Why Can't I Sleep? Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, and CBD Benefits

Why cant I sleep? Insomnia symptoms, causes and CBD Benefits

Written by Georgia Chappell & Reviewed by Paul Holmes.

Why can’t I sleep? It’s the question we ask ourselves after tossing, turning and trying everything we can to drift off. If you struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, it can greatly impact your life and prevent you from getting a good night's sleep.

We explore the causes of your bedtime struggle and share the most beneficial ways to find the land of nod easily, night after night.

Understanding insomnia

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by persistent difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or having restful sleep. It often leads to daytime impairments such as fatigue, mood disturbances, and decreased cognitive function. Insomnia can be acute, lasting for a few days or weeks (often due to stress or life changes), or chronic – persisting for months or longer, and often associated with other health conditions or substance use.

Insomnia can also be a symptom of other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disturbances.

What is insomnia?

The impact of chronic insomnia on daily life

- Insomnia significantly impairs cognitive functions, such as attention, memory, and decision-making, it often leads to decreased productivity and performance in work or school.

- Individuals often experience persistent fatigue, irritability, and mood disturbances, including anxiety and depression, which strain personal and professional relationships.

-  Physical health can also deteriorate, with an increased risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and weakened immune function.

-  Insomnia makes it difficult to engage in social activities, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and enjoy daily routines – reducing overall quality of life.

The cumulative effect of these challenges highlights the importance of addressing and managing insomnia effectively and as quickly as possible.

8 symptoms of insomnia

Are you struggling to sleep and think you might have insomnia? Here are the most common insomnia symptoms to keep an eye out for so you can start effectively managing this condition.

  • Difficulty falling asleep: Taking a long time to initiate sleep, often lying awake for hours.
  • Waking up during the night: Waking up multiple times in the middle of the night and having trouble returning to sleep.
  • Waking up too early: Rising earlier than desired and being unable to fall back asleep.
  • Daytime sleepiness: Feeling tired and lacking energy during the day.
  • Impaired concentration and memory: Difficulty focusing, remembering, and making decisions.
  • Mood disturbances: Experiencing irritability, anxiety, or depression.
  • Reduced performance: Decreased effectiveness at work or school and in daily tasks.
  • Physical symptoms: Tension headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and other stress-related ailments.

Common causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders

Not sure why you’re struggling to sleep? It’s important you understand the common causes of insomnia so can start to combat the issue keeping you from getting to sleep and staying asleep. Addressing these underlying causes is often key to managing and alleviating insomnia.

Life events such as a constantly busy schedule, job loss, break-ups, or the death of a loved one can cause significant anxiety and begin to disrupt sleep.

Anxiety and depression
Mental health disorders often lead to chronic insomnia, with overthinking, worrying thoughts or depressive symptoms interfering with sleep.

Poor sleeping habits
Irregular sleep schedules, stimulating activities before bed, such as too much screen time, or an uncomfortable sleep environment can hinder your ability to fall and stay asleep. Irregular sleep schedules and excessive screen time before bed can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.

Certain prescription drugs, including those for asthma, depression, high blood pressure, and other conditions, can disrupt sleep patterns. It’s important you speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing insomnia as a side effect.

Medical conditions
Chronic pain, breathing difficulties (e.g. sleep apnea), and neurological disorders can interfere with restful sleep.

Common causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders

Substance use
Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can affect sleep quality, especially when consumed close to bedtime, so it’s key you limit this as much as possible.

Lifestyle choices that affect sleep
Irregular work schedules, frequent travel (especially across time zones), and excessive use of electronic devices before bedtime can disrupt circadian rhythms. Struggle with jetlag? Learn how CBD can help combat jetlag.

Hormonal changes
Pregnancy, menopause, menstrual cycle changes, and other hormonal fluctuations can affect sleep patterns. Environmental factors Excessive noise, light, or extreme temperatures in the sleeping environment can prevent restful sleep.

How insomnia is diagnosed

Insomnia is diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation that includes:

1. Medical history

 A detailed review of the patient's medical history to identify any underlying health conditions, medications, or lifestyle factors that might contribute to sleep problems.

