Disclaimer: Apologies for any awful grammar mistakes because to keep with the theme, I’m drafting this at 2am while I can’t sleep!
Insomnia is a term that is thrown around in conversation much like ‘depression’ is. People who can’t get to sleep until 2am but then sleep solidly for 8 hours will say they have insomnia. I’m not denying that this isn’t annoying or frustrating, however there are people that have it a lot worse than one off night. Personally I had 13 weeks of solid insomnia, nights lying awake for hours, waking up early, waking up in the middle of the night. It became a regular occurrence for my housemate to find me in the kitchen in the morning with a cup of coffee having not slept at all that night. Now this was pretty bad but there are people out there who have it 100 times worse, they don’t have weeks of this, they have months, years, even decades of it. You may be wondering why I am going on about not sleeping when this blog is about mental health problems; well, insomnia is a symptom of many mental health problems, a side effect of a lot of medicines used to treat mental health problems and sometimes the cause of mental health problems!
Types of insomnia are defined by their duration as this is quite simple to measure. There are 3 types of insomnia:
1) Transient insomnia – This last for less than a week and the majority of you have probably had it! The best example of this is not being able to sleep very well during exams or when your sleeping environment changes. After the cause has worn off, everything gets back to normal with little to no effect on your life.
2) Acute insomnia – Problems sleeping that last up to a month. This will often have an effect on your life and the most common cause is actually stress; so once again exam period is a typical time for students to suffer from this!
3) Chronic insomnia – This lasts longer than a month and can cause some pretty horrible side effects such as double vision, hallucinations and lack of ability to function properly during the day. It is often associated with medical disorders rather than an event in life but can be caused by stressful events such as death of relatives.
As mentioned in the final point, insomnia can affect your ability to function during the day. For me this was the worst part. Although it was frustrating lying in bed at night and not being able to sleep, the fact that I then couldn’t concentrate long enough to go to lectures or even reply to a text sometimes, made me slip into a state which was later diagnosed as Depression. As I said, mental health problems have a strong link with sleep; Anxiety was the original cause of my insomnia, the medication I was on had a side effect of insomnia and in the end it caused Depression.
When I first went to the doctors for problems with my sleeping the first three pieces of advice given to me were: establish a routine, cut out coffee and try not to use a computer/phone/TV for at least an hour before going to sleep. For the students among you, you will realise that this was not going to happen! However, I tried because my lack of sleep was getting in the way of going to university and life in general! After 3 or 4 weeks of trying all this I went back to the doctors and I was greeted with ‘You look like you haven’t slept in a week’, well, that is because it was near enough the truth! I went through numerous suggestions for improving my sleep and the thing that eventually sorted it all was going back to work during the Easter holidays and having to get up in the morning for something!
I like to think that this post might be mildly useful for some people that may have suffered from insomnia or problems with their sleeping so I’ll tell you about my three trusty sidekicks in getting to sleep:
1) Chamomile Tea (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it)
2) Music, but not the radio, more along the classical lines!
3) A pair of socks. Yes, you may laugh but cold feet do not help you get to sleep!
I’m not suggesting that you should all plug in your iPod, drink chamomile tea and wear thick socks to bed but it’s all about finding the things that work for you! So if you’ve got insomnia, go moan to the doctor all you like or you could save yourself the boredom of sitting in the waiting room and give a few self help suggestions a try, because one of them (or three of them) might just work!