Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep when you want to sleep. It is a common problem for many college students. How much sleep you need each night is an individual matter, although most people need 7-8 hours for optimal health. If you are feeling constantly tired or irritable during your waking hours, inadequate sleep may be the cause. If your lack of sleep is caused by difficulty falling asleep within a reasonable time (15-30 minutes) after going to bed, or by frequent wakening with difficulty falling back asleep during the night, you have Insomnia.
Insomnia can be caused by abrupt changes in your daily routine, such as staying up much later than usual for more than one night in a row for studying or going out. Other common causes of insomnia include:
- Illness that causes pain, nausea, or breathing problems
- Stress that causes muscle tension, headaches, or indigestion
- Consumption of too much caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and many over-the-counter headache medications)
- Using over- the-counter cold medications containing decongestants or other stimulant-containing medicines such as "diet pills", or medicines to help concentration such as Adderall or Ritalin
- Eating heavily too close to bedtime
- Intense exercise too close to bedtime
- Excessive napping during the daytime
- Use of “sleeping pills”, alcoholic beverages, or other sedatives that can produce "rebound" insomnia when they wear off
- Insufficient activity during the day
Chronic insomnia can also be a symptom of a more serious problem such as depression or anxiety (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/counseling/self-help/online-assessments.shtml).
Treatment and Prevention
Most insomnia can be treated, and prevented from recurrence by paying attention to good "sleep hygiene". Establishing and keeping to a routine of a regular bedtime, and getting up at close to the same time every day are essential to establishing a good sleep/wake cycle. Brief deviations of one night from the usual schedule are usually okay, but frequent variations in schedule are likely to cause insomnia to recur. If you are having trouble with insomnia you should first start by keeping a regular schedule. Other good sleep hygiene measures include:
- Decrease or avoid caffeine-containing foods or beverages, especially in the late afternoon and evening
- Avoid taking daytime naps, even if you are tired. These may interfere with the normal sleep response in the evening.
- Avoid non-sleep activities such as studying, reading, or eating on your bed
- Have a quiet, transitional time before bedtime
- Make use of calming or relaxation techniques (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/counseling/self-help/relaxation-techniques.shtml), and /or take a warm bath
- Reduce noise and light in your sleeping environment
- If you lie awake for more than 15-20 minutes, get up and do a non-stimulating activity such as pleasure reading, or watching TV until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed.
Other measures that may help with insomnia are:
- Stop smoking. You can get help with this from our tobacco cessation program in the Health and Wellness Office (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/wellness/services/smoking-cessation.shtml)
- Get regular exercise, but avoid strenuous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime as this may interfere with falling asleep.
- Avoid eating heavy meals or snacks right before going to bed
- Seek evaluation and treatment in the Counseling Center (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/counseling/index.shtml) for any known problems with anxiety or depression.
If your insomnia continues, or worsens in spite of these measures after 5-7 days, call and make an appointment with the IU Health Center Medical Clinic (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/services/medical-clinic.shtml) for further evaluation and treatment.