You know how terrible you feel after one very late night. Just think how awful it must be for insomniacs who virtually never have a good night’s sleep! But new research brings hope!
Insomnia is the inability to get the amount of sleep you need to wake up feeling rested and refreshed. Because different people need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping – not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you fall asleep.
Symptoms of insomnia
- Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired
- Trouble getting back to sleep when awakened
- Waking up frequently during the night
- Exhausting sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Daytime drowsiness, fatigue or irritability
- Relying on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep.
Causes of insomnia
Emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and depression cause half of all insomnia cases. But your daytime habits, sleep routine and physical health may also play a role.
Sometimes insomnia only lasts a few days and goes away on its own, especially when the insomnia is tied to an obvious temporary cause, such as stress over an upcoming presentation, a painful breakup or jet lag. At other times, insomnia can be stubbornly persistent. Chronic insomnia is usually tied to an underlying mental or physical issue.
Latest on treatment for insomnia
A cure for insomnia is closer to being developed following the discovery of an enzyme that regulates wakefulness and sleep. Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) discovered an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the sleep-wake cycle by triggering shifts in consciousness. When the enzyme, known as calcium/calmodulin kinase (CaMKII), was blocked using an inhibitor, natural states of both REM* and non-REM* sleep occurred. However, when it was unblocked, subjects entered a natural state of wakefulness. This research was carried out on rats but the finding holds a lot of promise for insomniacs as it could pave the way for new insomnia medication that works by suppressing CaMKII.
*(There are two main stages of sleep – REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep – both of which are essential in order for the body to properly rest. During REM sleep the brain is active, the muscles in the body are paralysed and dreaming occurs. During non-REM sleep there is little or no eye movement, the muscles are not paralysed and the mindset of the person is more organised.)
What you can do in the meantime
While treating underlying physical and mental issues is a good first step, it may not be enough to cure your insomnia. You also need to look at your daily habits. Some of the things you do to cope with insomnia may actually be making the problem worse. For example, if you drink excessive amounts of coffee during the day, it will be more difficult to fall asleep later. It may take a few days for your body to get used to the change, but once you do, you will sleep better.