If you’ve ever had trouble getting to sleep, you can blame your sorrows on one of the peskiest sleep disorders -- insomnia.
What is insomnia? It’s a fancy way of saying you have trouble falling asleep. Insomnia can be caused by lots of different things, but the end result is the same -- it interferes with sleep. You struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep.
How many people suffer from insomnia? Maybe more than you think. You can feel alone when it’s happening to you, but it is a common affliction, striking about one in every three people, at least occasionally. If you look around, you’ll see people with insomnia all around you, doing their best to work through it.
Let’s look at this source of sleep problems in closer depth and learn how it can be impacting your health.
Background History on Insomnia
While our modern, stressful lifestyles are often used as a scapegoat when looking at the reasons for insomnia, it has been in existence for centuries. As long as humankind has been alive, they’ve had worries that have kept them up at night and affected their sleep quality.
The term insomnia first appeared in the 1600s, so it’s likely your ancestors dealt with this issue too. Insomnia disorder has hit plenty of famous people over the centuries, including Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Napoleon.
The Dangers of Insomnia
Insomnia is more than just a nuisance. If you’re wondering what are insomnia symptoms to watch out for, they include feeling tired, groggy, and poor mental health. Insomnia can cause or contribute to a number of diseases or even death in the worst case scenario.
Let’s look at the risks:
- Injuries: People die every day in the U.S. from drowsy driving. Some estimates put the figure at more than 5,000 fatalities a year.
- High blood pressure: One night of insomnia isn’t going to do any harm to your long-term blood pressure. But chronic insomnia is a different story. It can give you a greater risk of high blood pressure, by as much as a 300 percent increase, according to some studies. Although there is no conclusive evidence as to why some researchers believe long-term insomnia can impact how well your body manages its stress hormones.
- Heart disease: Why insomnia seems to have an influence on heart health isn’t clear either. But some scientists chalk it up to how being tired all the time modifies your diet and exercise. After all, it’s harder to eat healthily and exercise when you are too tired to get your bottom off the couch to work out and cook.
- Diabetes: The link between insomnia and diabetes isn’t clear cut, but studies have shown a connection, with those suffering from chronic insomnia more likely to have diabetes. Why sleep deprivation might increase the diabetes risk isn’t for sure, but it might change how your body metabolizes blood sugar, how often you choose unhealthy foods and may cause you to become overweight.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia isn’t one term -- there are several stages of insomnia or various subtypes. Let’s dive right into the kinds and how look at how they’re different.
This type is like that houseguest you have during parties -- it overstays its welcome and is super annoying. For you to be diagnosed with chronic insomnia, you have to suffer from it for a minimum of three nights a week for at least three months.
If you’re wondering what causes insomnia, the chronic kind is triggered by things like depression, anxiety, pain that prevents sleep, and long-lasting stress, such as ongoing money problems, health, or work issues.
Acute insomnia is when you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep for a short term. It might be one night only, or it could last for several weeks.
You might suffer from this because of irregular sleep schedules, medication, an uncomfortable sleep environment, emotional upset, sudden stress, or an illness.
Sleep onset insomnia is when you have trouble going to sleep at the beginning of the night. So with this one, you’ve crawled into bed at the end of the day, but instead of falling asleep within a few minutes, you keep tossing and turning. You can’t get to sleep or it takes you an abnormally long time.
If you suffer from this type, once you’re able to get to sleep, the rest of the night isn’t a problem. So your best bet is finding ways to nod off quickly. Some things that may help you figure out how to sleep with insomnia include:
- Establishing a sleep schedule: Remember when your parents gave you a firm bedtime when you were little? They knew what they were doing by establishing good sleep habits. Falling asleep at the same time every night and getting up at the same time each day helps.
- Create a soothing sleep environment: Make the room a comfortable temperature, cut out the extra lights with a blackout curtain, and turn on a fan for the white noise.
- Get a weighted blanket: For some people, weighted blankets are an easy fix for sleep onset insomnia. The pressure of the blanket can be soothing and relaxing, giving you that extra push to fall asleep quickly. Look for one that is approximately 10 percent of your weight.
This condition is a bit different than onset sleep insomnia. With this one, you have no trouble falling asleep, but if you wake up during the night, you can’t fall asleep again or it takes you a long time.
This one generally hits the middle-aged and older population. It’s often caused by thinking of all the things you’re worried about or a jam-packed schedule.
With comorbid insomnia, your insomnia is caused by medication or a psychiatric or medical condition. It might be something like neurological problems, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or gastrointestinal disease.
Don’t Stick Your Head Under the Covers
The key to dealing with insomnia is realizing it is a real problem and addressing it as best as you can. Coming up with a solution is what’s best for your overall health, peace of mind, and quality of life.
If you have a problem, it doesn’t go away just because you try to ignore it. It’s better to face it head-on even if you don’t want to do so.
Look at the type of insomnia you have and come up with a plan from there. If you make it a top priority, you’ll be able to find some workable solutions to help you get a good night’s sleep.