2. Sleep history

An assessment of the patient's sleep patterns, habits, and routines, often through the use of sleep diaries or questionnaires such as the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).

3. Physical examination

 A physical exam to check for any medical issues that could be affecting sleep, such as respiratory or neurological conditions.

4. Sleep diary

 Patients may be asked to keep a sleep diary for one to two weeks, recording bedtimes, wake times, number of awakenings, and any daytime symptoms to provide a clear picture of sleep patterns.

5. Questionnaires and scales

 Various sleep-related questionnaires can be used to assess the severity and impact of insomnia, such as the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI).

6. Polysomnography

 In certain cases, an overnight sleep study (polysomnography) might be conducted in a sleep lab to monitor brain waves, heart rate, breathing, and body movements during sleep.

7. Actigraphy

 This involves wearing a device on the wrist that tracks movement and provides an objective measure of sleep patterns over several days or weeks. By combining the information collected using the above methods, doctors and health practitioners can diagnose insomnia, determine its severity, and identify any underlying causes that might need to be addressed.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle Adjustments

Creating a conducive sleep environment

Creating a conducive sleep environment is essential to avoid insomnia and improve sleep quality.

- Start by ensuring your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark.
- To minimise disruptions, use blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if needed.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that support your preferred sleeping position.
- Keep your bedroom clutter-free and reserved for sleep and relaxation, avoiding work or other stimulating activities.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up simultaneously every day, even on weekends.
- Reduce exposure to screens and blue light at least an hour before bedtime, and consider using dim lighting to signal to your body that it is time to wind down.
- Incorporate calming activities into your pre-sleep routine, such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.

Home remedies and lifestyle adjustments for isomnia

By optimising your sleep environment and routine, you can address sleep difficulties and create the ideal conditions for restful, uninterrupted sleep.

Relaxation techniques before bed

Incorporating relaxation techniques before bed can significantly improve sleep quality and help manage insomnia. Here are some effective methods for you to try: Incorporating relaxation techniques before bed can significantly improve sleep quality and help manage insomnia. Here are some effective methods for you to try:

1. Deep breathing exercises
Practise deep breathing by inhaling slowly through your nose, holding the breath for a few seconds, and exhaling slowly through your mouth. This can help calm your nervous system and reduce stress.

2. Mindfulness meditation
Focus on your breathing and bring your attention to the present moment. Let go of intrusive thoughts by acknowledging them and then gently bringing your focus back to your breath.

3. Visualisation
Imagine a peaceful and relaxing scene, such as a beach or a forest, and focus on the sensory details. Visualisation can help distract your mind from stress and promote a sense of calm.

4. Gentle yoga or stretching
Engage in gentle yoga poses or stretching exercises to relax your muscles and reduce physical tension. Avoid vigorous activities close to bedtime.

5. Reading or listening to soothing music
Choose a calming book or listen to soft, relaxing music to help wind down your mind and body.

6. Warm bath
Taking a warm bath an hour or two before bed can help lower your body temperature and signal to your body that it is time to sleep.

Relaxation techniques before bed

7. Aromatherapy
Use essential oils like lavender or chamomile in a diffuser or as a spray on your pillow. According to various studies, aromatherapy can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.

Incorporating one or more of these techniques into your nightly routine can help create a peaceful transition to sleep and improve overall sleep quality. Incorporating these techniques into your nightly routine can help alleviate trouble sleeping and improve overall sleep quality.

Diet for better sleep: the role of diet and exercise in managing sleep quality

Diet and exercise play crucial roles in managing insomnia by promoting overall physical and mental wellbeing.

- A balanced diet rich in nutrients, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables supports optimal sleep patterns by providing essential vitamins and minerals that regulate sleep-wake cycles.
- Avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime can prevent disruptions to sleep.
- Regular exercise, particularly aerobic activities like walking, jogging, or cycling, can also reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and promote deeper, more restorative sleep. However, it's important to avoid vigorous exercise too close to bedtime, as it may have a stimulating effect.

