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Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is indicated by difficulty falling/staying asleep and it can be acute or chronic. Acute insomnia is brief and it occurs at times of high stress e.g. the night before the exam.
On the other hand, chronic insomnia occurs at least three nights a week and lasts up to three months.
Figures show that insomnia is the most prevalent specific sleep disorder. About 30% of adults have acute while 10% have chronic insomnia.
Millions of people have insomnia, but the causes differ. Insomnia can either be a primary problem or it is associated with some underlying health condition. Physical and psychological causes lead to insomnia which is why this is a very complex sleep disorder. Although a prevalent problem, there is still a lot we need to learn about causes of insomnia and factors that contribute to it.
Below, you can see the most common causes of the most widespread sleep disorder in the US and across the globe:
- Stress – it’s impossible to avoid stress entirely, particularly because the modern lifestyle is hectic. Work, health, finances, school, current economic and political situation are just some of many factors that stress us out. When left unresolved stress causes various problems and affects our quality of life. Unmanaged stress prevents us from getting enough sleep and it can lead to insomnia. Lack of sleep increases cortisol (stress hormone) levels which cause even more stress and vicious cycle continuous
- Circadian rhythm disruptions – circadian rhythm is a physical, mental, and behavioral change that follows a daily cycle. Basically, circadian rhythm is involved in sleep and wakefulness. Disruptions affecting circadian rhythm can also cause insomnia. These disruptions include jet lag, high altitudes, job shift changes, extreme heat or cold, and environmental noise
- Poor sleep habits – most people don’t pay too much attention to their sleep habits. You go to bed and watch TV or spend hours on your phone. In the end, you don’t get enough good night’s rest, circadian rhythm stops functioning properly, and you pave the way to insomnia. Poor sleep habits include irregular bedtime schedule, naps, stimulating activities before bedtime, watching TV or playing video games
- Eating too much late at night – if you can’t resist eating late in the evening, you may be putting yourself at risk of obesity, insomnia, and many other problems. That is because many people experience heartburn and other problems that keep you awake
- Hormone imbalance – the fluctuation of hormones may also contribute to insomnia, particularly estrogen imbalance
- Psychological disorders – depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and psychotic disorder can cause insomnia in patients
- Underlying health conditions – as mentioned above, sometimes insomnia is caused by an underlying health condition such as arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, angina, congestive heart failure, asthma, sleep apnea, stroke, tumors, brain lesions, nasal allergies, gastrointestinal problems, low back pain, endocrine problems such as hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological problems
- Medications – drugs such as antidepressants, for asthma and blood pressure may also lead to insomnia
- Environmental factors – light, noise, room temperature and other factors form your environment can cause insomnia
Symptoms of insomnia
Insomnia isn’t just about finding it difficult to fall/stay asleep. This sleep disorder has a negative impact on your life, health, the way you think, and basically everything else. Here are the most common symptoms associated with insomnia:
- Struggling to fall asleep
- Waking up way too early in the morning
- Waking up frequently during the night and finding it difficult to fall asleep again
- Impulsive behavior, aggression, and other behavioral problems
- Mood swings e.g. irritability
- Non-restorative sleep i.e. you don’t feel well-rested after waking up
- Difficulty concentrating and other cognitive difficulties
- Poor memory
- Decreased performance at work and school
- Problematic relationships with family, friends
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Difficulty paying attention
- Making mistakes repetitively
- Increased accidents
- Ongoing worries about sleep
- Tension headaches that feel like a tight band around your head
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
A common mistake that people with insomnia repeat is to wait for the problem to solve itself. This is a serious sleep disorder that can cause a number of health complications. See your doctor and increase your chances of improving quality of sleep.
In order to diagnose insomnia, your doctor will carry out a physical exam to check whether problems with sleep are associated with some underlying health issue.
In some cases, doctors ask patients to keep a sleep journal for a week or two in order to get a closer insight into sleep habits and quality.
A blood test can also help doctors determine whether thyroid problems or other hormonal imbalances contribute to insomnia.
Patients with insomnia usually feel like they’ll never be able to fall asleep again. Don’t worry, there’s hope! Acute insomnia doesn’t require treatment, but chronic insomnia requires more effort.
In cases of chronic insomnia that makes it difficult for a patient to function during the day, the doctor may prescribe sleeping pills. Remember, sleeping pills are short-term solutions, they are not meant to be used for long-term.
When insomnia is caused by an underlying health problem it may be resolved by treating that particular disorder or disease. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) may also be helpful for patients with insomnia. The therapy helps patients control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep them awake. CBT-I strategies include relaxation techniques, light therapy, stimulus control therapy, and others.
Adopting some healthy habits can also aid or worsen insomnia.
Millions of people suffer from insomnia that occurs on its own or due to some other health problem. Insomnia can be acute or chronic. While acute insomnia doesn’t require treatment, the latter is managed with the short-term use of sleeping medications, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, and lifestyle changes. A proactive approach is crucial for improving quality of sleep.
Sources and references:
- What Causes Insomnia? - National Sleep Foundation
- Insomnia - MayoClinic