The three main principles of health are sleep, food and physical exercise. In fact, according to the Spanish Sleep Society, people sleep a third of their lives. Rest is an important activity for the organism, where it plays an important role in many basic functions, since it is responsible for the recovery and physical and psychological recovery of the body.
The hours of rest that each person should sleep depends on many reasons, mainly related to age, but also others such as pregnancy, environmental factors or health condition. Although the recommended is to sleep those hours that allow the body to function properly, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that an adult should sleep between 7 or 8 hours a day. However, according to this foundation some studies show that about 50% or 60% of the adult population lives with chronic insomnia.
It is essential for our health to sleep, since a lack of proper rest can affect many aspects of our lives, such as our mood, our immune system, and long-term effects such as headaches and weight gain.
Therefore, it is vital not to forget the quality of rest in order to have a restorative rest that has a positive impact on our performance and health.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. It happens when there is a problem to fall asleep, as well as to make sleep last. In other words, when the person can not fall asleep, when he wakes up constantly throughout the night or when he wakes up much earlier than planned.
The effects of insomnia often lead to poor quality sleep that results in a lack of rest. A lack of energy during the day, emotional excitability, mood swings, concentration problems or, if it happens for a long time, the appearance of some diseases.
Kinds of insomnia.
When the cause of this disorder is unknown and it is not caused by any disorder, it is known as primary insomnia. On the contrary, when the reason for the insomnia is known, such as due to certain health conditions, variations in the schedule, etc., secondary insomnia is produced.
Also, insomnia can be caused by the menopause, which is related to hormonal factors, or by retirement, which is mainly due to new schedules. On the other hand, depending on how this disorder appears, it is divided into
- Initial insomnia, which refers to the difficulty in falling asleep during the first half hour.
- Insomnia of maintenance, once the person is able to fall asleep, but is unable to keep the sleep.
Regarding how long the insomnia lasts, it is also possible to find chronic insomnia and transitory insomnia.
- Chronic Insomnia. It is known as chronic insomnia when the symptoms of these sleep problems are present for a month or more. It may have very negative effects on our physical and psychological health.
- Transient Insomnia. Transient insomnia is one that can take days or weeks, but is shorter than a month. It is usually related to lifestyle.
Insomnia can be caused by several factors that can also be related to each other:
- Physiological causes: age can play a role in sleep disorders due, for example, to hormonal changes at some stages or ageing.
- Lifestyle related causes: irregularity in sleep schedules, naps, use of technological screens before going to sleep, doing physical exercise with too much intensity, etc.
- Psychological causes: situations of continuous concern, situations of stress or fear to not fall asleep are some of the causes that can affect the time of sleep.
- Environmental causes like noise or temperature changes.
- Pathological causes: some cardiovascular, pulmonary or neurological diseases, among others, can be responsible for these disorders.
- Eating causes: the intake of very abundant foods before going to bed or the problems of gastric reflux suffered by some people can cause physical problems that affect the sleep cycle. Also, the effects of caffeine or alcohol can also affect the sleep cycle.
Sleep Cycle Disorders.
Besides insomnia, there are other kinds of disorders that affect the sleep cycle, which affects the quality of life of the person.
- Narcolepsy. The most common is narcolepsy, in which the person suffers from great somnolence during the day and may even fall asleep for several seconds.
- Sleep Apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that is caused when a person, while sleeping, stops breathing for several seconds at times. The symptoms that identify it are the very loud snoring and the feeling of fatigue in spite of to have slept enough.
Other situations that cause problems related to the dream.
One of the most common causes of sleep disorders are psychological problems such as stress and anxiety. The stress is considered as one of the main problems that causes insomnia, since the constant worries that can happen at work and/or at personal level avoid to stop to relax. This one can cause as much the impossibility to fall asleep as to wake up in the middle of the night. In the same way, anxiety is also very related to insomnia since it leads to the brain is in a permanent state of alert. It causes trouble to rest properly since it makes it difficult for the body to reach the REM sleep stage, which is highly active in the brain, and that is when dreams happen.
How to deal with insomnia and sleep disorders.
Depending on the kind of insomnia or the reason that causes it, we have to treat it in a different way, although some common habits can be carried out in order to improve the quality of sleep.
- Have a regular routine. The Spanish Society of Family and Community Pharmacy recommends a regular routine, trying to sleep and get up at the same time, as well as doing the same routine before going to bed like setting the alarm, brushing your teeth, etc. It is also recommended to go to bed as soon as sleep begins and try not to spend more than 8 hours in bed.
- Regular physical exercise. On the other hand, daily physical exercise is helpful to keep fit and help regulate the sleep cycle. However, it is recommended to do it before going to bed, since it “activates” our body producing endorphins. Instead, practicing yoga is recommended before going to sleep since it contributes to the relaxation of the body and the reduction of stress levels.
- Relaxed place. Similarly, the creation of a relaxed room without noise, without light from screens or outside or with an appropriate temperature helps reduce environmental factors that may cause sleep disorders.
There are foods whose properties can be a good ally to help the sleep cycle. These include dairy products, legumes, fruit or nuts that are rich in melatonin; on the other hand, turkey, chicken, dairy products, fish, eggs or some fruits such as bananas, are rich in tryptophan.
- American Heart Association. Healthy sleep habits help lower risk of heart failure. Nov, 2020.
- Cholví, M. 6 consejos para vencer al insomnio y dormir como un bebé. Revista Elsevier. 2017.
- National Sleep Fundation. Insomnia.
- Sociedad Española del Sueño. Aprendiendo a conocer y manejar el insomnio.
- Sociedad Española de la Farmacia Familiar y Comunitaria. Consejos para combatir el insomnio y sus consecuencias.