Understanding and Coping with Insomnia

Understanding and Coping with Insomnia

[Image description: An illustration shows a woman struggling to fall asleep. She has a pillow over her head.] 

Do you struggle to fall or stay asleep? It can be frustrating to wake up feeling unrefreshed. Sleep is important for your well-being — it can help protect your mental and physical health, quality of life, and safety — and yet, sometimes, getting enough of it can feel out of your control. In this article, we’ll explore insomnia and tips for coping with it so you can find rest and relief 

What is insomnia? 

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that involves difficulty falling or staying asleep. If you have insomnia, you might not get enough sleep or feel energized when you wake up. There are two main types: 

  • Short-term (acute) insomnia lasts for days or weeks and may be caused by stress, family and/or social pressures, or a traumatic event. 
  • Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer. This type of insomnia is often caused by medication, a secondary condition such as an additional sleep disorder, or substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and/or tobacco. Chronic insomnia can also be caused by extreme stress, travel, night-time work hours, and/or emotional upset. 

What are the symptoms of insomnia? 

The most common insomnia symptoms include: 

  • Lying awake for a long time before sleeping 
  • Sleeping only for short periods of time 
  • Waking up early without falling back to sleep 
  • Feeling exhausted or like you haven’t slept  

Risk factors for insomnia include: 

  • Stress 
  • Depression  
  • Emotional distress 
  • Night-time work hours 
  • Travel 
  • An inactive lifestyle  

If you have insomnia, you might also feel tired during the day, anxious, or irritable. You might have trouble focusing on tasks or remembering things. Try not to worry — this is your body’s natural response to not getting enough rest. While it can feel difficult in the moment, remember that you’re not alone and support is available.  

Tips for coping with insomnia  

If you’ve been dealing with insomnia, or think you might have it, there are some steps you can take to find relief. Consider trying out the tips below to see what works for you.  

  • Establish a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This might feel hard at first, but it can help you set a regular schedule for your body.  
  • Stay active. Try to exercise most days of the week. You could start by taking a walk and gradually work your way up to more activity each day. Physical activity can help you achieve higher quality rest at night.  
  • Turn off devices. Do you watch TV or scroll on your smartphone before bed? (You certainly wouldn’t be the only one!) The blue light emitted from devices can affect your sleep. Try to swap the screens for a book, conversation with friends or family, or a calming activity such as meditation 
  • Watch what you eat and/or drink. Having a big meal, alcohol, and/or caffeine right before bed can all disrupt your Z’s. Consider how you might limit your intake — perhaps enjoying your coffee or tea earlier in the day. Also, remember that some items, such as chocolate, unexpectedly contain caffeine too.  
  • Talk to a doctor. A healthcare provider can diagnose insomnia by taking your medical history, asking about your sleep habits, doing a medical exam to rule out other conditions, and/or recommending a sleep study to learn more. A doctor may also prescribe medications. While doctors on Amwell can’t prescribe all sleep medications, they are available 24/7 to consult with you at home about sleep habits and lifestyle changes.  
  • Have a visit with a therapist online. If you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, therapists on Amwell are here to help. They can provide counseling, coping strategies, and help to identify skills to overcome challenges. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, has been proven to help relieve symptoms of anxiety linked to insomnia.  

If you’re having trouble sleeping, know that there are many effective treatments available so you can feel rested 

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