You know that feeling you have when rays of light shine through your windows signaling daybreak? Your body hurts, your back aches, your head feels heavy and your mind is foggy. Yet another night has gone, and sleep eluded you every ticking second.

You must get up and prepare for work though, and you curse the world as you get out of bed. This is no less than a living hell. Lack of sleep can be a torment — no wonder sleep deprivation is used in advanced interrogation. Join me let’s explore insomnia, its causes, effects, and ways to handle it without pills.

What is insomnia?

If you are having difficulty in falling asleep; staying asleep at night or waking a lot earlier than planned which make you feel as if you have not slept when you get up in the morning, you have insomnia. Insomnia can be acute or chronic.

Acute insomnia is short lasting. It often lasts from a few days to a few weeks. It is mostly caused by

  • Acute stress situations (e.g. academic examinations, loss of job, struggling to meet the deadline of an assignment)
  • Interferences in normal sleep cycle like switching from a day to night shift, jet lag etc
  • An emotional disturbance like divorce, loss of a loved one
  • Anxiety
  • Acute illness
  • Physical discomfort like acute pain from injuries
  • An adverse sleeping environment like extreme temperatures (hot or cold), noise, light, or any other conditions that interfere with sleep
  • Some medications like cold medications that contain alcohol and pain relievers like Midol which contain caffeine
  • Habits like drinking too much coffee especially in the evening, alcohol, and smoking habits.

Chronic insomnia is long-lasting, often longer than four weeks. It can arise on its own (primary) or it can be a symptom of a physical or mental illness (secondary).

Primary chronic insomnia is neither a direct consequence of other physical or mental health condition nor that of medication. It is dependent on the genetic makeup and personality traits. Other predisposing factors include age, female sex, and menopause.

Secondary chronic insomnia results from mental or chronic physical diseases as well as medications used in their treatment.

Medical conditions include

  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain of any cause
  • Respiratory problems like chronic nasal/sinus allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma
  • Heart conditions like heart failure
  • Digestive problems such as acid-reflux disease (GERD)
  • Hormonal problems such as an overactive thyroid
  • Neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, brain lesions, and stroke
  • Urinary conditions that cause frequent urination such as urinary incontinence and enlarged prostate
  • Sleeping disorders like sleep apnea, sleepwalking, night terrors
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Obesity.

Mental health causes include

Medications include

  • Diuretics
  • Antidepressants
  • Steroids
  • Thyroid hormone
  • High blood pressure medications
  • ADHD medications.

Terrible ways insomnia can make your life miserable

Just as your body needs food, water, and oxygen, it also needs sleep to function well. It is during sleep that your body recovers and regenerates itself from the previous stress. The brain needs about 8 hours of sleep to function well.

Lack of enough sleep will make the muscles feel weak and lacking in energy while the brain feels saturated and foggy. “A sleepless night reduces nearly 40 percent of the ability to assimilate knowledge, so not relaxing properly exposes us to significant memory loss”. The effects of insomnia are innumerable including but not limited to these:

  • Less alert and unable to effectively solve problems
  • Less creative
  • A decrease in the fluidity of speech
  • Have difficulty finding the right words when expressing yourself
  • Become irritable
  • Unable to feel active throughout the day
  • Experience muscle weakness and pain
  • Feel increasingly stressed
  • Less able to react to stimuli
  • Loss of concentration
  • Reduced vision
  • Reduced coordination
  • Difficulty making good decisions
  • Slow reflexes
  • Delay in processing information
  • Severe changes in mood
  • Unable to feel excited or happy
  • Decreased awareness
  • Being too forgetful
  • Reduced intelligence
  • Looking exhausted always
  • Looking wasted and malnourished
  • Self-negligence
  • Self-loathing
  • Low self-esteem
  • Drowsiness and weakness throughout the day
  • Lower performance on the job or at school
  • Higher risk of accidents due to reduced reaction time
  • Increased risk and worsening of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Increased risk of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

How to overcome insomnia

  • Have a positive attitude
  • Identify the cause
  • Exercise daily
  • Start mindfulness exercise
  • Use emotional freedom technique to defuse anxiety
  • Develop good sleep habit
  • Go for cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Have a bedtime ritual.