 By adopting a healthy diet and incorporating regular exercise into your routine, you can enhance your sleep quality and overall sleep hygiene, helping to alleviate symptoms of insomnia.

Foods to avoid for better sleep

For a better, longer sleep, it's advisable to avoid certain foods and drinks that can disrupt sleep patterns. These include:

Caffeine – found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and some medications, this stimulant can interfere with sleep,1 so it's best avoided in the afternoon and evening.

Alcohol – as although it initially makes you feel drowsy, it can disrupt the natural sleep cycle,2 leading to fragmented and less restful sleep.

Heavy, spicy, or fatty foods – these can cause indigestion and discomfort, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.3

Sugary foods and drinks – close to bedtime these can lead to energy spikes and crashes – disrupting sleep patterns.4

Acidic or citrus foods: Acid reflux or heartburn caused by acidic or citrus foods can interfere with sleep, so it's best to avoid them close to bedtime.

Foods to avoid for better sleep

By avoiding these foods and beverages, particularly in the hours leading up to bedtime, you can help improve your chances of getting a restful and uninterrupted night's sleep.

Exercises that promote better sleep

Several exercises have been shown to promote better sleep by reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and enhancing relaxation. Here are some examples:

Activities like walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming can help reduce stress hormones, increase endorphin levels, and promote relaxation, leading to improved sleep quality. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.

- Yoga combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Several studies have found that regular yoga practice can improve sleep quality and duration, as well as reduce insomnia symptoms.

- Tai Chi is a gentle form of martial arts that involves slow, flowing movements and deep breathing. Research suggests that practising Tai Chi can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, leading to better sleep quality and improved overall well-being.

Digital devices and sleep: how blue light affects your sleep pattern

Gadgets and blue light exposure from screens like smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs can disrupt sleep patterns by suppressing the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles.

The blue light emitted by these devices mimics daylight, signalling to the brain that it's time to be awake and alert, which can delay the onset of sleep and reduce overall sleep quality.

Additionally, engaging with stimulating content or activities on gadgets before bedtime can increase mental arousal and make it harder to unwind and relax, further interfering with the ability to fall asleep.

To mitigate these effects, it's advisable to limit screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime and use features like blue light filters or "night mode" settings on devices to reduce exposure to blue light in the evening.

How blue light affects your sleep patern

How CBD Can Help with Insomnia

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant known for its potential therapeutic effects, without causing the psychoactive "high" associated with THC.

CBD (cannabidiol) may potentially help with insomnia by reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation, and potentially improving sleep quality, although more research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness and optimal dosage for sleep disorders.

Research findings on CBD and insomnia

While there is growing interest in the potential of CBD (cannabidiol) to help with insomnia, scientific evidence supporting its efficacy remains limited. However, some studies suggest that CBD may have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and sedative effects, which could indirectly improve sleep quality for individuals with anxiety-related insomnia.

One study published in The Permanente Journal in 2019 found that CBD significantly improved sleep scores in 66.7% of participants within the first month of treatment, although the sample size was small and more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Additionally, a review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2018 concluded that existing preclinical and clinical evidence suggests CBD may have therapeutic potential for insomnia, but further research is warranted to establish its safety and efficacy.

How to use CBD for sleep: dosages and forms

Using CBD for sleep involves determining an appropriate dosage and choosing the best way for you to take it. Dosages can vary widely depending on individual factors such as body weight, metabolism, and the severity of sleep issues, so it's advisable to start with a low dose and gradually increase as needed. CBD is available in various forms, including:

1. CBD Oil

CBD oil/tinctures: These are administered sublingually (under the tongue) using a dropper, allowing for fast absorption into the bloodstream. Dosage can be easily adjusted by increasing or decreasing the number of drops. Never tried CBD before? Naturecan’s 10% CBD oil is ideal for getting started with this natural sleep aid.

Naturecan CBD Oil for sleep

2. CBD Capsules

CBD capsules or softgels: These provide a convenient and precise way to take CBD orally, with each capsule containing a pre-measured dose. However, they may take longer to take effect compared to tinctures.

