Everything You Need to Know About Insomnia

When it’s difficult to fall or stay asleep, the rest of your day can feel like it lasts forever. If you’re experiencing sleep problems most of the time, you may be suffering from insomnia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults need 7 or more hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Several studies conducted around the world found that approximately 30% of adults suffer from one or more symptoms of insomnia.

What is insomnia?

If you have insomnia, you have problems falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights a week. Insomnia is characterized as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and it can be acute or chronic.

There are two main types of insomnia: primary and secondary.

What is primary insomnia?

Primary insomnia is when you experience sleep disturbances or an inability to sleep that is not related to another condition or health factor.

What is secondary insomnia?

Secondary insomnia is defined as sleep disturbances related to a medical condition, pain, medication or substance use.

What are the signs and symptoms of insomnia?

Not everyone experiences insomnia in the same ways. You may have insomnia if you experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Waking up too early
  • Inability to fall back asleep after waking
  • Inability to fall asleep within 30 or more minutes
  • Excessive fatigue or sleepiness during the daytime
  • Unrestful sleep
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What is the difference between chronic and acute insomnia?

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How long you experience insomnia determines whether your condition is chronic or acute.

  • Chronic insomnia – Sleep disturbances that occur more than three days a week for more than a month at a time
  • Acute insomnia – Sleep disturbances that occur more than three days a week for a few days or weeks

It is possible to experience acute insomnia, have it resolve itself, and develop chronic insomnia later in life.

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia can stem from various factors, including:

  • Stress at home or work
  • Recent trauma
  • Co-existing health disorders
  • Medication side effects
  • Shift work
  • Disruptive sleeping environment
  • Genetic predisposition to insomnia
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Interruptions to a regular sleep schedule
  • Presence of sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome
  • Stress at home or work
  • Recent trauma
  • Co-existing health disorders
  • Medication side effects
  • Shift work
  • Disruptive sleeping environment
  • Genetic predisposition to insomnia
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Interruptions to a regular sleep schedule
  • Presence of sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome

Insomnia Risk Factors

Certain individuals are at an increased risk of insomnia. Risk factors related to the development of insomnia include:

Age

People over the age of 60 are at a greater risk of experiencing insomnia due to changes in sleep patterns and health status.

Gender

Women are more likely to develop insomnia than men. This is primarily due to sleep difficulties experienced during pregnancy and menopause. Women also have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia which have been linked with sleep disturbances.

Heredity

Individuals whose immediate families suffer from insomnia are at a greater risk of developing insomnia themselves.

Medical History

If you have a history of brain injury, mental illness, or chronic pain, you are more likely to develop insomnia.

Insomnia Treatments

There are multiple treatment options for insomnia which include: improved sleep hygiene, cognitive-behavioral therapy, medications, and successful control of co-existing medical conditions.

Sleep hygiene

Sometimes, insomnia can be managed with simple changes in sleeping habits, also called “sleep hygiene.” This may include the establishment of a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bed, and the use of relaxation techniques.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT for insomnia is an effective treatment option with no known side effects. The goal of CBT is to improve sleep by eliminating barriers to restfulness. During regular visits with a clinician, you may perform assessments and keep a sleep diary to help identify thoughts and behaviors that prevent you from quality sleep.

Medication

Melatonin, a hormone supplement, and other over-the counter sleep aids may help with insomnia symptoms when taken as directed for short periods of time. Various prescription medications are available that may help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep throughout the night. Discussing the medication options with your medical provider is important to choosing a safe and effective treatment.

What happens if insomnia is not treated?

Sleep_Disorder_Insomnia_Tired

If left untreated, insomnia can affect your body’s ability to rejuvenate cells and to optimize brain function. This can lead to difficulty with concentration or memory, which may have serious consequences – particularly when driving or operating heavy machinery. For many people, untreated insomnia can negatively impact their ability to function at home, school, and work. Poor sleep has also been linked to poor control of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

People with chronic insomnia may also experience the following:

  • Body pain
  • Decreased enjoyment or participation in social activities
  • Difficulty maintaining employment
  • Poor mental health
  • Perception of poor physical health
  • Overall dissatisfaction with life

Is insomnia curable?

Insomnia is treatable with good sleep hygiene and medical therapies for the underlying cause. If you’re experiencing insomnia due to a medical condition, medication, or stress, your ability to achieve restful sleep may improve once the situation or medical condition is under control. For those with chronic insomnia, sleep may improve over time with the right treatment.

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If you suspect you have insomnia, see a doctor

The only way to confirm if you have insomnia and get personalized treatment recommendations is to see your doctor. Start with your primary care or family doctor. Talk to him or her about your sleep experience and how it is affecting your daily life. They may refer you to a sleep specialist or request additional testing, like a sleep study, before offering treatment recommendations.

Living with insomnia can affect you, your relationships, and your ability to live an enjoyable, productive life. Don’t let poor sleep steal your joy. Speak with a medical professional to get help today.