How dangerous can insomnia really be?

The need for sleep is universal – all of us need it. But, is our ability to get it just as common? At some point we all go to bed but sadly, not everyone can fall asleep. That’s why it is not surprising that insomnia is the most common sleep disturbance among adults – more than 30% of our population experienced some form of it in their lifetime. But while it’s a serious problem to many, insomnia is rather a symptom of a greater illness than a single disorder. What’s more, its cases can vary very heavily as it does not only influence the quantity of sleep but also its quality. So, what exactly does it mean to experience insomnia?

What is insomnia?

Common misconception about insomnia is that it manifests itself only by preventing us from falling asleep. In fact, there are a few more symptoms than just the inability to initiate sleep. Waking up during the night can also be sign of insomnia. Trouble with staying asleep seriously decreases the quality of sleep, and it can be just as burdensome as lying sleeplessly in bed. So does involuntary waking up early in the morning. If you tend to wake up way before your alarm clock goes off, you should know that insomnia can also be to blame in that case. And if it takes you more than an hour to fall asleep – it’s definitely not a good sign either.

What can make you an insomniac?

Generally, insomnia can be categorized based on how long is the period in which we experience it. The three types are:

  • Transient insomnia- lasting for a few days to a week;
  • Acute insomnia- lasting for several weeks;
  • Chronic insomnia- lasting for months or even years.

Obviously, the longer it lasts the more serious it gets, so it’s never wise to ignore your sleep problems, even at an early stage. Prevention is better than cure, so even if you experience a very brief sleep disturbance it’s a good idea is to analyze whether its causes can be minimized.

We can classify the causes of insomnia into three main categories. The first two are probably the hardest to influence. Those are the issues that are very often involuntary or hard to change in the short term. The first category- psychological issues includes both temporary issues that are somewhat a natural part of our lives such as stress, grief or fear and issues that tend to be prolonged in time or even permanent, such as PTSD, depression, schizophrenia or dementia. The second category, includes all physical health issues such as heart disease, arthritis, asthma or even temporary hormonal changes connected with menstruation.

Luckily, the third category comprises issues that disrupt our circadian rhythm or sleep hygiene which may be overcome more easily than the ones in the first two categories. Jet lag, sleeping in a very hot room or even sharing the bed with someone who snores very loudly can also cause insomnia even if they seem insignificant. That is why, even our daily habits connected to sleep are something that we shouldn’t neglect- good sleep hygiene is absolutely essential for a healthy life.

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How does insomnia influence your life?

There are numerous effects of sleep disruption. The milder ones include tiredness or slightly hampered mental performance. While these doesn’t sound extremely scary, you should know that ⅕ of all car accidents that are non-alcohol related happen due to drivers’ sleepiness. Statistics also show that sleep deprived workers cost $150 billion of financial losses to US industry each year, if you take absenteeism and lost productivity into account . As for the long-term effects, insomnia can cause weight gain, sleep apnea and memory loss. Those who suffer from it are 27% more likely to become overweight or obese. As we stated before, insomnia is very often a symptom of other illness, so its effects can get even more serious if it goes in pair with other health problems.

 

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Beat it before it beats you

It cannot be stressed enough that insomnia shouldn’t be ignored. In some cases we can’t really prevent it from happening to us, but taking some precautions can definitely minimize the risk. Maintaining healthy sleep habits and ensuring that we have a proper sleep environment is the first thing we should do when taking a step towards a healthier life. It can be helpful not only in staying healthy but also in healing certain milder cases of illness. If you have experienced difficulties with falling or staying asleep for a few nights in a row, you should take a look at the place and conditions you are sleeping in. The answer to your troubles might be closer than you think.However,if you have been struggling with insomnia for a longer time, you shouldn’t be afraid to visit a doctor. Insomnia can be cured, and there is nothing bad in seeking help.

References

  • Epstein, L. J. (2010). Improving sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest. Boston, MA: Harvard Medical School.
  • Roth, T. (2007). Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences. J Clin Sleep Med.
  • Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Insomnia. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/home