What causes Insomnia?
Insomnia or sleeplessness is a sleeping disorder that is characterised by an inability to fall asleep or have uninterrupted sleep regularly. It is estimated that insomnia affects almost 30% of the general population with adult women falling prey to this condition more often than adult males. While there might be several underlying reasons for insomnia, yet stress seems to be one of the most common factors of this complication condition. Other causes of sleep apnoea include emotional misbalances like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder and medical conditions like lesions and tumour, stroke, angina, acid reflux, chronic pain, asthma, arthritis, hyperthyroidism etc. Sedentary lifestyle, disruption in circadian rhythm due to time zone differences, jet lag etc. and hormone imbalance during menstruation are some of the supplementary stimulus that induces insomnia. Insomnia manifests itself in two forms – short-term or transient/acute insomnia and long-term or chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia usually results from brief stress generating events or circumstances e.g. examination time, sudden upsetting news etc. Acute insomnia usually lasts for few days (transient) or weeks (acute) and does not necessarily require any medical intervention for its recovery. However, when insomnia is far-stretched and occurs regularly e.g. at least thrice a week over a period of three months, it is classified as chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia can be an illustration of an existing illness, physiological condition, symptom of a medication side effect or drug overdose. It could also arise from a disruption of the natural body clock e.g. continuous night shift work, unhealthy sleeping habits etc. Chronic insomnia usually requires a consultation with a medical practitioner who will suggest an appropriate treatment plan based on the diagnosis of the deep-rooted factors influencing sleep deprivation. Insomnia is a highly underrated condition that often goes unnoticed with grave repercussions with progression of this disorder. It impairs our attention and learning process and has been linked to ADHD-like symptoms in children that are exhibited in the form of hyperactive and impulsive behaviour. Insufficient sleep makes us feel lethargic and drowsy and can lead to fatal accidents while driving due to slow reaction time and sense of being uncoordinated. We do not feel energised and the constant sense of fatigue and irritability can have adverse effect on our work and personal / professional relationships. Lack of sleep lowers libido and has been cited as one of the reasons for origination of sexual problems like erectile dysfunction. People tend to complain of tension headaches and gastrointestinal complications on account of disrupted sleep. It has also been observed that people with less sleep tend to have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in their blood as compared to those who sleep more.
Exercises to promote sleep
While you might think of resorting to over-the-counter medicines like hypnotics and antidepressants, yet there are several natural treatments that can relieve you from sleep related difficulties. Bedtime exercises and practising sleeping hygiene can relax the mind and welcome sleep. Regular exercise for 20-30 minutes over a period of four months can improve your overall quality of sleep significantly.
An easy bedtime workout is the breathing exercise. To start with, lie on bed in a relaxed manner, close your eyes and divert all attention towards the body. Concentrate on your breath from the time you breathe in till the time you breathe out. Next take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then release it. Focus your mind on your stomach and observe your belly rising and falling as the air comes in and out rhythmically. Imagine the air passing through your mouth, airways, belly and then out again. Identify your tension areas like neck, shoulders, arms, toes etc. and visualise your breath reaching them and relieving them of the tension. Keep doing this exercise and redirect your focus to your breath and body parts every time a thought distracts you. This simple exercise should help you relax and release any tension and gradually make you fall into deep sleep.
Another relaxation technique is to lie comfortably in bed with closed eyes and invite positive thoughts by diverting your attention to an image or a story and letting go of worries. Think of something that you truly enjoyed e.g. a family vacation, an accomplishment, your favourite moments with your sibling or pet etc. and keep replaying the scenarios as slowly as you can. This needs to be done at length before the mind becomes tension free and your body drifts into sleep.
As mentioned in the earlier exercise, you might have to keep redirecting your focus to the story whenever a thought distracts you. You can also try out few Yoga postures like lying on your back with bent knees and soles of your feet touching each other to form a diamond. Keep the arms in rest by your sides while you maintain this position. Another style is lie on your back and draw your knees towards your chest. Cross your ankles and wrap your arms around the shins with clasped hands. Inhale as you rock your body forward and exhale as you roll back. Practice this position for a minute and then roll back, extend your arms and legs and drift off to sleep. It is important to set the tone with a calm and composed environment which includes a quiet room with dim lights that will soothe your mind and prepare you for a deep sleep with the help of the above modus operandi.
Foods that promote sleep
A healthy and balanced diet is also quintessential along with exercise in order to promote normal sleep pattern. Avoiding foods that are rich in saturated fat content and staying away from caffeinated beverages at night can regularise erratic sleep order. You can opt for foods like walnuts which are rich in melatonin and tryptophan, a sleep enhancing amino acid that sets your sleep cycle. Almonds are also effective in encouraging sleep as they contain magnesium which is a sleep promoter. Dairy products have been a ubiquitous choice for healing sleep disorders as they are loaded with calcium which facilitates the usage of tryptophan that is prevalent in dairy products to create melatonin, a sleep triggering hormone. Non-vegetarians need not fret as they can continue to gorge on fish which are a storehouse of goodness. Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna are high in vitamin B6 which is needed to make melatonin. Another age old remedy to foster sound sleep is the consumption of Jasmine rice which has a high glycemic index and induces sleep faster. You can also try natural sedatives like Chamomile tea and Passion fruit tea which relax your nervous system and provide you with the much needed restful sleep. Melatonin-rich tart cherry juice is also a beneficial drink that aids slumber and has shown desirable effects when taken twice a day.
Natural Herbs that Promote sleep
Mother Nature has supplemented us with natural herbs that are highly beneficial in treating insomnia without any significant side effects. Two of the most popular ones are Valerian Root and Ashwagandha Root. Valerian Root is an excellent herb that works well in combination with other herbs and is highly potent in reducing sleep latency, anxiety and night walking. It works by relaxing the brain and the nervous system and is often used as a retreat when people are trying to withdraw from regular dosage of sleeping pills. One might not notice immediate results as continuous intake is required for several days before the herb works its way. However, studies have shown the drug to be relatively safe for consumption with the benefits outclassing the minor after-effects. Another herb with proven calming effects is the Ashwagandha Root that is revered for its inherent gift of reducing anxiety and depression, alleviating insomnia, reinforcing immune system and prolonging one’s life. Other therapeutic properties of the herb include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, adaptogenic and antimicrobial benefits which make this herb a well rounded natural therapy for treating many disorders including anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Insomnia often goes undetected due to lack of awareness and our unwillingness to consider it as a significant medical disorder. However, it can lead to serious medical issues if left untreated for long. Considering that one-third of our daily life is sleep-oriented, it is high time we address this problem and respect the contribution of a good night’s sleep in improving the quality of our living and our overall well-being. If you liked this article you might also enjoy: 4 Simple and Effective Natural Remedies for Insomnia.