antidepressants, or weight-loss products.
10 Common Insomnia Symptoms
If you have any of the following symptoms, you might have sleep problems.
- Difficulty sleeping at night
- Waking up earlier than anticipated
- Reduced concentration, memory and focus
- Irritability, anxiety or depression
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Continuous worries relating to sleep
- Waking up in the night
- Increased errors or accidents due to lack of coordination
- Fatigue even after a night’s sleep
- Tension headaches
Insomnia in Pregnancy
Pregnancy insomnia is common and affects approximately 78% of women. It is a combination of inability to fall asleep and not being able to go back to sleep after waking. The major causes are; leg cramps, heartburn, hormonal changes, frequent vivid dreams, back pain, birth and parenting anxiety, frequent urination at night and increased abdomen size causing discomfort. Financial worries for unplanned pregnancies and miscarriage concerns may also contribute. Pregnancy insomnia occurs in the first and third trimester and rarely in the second.
5 Natural Ways to Beat It
There are several methods to overcome insomnia. However you may want to try natural home remedies first before any other option. The following are ways in which the disorder can be handled naturally.
1. Enhance Your Sleep Hygiene
Develop healthy sleep habits by keeping a regular sleeping schedule and consistently sticking to it. Sleep when you need to and don’t postpone sleep as this disturbs your cycle. Design a relaxed sleeping atmosphere in your bedroom, shutting out disruptions. Avoid taking caffeine in the evening and going to bed hungry. Exercise regularly, but stop about 3-4 hours before you go to bed. If you wake up in the middle of sleep, drink some milk or read a book to make you sleepy again.
2. Bedtime Preparation
To help you wind down and prepare for sleep some preparation is important. Take a light snack but avoid heavy meals and drinks just before sleeping. Avoid using your phone, tablet or watching TV an hour before going to bed. Listen to slow soothing music or pray to relax your mind and prepare for sleep. Take a warm bath or get a massage which relaxes your body, encouraging sleep.
3. Sleep Restriction
Avoid taking naps during the day because they make it harder to sleep at night. If you must take a nap, limit it to 30 minutes and do not nap past 3 pm. Avoid lying in bed awake if you are not sleeping as it may interfere with sleep. Reduce the time you spend in bed and ensure your bed is used only for sex and sleep. Sleep for the same amount of time daily, setting an alarm if you must. If in 20 minutes you have not fallen asleep, leave the bed and only return when you are sleepy.
4. Avoid Medications That Disrupt Your Sleep.
If you are on medication, check to see if they have any side effects interfering with sleep. If they do, see your doctor for a new prescription where possible. Check labels of products for caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants that could disturb your sleep. Prescription medications such as prednisone, antihistamines, antidepressants and medications for blood pressure may be sleep disruptive. Nicotine replacers and cough or cold medication can interrupt your sleep.
5. Other Natural Ways
When you wake up in the morning, spend time outdoors. Exposure to the sun helps your internal clock to reset. A direct exposure of an hour is recommended but 20 minutes would do as well. Deal with stress immediately because it is directly linked to sleep problems and is ultimately dangerous to your health. Cortisol, a hormone found in stressed people causes weight gain, forgetfulness, concentration problems and anxiety. Do not let pain interrupt your sleep. Consult your doctor for effective pain relief.
Insomnia is curable and the most effective approach is a combination of these methods. Try them and put the disorder in your past.
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