Sleep disorders affect millions of people worldwide. About 40 percent of adults have insomnia in the course of any year. Another 62 percent experience difficulty sleeping every week. Over time, these problems can affect your quality of life as well as your productivity, memory, brain function, and overall health.
Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, may lead to depression, slow reaction time while driving, low performance at school or on the job, mood swings, and increased mortality. This condition can disrupt your daily life and increase your risk of diseases. Fortunately, it can be managed through lifestyle changes. Simple things such as avoiding sugar at bedtime, drinking herbal teas, and limiting caffeine, can improve sleep and daytime alertness.
What Is Insomnia?
Occasional awakenings during the night are perfectly normal. However, if they persist, you may be dealing with insomnia. This condition makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. The most common symptoms include frequently awakening at night, tiredness, fatigue, and difficulty thinking clearly or staying focused. Approximately one in three people have this issue. If left untreated, insomnia can become an ongoing struggle.
According to health experts, there are two main types of insomnia:
- Primary insomnia is caused by stress, shift work, travel, and lifestyle habits. In general, it goes away by itself.
- Secondary insomnia may indicate an underlying disorder, such as heartburn, arthritis, anxiety, depression, stroke, restless leg syndrome, or Alzheimer’s disease. It can be also triggered by caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and some medications. Most insomniacs suffer from secondary insomnia.
Depending on how long it lasts, insomnia can be also classified into acute and chronic. The acute form lasts from a few days to a few weeks, and can be triggered by stress or traumatic life events. It only occurs occasionally and has little impact on your daily life.
Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, causes sleep problems at least three nights a week for long periods of time. In some cases, symptoms last for months. This condition affects up to 12 percent of people, increasing their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, mood disturbances, and fatigue.
How Does Insomnia Affect Your Life?
Chronic insomnia is more common than cancer, diabetes, breathing problems, cardiovascular disease, and AIDS. People suffering from this condition are 17 times more likely to have clinical depression compared to those who sleep well at night. Their risk of anxiety attacks is about 10 percent higher. The total annual cost of insomnia in the U.S. exceeds $35 billion. Each year, this disorder is responsible for over 1,550 car crash fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal car crash injuries.
Insomniacs find it hard to remember things, focus at work, and drive their cars. Some also experience low energy, loss of motivation, mood swings, and poor work performance. Insomnia may lead to medical and occupational errors, motor vehicle crashes, and chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart attack, and type II diabetes. This condition impairs your thinking and leaning abilities as well as your alertness, attention, and problem solving skills. Over 90 percent of people with insomnia also have another health condition.
Research indicates that insomnia also affects your libido and sex drive, lowers testosterone levels, and aggravates the symptoms of depression. This condition decreases collagen production, causing premature aging, wrinkles, fine lines, and dull skin. Your body releases human growth hormone (HGH) during sleep, which helps build and preserve muscle, aids in fat loss, and keeps your bones strong. If you have insomnia, your HGH levels are lower than normal. This may lead to weight gain, muscle loss, weak bones, and decreased energy. Insomnia also makes you forget things and affects both short and long-term memory.
Studies have found a strong link between obesity and poor sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels increase. Cortisol, the stress hormone, affects your health on every level. It causes your body to store fat, increases the hunger hormone ghrelin levels, and reduces leptin production. As a result, you feel hungry and experience cravings despite eating well. A study conducted in 2004 has shown that people who slept less than six hours per night were 30 percent more likely to gain weight and become obese than those sleeping at least seven hours. Insomnia also doubles the risk of death from heart disease.
What Causes Insomnia?
This condition may be triggered by a variety of factors, from stress to major life events, circadian rhythm disorders, and chronic diseases. Research shows that some individuals are prone to insomnia. Genes appear to play a role in the onset of this disorder.
Other possible causes and risk factors include:
- Death of a loved one
- Environmental stressors
- Chronic pain
- Congestive heart failure
- Drug withdrawal
- Alcohol consumption
- Irregular sleep-wake cycle
- Anxiety disorders
- Medications, such as antidepressants, beta blockers, and anti-epileptics
Some people form habits to deal with insomnia, such as going to bed too early or stressing over the lack of sleep, which makes their symptoms worse. Studies have also found that women have a higher risk of developing this condition than men do. This could be due to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause, pregnancy, and menstrual cycle. For example, most pregnant women experience sleep difficulties during the third trimester because of leg cramps, frequent urination, and general discomfort. Additionally, they are prone to certain conditions that may trigger insomnia, such as restless leg syndrome, anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia.
Are There Any Treatments Available?
Treatment options depend of the type and severity of insomnia. Most people report improvements in sleep patterns as a result of cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, and lifestyle changes. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and deep breathing are particularly effective for sleeping disorders.
If you have mild insomnia, consider making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and cutting back on caffeine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and avoid working out in the evening. Refrain from using your mobile phone, television, tablet, and other electronic devices at bedtime. Over-the-counter sleep aids may help on short term. Find ways to relax, create a bedtime ritual, and use a quality mattress that supports your back and neck. These simple changes can improve your quality of sleep and relieve insomnia symptoms.