What Is Insomnia - Featured

What Is Insomnia and How to Defeat It?

by Dr. Lina Velikova, MD

Sometimes in the evening, instead of falling asleep, we lie in bed and mull over the unpleasant experiences of the past day. Usually, we’re afraid of how soon morning will come, but we still want the night to end sooner. This experience is defined as “insomnia,” or lack of sleep. But what is insomnia, in fact?

Insomnia is characterized by various, predominantly subjective symptoms. The term insomnia mainly covers three groups of disorders that patients share:

  • Sleep disorders related to falling asleep
  • Disorders that happen during sleep
  • Experiencing “poor” sleep (short-term or low-quality sleep)

All of these lead to less rest, making concentration and the execution of everyday tasks difficult.

Insomnia symptoms are often subjective and require thorough analysis and a proper approach. Patients often suffer from sleep disorders for years, and in most cases, they’ve tried some form of treatment. When first meeting with their doctor, they usually have unoptimistic expectations. This is no doubt because their earlier attempts to cure the condition often ended in disappointment.

Insomnia is more of a multilayered concept. Therefore, it’s hard to establish a clear insomnia definition. The term is used to describe poor-quality sleep or a lack of sleep that occurs together with one or more of the following symptoms: difficulty falling asleep, lousy sleeping, waking early in the morning, and having trouble falling back asleep.

Insomnia interferes with the normal functions in the brain that support sleep. With this in mind, insomnia may be a symptom caused by a variety of health conditions. Conversely, it also may not be due to any specific problem at all.

What Should We Know About Living with Chronic Insomnia?

What Is Insomnia - Chronic Insomnia

Insomnia affects our everyday lives. And the condition varies in both its manifestation and its consequences. The most prominent feature of the disorder is that it leads to excessive sleepiness during the day, accompanied by fatigue, loss of physical activity, and difficulty concentrating, along with irritability. Staying awake at night is an unpleasant experience that has a significant impact on our lives.

It may be due to problems with sleep habits. People who have insomnia tend to unconsciously estimate the time they’ll take to fall asleep and underestimate the time they spent sleeping. There’s also a risk of developing the comorbid variation of insomnia, i.e. developing depression.

Are There Different Types of Insomnia?

Yes, the condition has many types. First, it should fall into one of the two following categories:

  • Primary Insomnia – This occurs for no apparent reason or it’s the result of a personal problem.
  • Secondary Insomnia – This happens as the result of another organic illness, usually one associated with chronic pain.

Certain medications, as well as mental disorders, can also cause insomnia. Primary insomnia is a sleep disorder that leads to exhaustion—and comorbid insomnia is another variant of it.

In addition, insomnia could also be classified as one of the following:

  • Acute – Also called transient, this manifests as periods of impaired sleep lasting from one night to several weeks.
  • Chronic – This is characterized by sleeping problems lasting at least three nights a week for one or more months.

How Often Does Insomnia Occur?

The condition is more common among women, people with chronic health problems, those with mental disorders, and the elderly.

Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder. About 30–40% of the working-age population shows signs of insomnia every year, and 10–15% of these manifestations go chronic. This means that insomnia can remain for a more extended period, sometimes for a lifetime, becoming severe chronic insomnia.

Sleep model statistics made in the US found that every third resident suffered from the condition. The rate of the disorder increases with age and is more common in women (1.3 times more frequently than men). People over the age of 65 usually have 1.5 times more sleep problems than those under 65. Children may also have insomnia—the prevalence rates in adolescents are equal to those of adults. Primary insomnia is, however, more common in young people. You can also find some insomnia stats in the infographic presenting a number of interesting stats and facts about sleep.

What Causes Poor Sleep?

What Is Insomnia - Stress

Insomnia is almost always associated with a medical or psychiatric illness or a sleep disorder, or it’s due to behavioral or environmental problems. The acute variant is often associated with a personal issue, pregnancy, stress at work, or a severe family loss (e.g. death). When the problem is eliminated, the symptoms of acute insomnia also resolve.

The development of the acute form of insomnia into the chronic one is often a complex process. Typically, people with the type of insomnia that becomes chronic suffer from increased anxiety and an accelerated pulse during sleep (usually while we sleep, our pulse is supposed to decrease).

The Most Common Insomnia Causes

  • Stress – Concerns about work, school, or family may keep you under pressure and prevent you from falling asleep. Some stressful events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or losing a job can also lead to insomnia.
  • Depression – When you suffer from depression, you may either be sleeping more than usual or have difficulty falling asleep.
  • Disease – If you suffer from chronic pain, have difficulty breathing, or often need to urinate at night, this can lead to insomnia. Chronic insomnia is common in patients with arthritis, heart failure, gastroesophageal reflux, prostate adenoma, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
  • Taking Medication – Many doctor-prescribed medications can affect your quality of sleep. Such drugs include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and corticosteroids.
  • Caffeine & Nicotine – Coffee, tea, and other beverages containing caffeine are also known as stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon can prevent you from falling asleep in the evening. The nicotine in cigarettes is also a stimulant and can impact your sleep quality and lead to a chronic sleep disorder.

Sleep can be tricky—stress, alcohol consumption, noise, light, a computer or phone screen in the bedroom, the room being too hot, an uncomfortable bed, too much coffee, or overworking can all make it hard to sleep. Insomnia could also be linked to underlying respiratory diseases (such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), problems with the prostate gland, kidneys, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or psychiatric problems.

What Are the Most Common Insomnia Symptoms?

The most common complaints of patients who have insomnia are the following:

  • Difficult falling asleep at night
  • Waking up at night
  • Waking too early
  • Feeling fatigued and irritable during the day
  • Having difficulty focusing on day-to-day tasks
  • Having problems with digestion
  • Headaches

What Happens During Insomnia?