Naturecan CBD Capsules for sleep

3. CBD Edibles

CBD edibles: These include gummies, chocolates, and other snacks infused with CBD. While tasty and discreet, edibles may take longer to kick in due to digestion and may have variable absorption rates.If you’d rather avoid sweet treat, you could try hemp tea.

Naturecan CBD Gummies for sleep

4. CBD Creams

CBD topicals: These are applied directly to the skin and are primarily used for localised relief rather than systemic effects. While they may not directly improve sleep, they can help alleviate discomfort that may interfere with sleep quality.

Naturecan CBD Balms for sleep

It's essential to choose a reputable CBD product from a trusted manufacturer to guarantee quality and safety. You should also speak with your doctor to find the most appropriate dosage and form for your individual needs and health conditions before taking CBD.

Additionally, consistency and patience are key when using CBD for sleep, as it may take time to find the optimal dosage and experience its full effects.

When to seek help for insomnia

You should seek help for insomnia if it persists for more than a few weeks, significantly impacts your daily life, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as daytime fatigue, irritability, or difficulty concentrating.

What to expect from a sleep specialist visit?

During a visit to a sleep specialist, you can expect a comprehensive evaluation of your sleep patterns, medical history, and lifestyle factors contributing to your insomnia. The specialist will likely conduct a thorough interview to understand your sleep symptoms, including difficulties falling or staying asleep, daytime fatigue, and any underlying medical conditions. You may also be asked to keep a sleep diary to track your sleep habits and patterns.

Depending on your situation, the specialist may recommend further diagnostic tests such as a sleep study (polysomnography) to monitor your sleep patterns and identify any underlying sleep disorders.

Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), medication management, or a combination of approaches tailored to your specific needs. Overall, the goal of the visit is to develop a personalised treatment plan to improve your sleep quality and overall wellbeing long-term.

The takeaway: understanding insomnia and how to alleviate it

There are many different reasons why you may have started to struggle with sleep, each with its own way to help you manage it and improve your quality of life.

- Stress and anxiety: Practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress levels.

- Poor Sleeping habits: Establish a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine to regulate your body's internal clock.

- Unhealthy lifestyle choices: Limit caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the evening, and avoid heavy meals and vigorous exercise close to bedtime.

- Underlying medical conditions: Address any underlying medical issues such as sleep apnea or chronic pain with the help of a healthcare professional.

- Environmental factors: Create a sleep-conducive environment by making sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet, and minimise screen time before bed to reduce exposure to blue light.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do over-the-counter sleep aids work, and are they safe?

Over-the-counter sleep aids typically work by inducing drowsiness through antihistamines or herbal ingredients, but their safety varies, with potential side effects and risks of dependence making it advisable to use them only short-term. Always speak to your doctor before taking any medicine regularly.

Can herbal supplements effectively treat insomnia?

Herbal supplements like valerian root, chamomile, and melatonin may help some individuals with insomnia, but their effectiveness varies from person to person, and this can depend on taking a specific dosage. Always speak to your doctor before taking any new supplements regularly.

How do I know if my insomnia is stress-related?

You may suspect your insomnia is stress-related if it coincides with stressful events or periods, and if reducing stress through relaxation techniques or lifestyle changes improves your sleep.

What are the potential side effects of long-term use of sleep medications?

The long-term use of sleep medications can lead to several potential side effects, including physical and psychological dependence, where the body becomes reliant on the medication to initiate sleep. Tolerance may develop, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect, which can further complicate discontinuation.

Daytime drowsiness and cognitive impairment, such as memory problems and reduced concentration, are also common, potentially impacting daily functioning and increasing the risk of accidents and falls.

Additionally, long-term use may exacerbate underlying sleep disorders or contribute to new health issues, such as respiratory problems. Some sleep medications may also interact with other drugs, leading to adverse reactions. Therefore, it is essential to use these medications under medical supervision and explore alternative treatments for managing insomnia.

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