Positive attitude

Be optimistic. You must believe that you’re tougher than insomnia and can overcome it. You have to replace your negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Those negative thoughts (e.g. “I know sleep won’t still come tonight”, if I don’t sleep well this night I will mess up tomorrow’s exam/meeting/presentation”, etc) will only raise your anxiety and make the situation worse.

It’s better to replace them with positive thoughts (e.g. “Each day is unique, I accept it as it comes”, “Tomorrow will be great because I have prepared well”, etc). Positive thoughts help to bring you out of the vicious loop that insomnia creates.

Identify the cause

You have seen that a lot of things can cause insomnia. It is only right that you find out what’s causing yours. Examine your situation to try and nail down the possible cause. Your findings will help you know if you may need to see a doctor or make some changes yourself that will relieve your situation. You may have to answer these questions:

  • Are you under a lot of stress and what’s causing it?
  • Do you feel depressed? Are you feeling emotionally flat and hopeless?
  • Are you tormented by worries and unduly anxious?
  • Do you have recent traumatic experience?
  • Could your medications be affecting your sleep?
  • Do you have any health problems which could be causing your sleeplessness?
  • Is your sleeping room comfortable? Is it quiet?
  • Do you have a fixed time for going to bed and waking up each day?


Have a daily exercise routine. Exercise should be the first thing you do every morning. It should take at least 30 minutes each morning. It should include running, squatting, frog-jumping, press-ups, weight-lifting, etc, to make sure all the muscles of the body are exercised. Exercise improves blood supply to the brain and the muscles and also causes the release of endorphins, a brain chemical that makes you feel good.

Mindfulness exercises

Meditations, breathing exercise, yoga, etc help to relax the brain. The exercises help you control your worries and focus on the moment to moment task. Research shows that these exercises improve sleep.

Emotional freedom technique (EFT)

Use EFT to relieve anxiety, stress, and worries so as to sleep better. EFT is a type of exercise which uses both the principle of positive affirmation and eastern energy meridians of the body. It involves making a positive affirmation of yourself despite what you’re feeling while taping a finger at the various energy levels of the body.

Good sleep habit

  • Have a fixed time for bed and a fixed time for getting up and keep to them.
  • Don’t nap during the day.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Reduce/avoid caffeine intake during the day especially in the afternoon.
  • Reduce/avoid cigarette especially late in the afternoon.
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day but drastically reduce water intake close to bedtime.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapy that requires you to visit a specialist who will help you to identify and change those negative unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen your insomnia. It involves some brain exercises and role-playing. Researches show that it improves sleep. Find a good center around you and start your therapy, you will be glad you did.

Bedtime rituals

  • Make the room and the bed conducive. Dress the bed and put on the air conditioner if it’s noiseless otherwise, you’re better without it.
  • Make sure you empty your bladder before going to bed. You may shower if you feel like doing so.
  • Put off all sources of noise. Use earplugs if the neighborhood is noisy.
  • Switch off all sources of light including phones, TVs, Laptops, and even electrical socket lights.
  • Lie on the bed and cover yourself with a heavy blanket and close your eyes.
  • Practice your deep breathing meditation which helps to clear and relax your mind.
  • Sleep follows. If after about 30 minutes you haven’t slept, get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading novels, meditations etc.

In conclusion, insomnia is a silent monster that gradually drains the life out of you. A lot of things can cause it. Find out the culprit(s) in your own situation. Take care of it/them and get your life back.

Author's Bio: 

Emmanuel Ifeanyi Ekwomadu is a medical doctor and a writer who’s got a great passion for helping people enjoy healthy lives. He does that through his compelling and educating articles on various health topics. He struggled with chronic insomnia for 12years but has started experiencing better days.

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