Insomnia or sleeplessness is a very common disease in recent times. Good sleep is a great treasure and it keeps us healthy both physically and mentally. We sleep for one third of our life time. It’s the time when our brain consolidates memories and the body repairs itself but many people suffer from lack of awareness.
#1: What is insomnia?
Insomnia or sleeplessness is one of the commonest sleep disorders. You might have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as you need. It’s typically followed by daytime sleepiness, irritability, mood changes and depression. It has secondary complications like increased risk of road traffic accidents as well as problems focusing and learning. Lack of sleep reduces your performances during the day. Insomnia can be short term, lasting for days or weeks, or long term, lasting more than a month.
#2: How common it is!!!
Insomnia or sleeplessness is very common in general population. Between 10% and 30% of adults have insomnia at any given point in time and up to half of people have insomnia in a given year. About 6% of people have insomnia that is not due to another problem and lasts for more than a month. People over the age of 65 are affected more often than younger people. Females are more often affected than males. Insomnia is 40% more common in women than in men. Its more predominant in stressed people. In COVID-19 times many people suffered from insomnia due to apprehension and fear of pandemic. In young people insomnia has become relatively more common due to increased amount of stress.
#3: Types of insomnia
Insomnia can be transient or acute or chronic. Transient insomnia lasts for less than a week. It can be caused by another disorder, by changes in the sleep environment, by the timing of sleep, severe depression or by stress. It causes impaired performances. It increases stress and subsequently increasing sleep deficit. Acute insomnia is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of less than a month. It can continue from a single night to weeks. Insomnia is present when there is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep or when the sleep that is obtained is non-refreshing or of poor quality. These problems occur despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and they result in problems with daytime function. Acute insomnia is also known as short term insomnia or stress related insomnia. Chronic insomnia lasts for longer than three times a week over a month. It can be caused by another disorder, or it can be the primary disorder. People with high levels of stress hormones or shifts in the levels of cytokines are more likely than others to have chronic insomnia.
#4: Why it occurs?
There are various causes of insomnia. Bad lifestyle, stressful life, several neurological diseases, substance abuse, excess alcohol intake, stimulant drugs, heart diseases and several pain diseases are the primary causes of sleep deprivation – anything that causes high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Several mental diseases like depression cause chronic insomnia. Change in time zone can cause it. Some people suffer from sleeplessness due to a change in sleep patterns and sleep times. Many women suffer from sleep deprivation due to hormonal changes. Breathing disorders and obesity cause recurrent apnea episodes, later causing sleep apnea which leads to sleep deprivation. Poor sleep hygiene is also a major cause of insomnia.
#5: How to prevent it?
Our bodies love routine and cycles so prevention and treatment of insomnia may require change in lifestyle, such as going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day to create a steady pattern. Avoidance of vigorous exercise and coffee a few hours before going to sleep is better habit, while exercise earlier in the day may be beneficial. Other practices for better sleep include:
- Avoiding or limiting day time naps
- Pain medications at bedtime
- Avoiding large meals and beverages like alcohol before bed
- Soothing music before sleep, or one of the many sleep apps
- Avoid gadgets and blue light for one hour before bed
- Maintain regular exercise
- make a list of anything worrying you in the evening so you don’t dwell on them
- Try relaxing activities or meditation before sleeping
- when you wake up in the morning, open the window and get natural sunlight to set your body clock
# 6: When to visit a doctor?
If you have chronic insomnia and none of these strategies work, get medical advice, preferably from a holistic or functional General Practitioner who can test your hormone levels, especially cortisol. Neurofeedback has also been found to be very beneficial in regulating sleep. Many neurological conditions start with sleep problems and sometimes other neurological problems are associated with it. Some people might need psychiatric care to treat underlying depression. Some who are obese and have a snoring problem need to be evaluated for sleep apnea through a sleep study. People with substance abuse issues should visit a de-addiction centre for overcoming sleep deficits.
In short, if you are having prolonged sleep deficit, you should never neglect the problem.
#7: What will happen when sleep deficit goes untreated?
Insomnia is dangerous both for physical and mental health. Severe insomnia – sleeping less than 3.5 hours in women and 4.5 hours in men – is associated with a 15% increase in death. Consequences of untreated insomnia may include, Impaired ability to concentrate, poor memory, difficulty coping with minor irritations, and decreased ability to enjoy family and social relationships. Reduced quality of life, often preceding or associated with depression and/or anxiety.
Sleep well – counter insomnia
Qaseem A, Kansagara D, Forciea MA, Cooke M, Denberg TD (July 2016). “Management of Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Adults: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians”. Annals of Internal Medicine. 165 (2): 125–33. doi:10.7326/M15-2175. PMID 27136449.