What Is Insomnia - Sleepy

Insomnia leads to excessive daytime sleepiness, which directly impacts a person’s ability to drive or operate machinery and also leads to reduced mental and memory functions. Not being able to recover from lack of sleep affects a person’s mood and can trigger anxiety and depression. Plus, insomnia can aggravate another actual illness.

Here are some facts about lack of sleep:

  • Going 17 hours without sleep is equivalent to having a 0.5 blood alcohol content.
  • Insomnia increases appetite by 25%.
  • 1/5 of road accidents are linked to the chronic version of insomnia.

How Can I Stop My Insomnia?

Insomnia is a severe problem, and it does not simply go away by itself. Managing it requires a serious approach, careful research, and adequate therapy that takes each particular cause into consideration. There are quite a few suggestions out there, but keep in mind that food, teas, and other aids are not always the best solutions.

Helpful Insomnia Remedies

  • Visual Adjustments – This is the most modern, non-medical method. Eyeglasses (or other devices) designed with a special blue-light filter are worn for a few hours before bedtime. This stimulates our internal production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Transcranial Electrostatic Stimulation – This method increases a patient’s overall cheerfulness, which then leads to increased sleepiness in the evening. Low-Frequency Electric Stimulation is in fact one of the strategies included among chronic insomnia treatment guidelines.
  • Relaxation Techniques – Sometimes these can help people with chronic insomnia. The best recommendations for getting good sleep are using the bedroom only for sleeping, having a quiet bedroom, keeping the room dark and slightly cool, and having a comfortable bed. You can easily create a soothing sleep environment with these 10 simple tips. However, sometimes you need to change your bed, which room you sleep in, or the interior in the bedroom. Surprisingly, people with insomnia often sleep well in unfamiliar places, like a sleep study laboratory. These specific techniques are especially beneficial for people learning how to treat insomnia due to anxiety.
  • Medications – When insomnia occurs acutely, it can be improved by the short-term use of certain sedative medications.

What Is Insomnia - Medication

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This is a psychotherapeutic approach. Here, an interview takes place that is designed to solve the problems that lead to negative emotions, behaviors, and cognitive functions through a systematic, purposeful procedure. This method is particularly recommended for chronic insomnia.
  • Sleep Hygiene – If you’re struggling figuring out how to cure your insomnia, this becomes a necessity. Proper sleep hygiene is linked to going to bed and getting up at the same time, avoiding any napping during the day, avoiding any stimulating drinks in the evening, and banning watching TV or sitting in front of the computer until late at night.
  • Treating an Existing Disease – This is specific to the secondary type of insomnia.

FAQ

How do I get rid of sleepless nights?

Here are some simple tips on how to get rid of this problem:

  • Choose your bedtime and adhere to it every day.
  • Try to sleep in a silent space.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Consume less caffeine.
  • Do not overdo the consumption of alcohol, especially late at night.
  • Do not smoke before bedtime.
  • Try to relax before bedtime by taking a warm bath, listening to quiet music, or doing some light yoga exercises to relax your mind and body.
  • Send your worries away.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day or evening or in front of the TV.

Can You Die from Insomnia?

An interesting experiment was performed by Randy Gardner when he was 17. In 1963 he stayed awake for 264 consecutive hours—eleven days. He not only set a record for sleep deprivation but has also showed that it’s possible to stay awake for a whole week and not kick the bucket prematurely.

However, research on his brain demonstrated that he was not as awake as he looked. Parts of his brain had turned off, like they were “snoozing,” from time to time. And while that was certainly not a pleasant experience, there was no reason to believe that Gardner’s life was in danger. The truth is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that you can die from lack of sleep.

Can insomnia be cured permanently?

Insomnia can be cured if the condition is properly diagnosed. Taking the leading causes of sleeplessness into account, there are several different approaches to treating and possibly curing it. Sometimes, it’s enough to make certain lifestyle changes. In other cases, it may be necessary to try cranial electrostatic stimulation or cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you suffer from any underlying diseases, you will have to treat them first.

Can insomnia go away on its own?

It’s unlikely that insomnia will simply disappear. The good news is that it’s usually enough to make lifestyle-related changes like observing good sleep hygiene. It can be beneficial to make simple adjustments such as going to bed and getting up at the same time, as well as avoiding any naps during the day, stimulating drinks in the evening, watching TV, sitting in front of a computer until late at night, or using your phone in bed. However, in some chronic cases of insomnia, certain medications can also help.

What foods cause insomnia?

There are a few foods that can keep you from falling asleep:

  • Red Meat – Foods that are high in fat and protein are more difficult to process.
  • Fried Foods – Chips, potatoes, eggs, and everything deliciously fried in a pan should be removed from your menu in the evening if you want to fall asleep quickly.
  • Chocolate – Part of the problem is caffeine, but chocolate contains other stimulants, including one type of amino acid called tyrosine, as well as theobromine, which causes heart rhythm acceleration.
  • Spicy Foods – Whether it’s a super-hot curry or a spicy chili sauce, these foods cause indigestion and play with body temperature.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are acidic, which again affects digestion, making it hard to sleep.
  • Salads – Their high water content will likely lead to several night-time trips to the bathroom, which will disturb your sleep.

Conclusion

Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, though most adults need between seven and eight hours per day. But just what is insomnia and what are its symptoms? It’s a disorder in which patients have difficulty falling asleep even when they have more than enough time to do so. Insomnia can be caused by a number of causes, such as stress, disease, or medication. When you have insomnia, you wake up tired, with no energy to carry out your daily activities.

Insomnia can drain your strength and affect your mood and quality of life. Therefore, don’t underestimate this condition or any of its alarming symptoms. However, keep in mind that there are solutions, both medical and lifestyle-based.

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